I have never had a student ask me this in such forthright manner before…*Why do we do this anyways? We are never going to use this in our jobs.*

Wow. From grade seven. I wonder what she will have to say as the mathematics she does at school becomes more abstract and seemingly disconnected from “real life”. Good for her to say how she feels and ask the tough questions. Although I wasn’t expecting this today, I was prepared, am always prepared for how I might respond to this question.

Let me provide the context of this interaction…

I was at Quilchena Elementary for my monthly visit with the intermediate teachers. Today we focused on the role math materials/manipulatives can play in students’ communication of their mathematical understanding and thinking.

We began our day in Una’s grades 4 & 5 classroom working on using arrays to model multiplication and moving to using base ten blocks to model two-digit by two-digit multiplication with a focus on the place value language that “matched” the materials. This was hard work for these students. Many students were able to calculate the answers to the questions mentally and then modelled the answer with the base ten blocks. When re-directed to explain how this model showed the process of multiplication (which was the intention of the lesson), they were befuddled. The students needed some modelling and we used an approach to multiplication that could be described as distributed or parts-based and then connected this to the models that could be created with base ten blocks. There were some aha moments from students for sure but also, more work still to be done. Here are some examples of how the students worked through 12X23 and how some of the students represented the process in their math journals using pictures, numbers and words.

*You probably won’t use base ten blocks in any future job you have. You probably won’t have to show your boss how you can multiply large numbers but…you will probably be asked to think, to problem-solve, to reason, to make sense of data and information. When we do things like this, it is to help you make meaning and create connections, to help you understand the mathematics more deeply, to be a thinker.*

~Janice