I recently saw a post on social media with a fun place value activity. The teacher was using saltine crackers as a hundred, thin pretzel rods as a ten and marshmallows as ones. Students would use these materials to build a variety of three-digit numbers.
In general, I don’t hate it!
…. except that in this case I did.
This activity was going to be used to introduce place value.
**Major Disclaimer… If you have done an activity like this, no worries. No judgment. I used to be convinced that base ten blocks were the end-all of 2nd-grade place value tools. My thinking changed only after I learned more about math tools and how kids learn. This post does NOT come from a place of “Shame on you! How dare you use pretzels to teach math!” it comes from a place of “I was there too. Let me share what I learned!”
When choosing a place value manipulative you want to start with a model that will show students how units can be put together or taken apart to create other units. These groupable and proportional models allow your students to explore with place value.
Next, a pre-grouped proportional model allows your students to explore in a bit more efficient way. Base ten blocks are an example of a model that can not be physically put together or broken apart but that IS to scale.
A pre-grouped, non-proportional model allows students who have a grasp of unit and scale to explore how place value impacts numbers on a much larger scale. Using place value discs, for example, students can easily explore with numbers in the thousands or even higher without using a cumbersome number of materials. This type of model also helps students move towards more abstract understandings.
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