by Kristi Lindsay
What is a number? Have you ever tried to define that word? It’s not easy. Number concepts aren’t always easy to explain either. For those with learning disabilities, many number concepts pose quite a challenge, especially the abstract basic concepts. The best way to help struggling learners is to make the abstract tangible. Using manipulatives gives students a means to tactilely learn, manipulate, solve, and understand challenging math skills.
One concept that many of my former students had difficulty with was place value. Explaining the ones, tens and hundreds place was complex. But, many math concepts build upon this understanding, so it’s vital for students to understand what these place values mean.
To help my students comprehend place value, I used a lot of straws!
I began by demonstrating a one digit number in the ones place. First, I wrote the numerals 1 through 9 on the board. Then, students gathered the correct amounts of straws to represent those numbers, such as two straws represented the numeral 2. Then we moved on to the tens place. We counted out and bundled ten straws. As I wrote the two-digit numeral on the board, I said “zero ones and one ten.” We repeated the bundling process for numerals 11 through 19. For example, for 14, we bundled up ten straws, had four left over, and I wrote and said “one ten and four ones.” For many days I wrote numbers on the board and had students make straw bundles and explain how many tens and ones were in each numeral.
Once students grasped the concept, I reversed the process. For example, I displayed a ten bundle and six straws. The students identified one ten and six ones and wrote the numeral 16. Reversing the process helped students understood that groups of tens represented the digit in the tens place and the single straws represented the digit in the ones place.
Eventually we progressed up to 99, then added one straw to make 100. The addition of the tenth set of ten straws moved us up to the hundreds place.
What was beneficial about using the manipulatives with place value was the smooth transition into addition. For problems such as “7+9=”, students gathered sets of seven and nine straws, counted and bundled ten straws, and then counted the remainder. They understood that the sum was one ten and six ones or sixteen. When students practiced addition with regrouping, they understood the abstract concept because they were used to bundling straws into groups of ten.
In addition to identifying numbers, place value, and addition, students learned to skip count by tens. Students quickly caught on that they could count the bundles of tens by ten and that 6 bundles was 6 tens or 60.
Through the use of tangible manipulatives, learning disabled, kinesthetic and visual learners were given learning tools and skills to comprehend and understand these abstract basic math concepts. Go grab a bunch of straws and start learning!
Prior to working with PCI Education, Kristi worked for another international publishing company, editing and writing elementary spelling and reading texts. At PCI, Kristi has written a plethora of teacher resources, activities, small readers, binders, board games, and software.