Thursday, January 19, 2012

Place Value Popsicle Sticks

While my daughter is great at reading, she is more reluctant when it comes to math as well as writing.  knowing this, I started introducing certain math games and concepts even before Kindergarten officially began.  We played games using dominoes for simple addition problems, a clock and flashcards for telling time, and a host of other ideas I'm sure I'll find time to post at some point for your experimenting pleasure.  This idea was discovered when I was teaching preschoolers, but didn't go well the first time I tried it at home.  A  small tweak later it went much more smoothly!

I'm sorry I don't remember exactly which resource this idea came from, but I do know I've seen the idea in multiple places on the internet and in schools.  The original idea is to take popsicle sticks and simply write single digits on one end of each so that you have two popsicle sticks for each single digit.  In a classroom setting each child is given a can full of one set of sticks and then there is a competition.  In a preschool or kindergarten setting you might only work with one stick for each child and just see by luck of the draw who comes up with the highest or lowest number.  As children develop a good number sense you start adding sticks so each child is pulling more sticks as the group ability grows.  Once all the children know how to count to 100, for example, you might have them pull two sticks/participating student.  The students then have to try to get the lowest number by placing their sticks in the right order to give them a good chance of being lowest (or highest) in the class.  For example, if after they've pulled their sticks you say "lowest" and the child has a 1 and 7, they are much more likely to have the "best number" if they put the 1 in the "ten's" position and the 7 in the "ones" position.  This way children learn how to manipulate their digits using place value to increase their chances of having the best number.  As children continue to grow in understanding they can handle more and more sticks.

The trouble with doing this in a home-school setting is that even if you have more than one child, they probably aren't at the same level of understanding and the competetive aspects of the game that motivate some children to really think about how they place their posicle sticks is lost.  My child just wasn't motivated to give it her best try.  Even in a group setting this is true and it simply never worked for everyone.  That is why in the mortar-and-brick classroom teachers have to teach and re-teach.  You find multiple methods to teach the same skills in order to touch on multiple learning styles and motivation techniques.  It is not the fault of our lovely public school teachers that our school system simply does not lend itself to efficiency.

I really thought that since my kid likes to be able to move things around in order to learn (letter magnets to learn to read, puppets and herself to "act out" stories she is reading etc.)  I thought she would love the posicle sticks for making numbers.  But she simply wasn't motivated to try to figure out how to make two or three numbers go together to make the lowest or highest possible number overall.  Without the competetive factor, the game just lost its luster.  She tried to please me by simply setting the sticks out to make a number but I could tell there was no thought behind how she placed them and when I asked her about it, she said, "this is boring mom".  I put the sticks away and thought, "okay maybe she just isn't quite ready for place value (It is most often introduced in first or second grade) or there is a better way to present the concept to her".

However, she LOVES to play with blocks.  So, a week or so later, when I added place value manipulatives into the mix where if she figured out the lowest number possible, she could "build" the number with her base ten blocks, all of a sudden it made all the difference in the world.  Now she wanted to build "hundred's numbers"  In reality she is working each "problem" twice and asks to do so.  Now if I could just find a way to make practicing writing her letters and numbers as easy!

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