DIY Concrete Materials for Place Value:

Post date: Aug 27, 2013 2:52:37 PM

The use of concrete materials is so important when teaching place value, (as explained in this post)and also when using the children’s understanding of place value to teach the operations. One of the most common pieces of equipment used to show place value are base ten blocks, or Dienes blocks as they are also known. However these are not the only resources that can be used and indeed, it would be more beneficial, if a range of resources were used to help consolidate children's understanding of our base ten number system.

Here are some ideas for equipment that you could easily create yourself.

Drinking Straws (or lollipop sticks): These are great to show Tens and Units/Ones, and even Hundreds in first, second and third classes. Because they are a group-able material they allow the children to physically bundle the Ten themselves, thereby demonstrating the need for the organisational structure of our base ten system. By cutting up these straws in third class, we can introduce children to a tenth and visually demonstrate how it is only a bit/part of the whole.

Money: Money is another great resource; the children can easily identify with it, it is relevant to everyday life and it can also be used to help teach about decimals in third and fourth classes. It can also be used to teach thousands if used along with some specially made cheques (see below). However, a note of caution: only use this when the children already have a good understanding and experiences of manipulating group-able and grouped materials (e.g. Dienes). Since each coin or note is not ten times the size of the coin or note one tenth its value, it can be a more abstract representational material.

Place Value Disks: I’m a major fan of Singapore Maths, and when researching some of their approaches, I came across Place Value Disks, easy-to-manipulate disks that provide hands-on practice for developing better number sense. These sets of counters come in seven different colours to represent whole number place value visually to seven digits. However, they are very expensive and even on the internet, they didn’t seem to be available to ship to Ireland, so I decided to go about making my own using regular counters (€12 for 500 in Evans Educational, Finglas) and a permanent marker. The problem, I discovered, was that any counters I could locate only came in a range of five colours, not seven, as in the commercial place value disks.

So having to improvise, I made my disks to represent whole number place value up to five digits (see above). I then decided to modify a set of unifix cubes (€6 for 100 in Evans Educational, Finglas) using the same colour system, so that these could represent whole number place value up to seven digits and decimals to three places, therefore ideal for fifth and sixth classes. Notice how I have used the same colours for each value in both materials; I also tried to keep this as close to the Singapore Maths colour coding system as possible.

Place Value Strips/Cards/Arrow cards:This is another resource that is used quite widely for teaching place value; in Singapore (here they can be called Place Value Strips), the US, UK, Australia etc and they are available from most of the maths suppliers in this country also. However, the commercials versions I have seen in most catalogues and sites are limited to four whole number places, again meaning they are only of use in first to fourth classes. So once again I improvised! You can download my templates from my TpT store, and then print them to match your place value disks or cubes, if you are using them.

Expanded notation on Polystyrene cups:This is another great idea I came across on Pinterest, before I made my own! Again this resource is suitable for place value work from two to seven digits. Suggestions for use: teacher calls out 9,463,549 to children in a small group. These children, in pairs or individually write out the number in standard and then expanded form. Finally, as a means of checking, they build the number using the cups, underline it using post-its and then show the expanded form by pulling the cups apart (see bottom picture)