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  Classroom Compass Volume 3, Number 2
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Place Value for Elementary Students

These activities reinforce students' understanding by using rhythm, physical action, and introspection.

Picture of kids working with place values

Learning psychologist Howard Gardner proposed that each learner reflects his or her unique combination of intellectual strengths and weaknesses. Gardner's theory of seven intelligences (linguistic, mathematical, spatial, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic) has inspired many educators to present content in a variety of ways so individual students' learning preferences might be awakened and connected to their intellectual strengths.

The place value activities presented here suggest alternatives to traditional textbook problem solving. These activities are designed to be used during a mathematics lesson, but the concepts could be incorporated across the curriculum: setting up a model bank in a social studies class, reading a counting story in language arts, emphasizing the mathematics of measurement in science. Embedding the ideas in a variety of contexts will give different learners more opportunities for understanding.

Physical Action: The Place Value Board

Use a sheet of butcher paper to create a large place value board and place it on the floor. With a large die, roll a number and have that many students stand in the ones column. Ask the students why they are standing in that column. How many more students could we place in that column?

Roll the die again and add that many more students to the ones area. Ask: are there enough students now to make a group of ten? If yes, have ten students link their arms and move to the tens place. Anyone left stays in the ones area. Ask: why have we moved this group to the ten's place? Will someone tell something about the number represented on the place value board? Does that correspond to the number of children standing at the place value board?

Continue to roll the die until all the students are standing on the board, asking for student ideas as to why groups are being moved across the place value board.

Introspection: The Math Journal

While mathematical conversations among students are essential for understanding, a journal provides another avenue that may appeal to the introspective, linguistically oriented learner. Students should write as mathematicians, clearly communicating each idea, theory, or step to solving a problem. They may use this writing time for exploration, reflection, or explanation. Let the students respond to such questions as

Something I learned today...
I found the right tool to...
I saw a pattern...
Something I didn't understand...
Something easy...
I predicted...
Math is easy when...
Something in math I'd like to learn...
My plan for tomorrow is...
Skills that I enjoyed learning...
I found...I made a connection...
I thought of a new strategy...
I estimated...

Music: That's a Rap!

Introduce this spoken song to the students after they have worked with the concept of place value. If you do not feel comfortable demonstrating your rap skills, let student volunteers assist you. (Sunglasses and baseball caps help set the mood.)

Place Value Rap

The number of digits
in our system is ten.
You will learn their value
if you just begin.
There's a zero,
there's a one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight, nine,
no more.
Every digit has a value
on its face;
And each digit has
a value in its place.
Two can be two ones or
two can be two tens.
Either way it's two,
the value just depends
On where you put it,
On where you put it.
The value just depends on
where you put it.
Two tens are twenty and
two ones are two.
When you use
the proper place
it's easy to do.

With this inspiration, your students may want to experiment with their own math raps.

These activities appear in Celebrating Multiple Intelligences: Teaching for Success, written by the faculty at New City School in St Louis, Missouri (1997). Available from The Bookshelf, 4301 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 432, Washington, DC 20008. 1-800-346-1834.

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