Oh, place value models. I love you so dearly, but despise the chaos you create. Place value models are such an awesome teaching tool. Right? If only the models could magically count themselves out and appear on each student desk right on cue. If only they could magically sort themselves back out and return to their containers at the snap of my fingers.
I seriously love place value models. I use them to teach, well, place value. I also use them to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
Place value models are not for babies. Yes, every year I will have at least one third grade student who attempts to make this claim. That student will quickly change his mind just as soon as I ask him to come up to the projector and model for the class how to divide 867 by 5 using the models. This is not an easy task, yet having the ability to model division in this way opens up a whole new level of understanding of the concept. Honestly, I did not truly understand how to perform basic mathematical operations myself until I learned how to do so with place value models. Sure, I memorized algorithms just like everyone else, but did I really have a solid foundation for understanding? Nope. Not until place value models.
That being said, here is the problem I have always faced with place value models. Distribution and clean up is such a colossal waste of instructional time! Even with well-trained students and strategic routines, I have always found that it takes nearly ten minutes at both ends of a math lesson to properly manage the place value materials. That is twenty minutes of instructional time! Ahhhh, the trade offs.
Maybe you can now understand my delight at seeing this piece of solid wood perfection at the thrift store this week.
Sure, it was
a little very stinky and not all that pleasing to the eye, but my teacher vision could see through all of that. Even without a ruler in hand, I instinctively knew that the place value storage containers I had been eyeing up at the dollar store would stack perfectly in this cabinet. The stars aligned at the Goodwill Store that day.
So, with a fourteen dollar cabinet in the back of my minivan, I headed right on over to the Dollar Tree! Luckily, they still had plenty of these divided food storage containers.
I went right home and enlisted the services of my two children to help paint the cabinet with my favorite Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. The thing I like best about this paint is that it is so forgiving. If you have any drips or odd brush marks that you don’t like once it has dried, just sand them off for a beautiful finish every time. Also, other than cleaning the piece, there is no prep work involved. I just gave the cabinet a good wash down with some water and bleach before painting.
This paint dries so quickly. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my cabinet was painted, waxed, and ready for the classroom in about four hours. Furniture wax helps to seal and protect the paint. I also spray painted the cabinet handles for a little extra detail and lined the bottom of the cabinet with some contact paper.
Sad to say, I sometimes have thirty students in my math class. I always have my students work with a partner when using the place value models. Each student will get his or her own container, but will combine materials with a partner when it is time to work. Each container has 20 ones models, 15 tens models, and 5 hundreds models. When the students partner up, each pair will have double those amounts (40 ones, 30 tens, 10 hundreds), which should be sufficient for most of the lessons I teach in third grade. I do also have a set of laminated paper thousands models that I will eventually need as well. They should fit easily in the center section when the time comes.
Now here is my favorite part of the plan! I made labels for each container to use for student pairing. These containers can be paired up in three ways. Students can work with a number partner, letter partner, or shape partner. When the students grab containers, they will not yet know my secret plan for partnerships. That, of course, will be announced after the containers are claimed. 😉
If you would like to use my labels to make some partnering containers for your own classroom, click here for a free download. One thing that you should know before using these labels is that this pairing system only works if you use 30 containers. You can easily adapt the system if you have fewer students, but you will still need all of the containers to start. Here is an example of how I will adapt for fewer students. Let’s say I have 24 students and plan to group by shapes, I will strategically remove 6 of the containers (2 hearts, 2 circles, 2 squares).
Here is one final picture that shows how my cabinet opens. The bottom, left section opens with a hinged door that lays flat on the floor. The hinges on both doors are sturdy and operate nicely. 🙂
Now I am so excited to use one of my favorite teaching tools with much less fuss and hopefully faster transition times. It felt so good to get rid of the old place value tubs.
Off I go to prep the materials for my first math lapbook of the school year~ place value! If you are looking for an interactive tool that builds number sense, this is the lapbook for you! Each of my students will build this lapbook during my unit on place value. It sure is a fun way to kick off the school year!
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Keep your eyes open for an old storage cabinet for your place value models! They don’t always look very pretty when sitting in the thrift shop (or in a trash pile at the end of a driveway if you’re lucky). Just use a little imagination to bring an old cabinet to life and make it your own!
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