After a child has mastered the eight levels of counting skills described in the March 14 post, and once these tasks require no more mental energy than moving a fork from the plate to the mouth, she must fully grasp the
significance of place value. The place-value system is the code that brings meaning to numbers. With a grasp of place value a child can get a mental picture from a string of digits; without a grasp of place value – it’s merely a meaningless string of digits.
At our summer school we use base-ten blocks and color-coding to teach place value. We only use Crayola premium erasable colored pencils because they have the softest lead and the best erasers – so it’s always quick and easy to fix mistakes.
• green one-blocks are paired with green pencils to count and record 1’s
• red ten-blocks are paired with red pencils to count and record 10’s
• blue hundred-blocks are paired with blue pencils to count and record 100’s
We tell the kids the story of how numbers live in different houses – there’s a green one’s house, a red ten’s house, and a blue hundred’s house. The tens can’t live in the hundred’s house; the tens have their own house; same goes for the other numbers and houses. Then we practice building, color-coded recording, and telling the story of numbers.
When our math teacher asks a student to build, record, and tell the story of 17, and we see see the child produce one red ten-block and seven green one-blocks, then write a red 1 followed by a green 7, we’re getting close. When the student can then say “In the number 17 there is 1 ten in the ten’s house and 7 ones in the one’s house, we’re getting closer. Once a third or fourth grader can do the same building, recording and story-telling up to three digits, we take a way the color-coding crutch and begin working with black pencils and buff-colored blocks for all units. Only then are we ready to start adding and subtracting.
Feel free to call 646-707-3443 if you want to talk to Mike about the helping your child understand place value. And please think about our summer school: details at drakebennett.org