thinking about place value with grades 1&2 at Homma

Posted on: February 25th, 2016 by jnovakowski

about teaching mathematicsWhen I was in my first year of teaching (1991-1992), I began a diploma program in K-12 Math and Science Education. It was during this year that the classic Marilyn Burns book seen to the left, was published. I read it, used the ideas in my classroom and cited it in my papers and projects for my coursework. Over the years, I have recommended it to colleagues and used it as a recommended resource during the years I taught the math methodology course at UBC. I believe it is in its 4th edition now but I cherish my original, tattered copy because of the memories of how it brought joy to the teaching of math for me in my beginning years of teaching. I devoured anything by Marilyn Burns and continue to do so, also having been fortunate to hear her speak at several NCTM conferences.

I particularly like the chapter and assessment task that focuses on place value and I used these resource as a launching point for a lesson this month.

I have been working with Terra McKenzie and her grades 1 and 2 students at Homma Elementary this term. We have a planning session once a month and then I work in her classroom with her once a month, modelling different aspects of math instruction that she is curious about. Last month we did a Number Talk followed by some practice tasks focused on mental math strategies and this month we focused on the development of place value concepts. Terra has being doing some different tasks with her students and I was greeted by this provocation as I walked into the classroom.


Terra and I had discussed her class profile and that many of the students were still not consistently demonstrating an understanding of the teen numbers as ten and some more and that they had limited number sense around numbers larger than ten. I wanted to use tasks that would focus on building an understanding of “ten-ness” as well as the language of place value.

I began with the classic Stars game, asking students to predict how many starts they thought I could draw in one minute. I modelled a few different ways to draw stars, we discussed their estimates and then I turned my phone over to a student to use the timer to time me.


After I drew the stars, students adjusted their estimates before we counted. I asked how we could count and although some suggested we count by 2s, many also suggested counting by 10s stating they made that choice because “there are so many stars”. I circled groups of ten and then we counted how many groups of tens and “extra” ones and then counted by tens, counting on by 1s. I recorded how many group of tens and ones, then recorded the quantity in expanded form and then in standard form.

The students then pulled out their math notebooks and they played stars. The recording in different forms was new to the students.

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After the students finished recording, we had students respond to questions about the number of straws they drew. This was a way to quickly get some feedback around their understanding of both the concepts and mathematical language. For example, whose number has an even digit in the tens place?

Again, choosing one of my favourite games from the book, a student and I played Five Towers in front of the class. Each player takes turns rolling two dice, calculating the sum and then build a tower out of Unifix cubes that represents the sum. The players go back and forth until they have each made five towers. I have students estimate how many they think they have in total (and many have already counted or calculated this as they go) before we count.  The students then snap their cubes together and build one tall tower and then break it into groups of ten to count up the total. Again, we modelled recording in different forms.


I also shared the place value tents with the students (this are available for free downloads from different sources) and played with the ideas of tens and ones, expanded and standard form, etc.


The students then played the game with a partner and Terra and I were able to walk around and listen to the students as they talked and asked them questions to extend their thinking. As students finished their game, their recorded their results in their math notebooks.

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As our time together came to an end, Terra and I talked about what could be next. Terra was able to see what language students need to be developed to communicate their thinking and could see the value of regular practice with these games. We talked about Marilyn Burn’s game Race to 100 as a good next step, again focusing on making tens and counting up by tens and ones. I also suggested the Create a Creature task, with students first exploring with the base ten blocks and then creating creatures of a specified value. A post about this task can be found HERE.


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