Volume: Concrete activities to increase understanding (Grades 3-6)

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

I have worked with several groups of 4th graders lately to build rectangular prisms as a way of learning more about volume. Typically students know the formula (length x width x height), but often lack the strategies or spatial ability to solve problems seen only in picture (2D form). Concrete (hands-on) experiences help cement knowledge when abstract formulas may pose difficulty. And . . . it’s always fun to “play” while doing math!!

Here are some observations regarding students’ difficulties:

  • Students often resort to counting the visible cubes, not realizing there are others on the back side – which can’t be seen on a 2D representation.
  • Students are unsure which dimensions are the length, width, and height.
  • Students lack multiplication skills.
  • Students don’t know the purpose of finding volume (other than counting the cubes).
  • Students are often confused when constructing prisms when one of the dimensions is 1. They weren’t sure this was even a possibility until they saw what it looked like (after building it!).

Some possible solutions:

Give students multiple opportunities to build 3D rectangular prisms:

  1. Length is the longest side on the base. Width is the shortest side on the base. The height is how tall it is.
  2. Use this variant of the L x W x H formula:  (Area of the base) x Height or (L x W) x H. With this mindset, the students need to find the length and width dimensions first. Finding the area of the base first helps them visualize the bottom layer. Then the height just means the number of total stacks or layers (with all of them matching the area of the base).
  3. Give students specific dimensions such as (5 x 3) x 2.
    • Using connecting cubes, build the base (bottom layer) first and determine the area (5 x 3 = 15).
    • Then build 1 more layer just like it so there is a total of 2 layers (the height).
    • Through this experience, students learn what a 5 by 3 base looks like . . . and that each layer of the height has the exact same area. It’s actually several layers stacked on top of each other.
    • To complete this prism, compute the area of the base (5 x 3) and then multiply it by the height (2). So (5 x 3) x 2 = 30 cubic units.
    • This experience shows why the measurement is stated as cubic units (because cubes were used).
    • Students may also see another way to solve the problem is to add the area of the base 2 times (15 + 15). Of course, multiplication is more efficient, but seeing the addition solution helps them realize each layer is the same.
    • Get this FREE Prism Building Activity and FREE Volume game for building rectangular prisms from me (click on links). For the game, you just need the recording sheet and 3 dice per pair of students.
    • Don’t have connecting cubes? Check with KG or 1st grade classes!

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Discovering Decimals Part 2: Addition & Subtraction

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Last week, we looked at some ways to gain number sense about decimals. This post will address using decimals in the operations of addition and subtraction . . . and how to model concretely and pictorially. You can also download the color grid pages along with a free decimal math game in this post. Part 3 (future post) will address multiplication and division of decimals.

If you missed last week’s post, please review it first before continuing with this one. Before performing various operations with decimals, students must have a basic understanding of how to represent them concretely, pictorially and numerically.  Example:  .8 = .80 can be proven with base ten blocks and with 100 grid drawings. This understanding should also be linked to fractions: 8/10 is equivalent to 80/100. Click here for pdf of Representing Decimals page.

Addition  

For concrete practice, use a 100 base ten block to represent the whole (ones), the tens rod to represent tenths, and unit blocks to represent hundredths. Construct each addend and then combine them. Ten tenths’ rods become one whole. Ten hundredths cubes become one tenth. Continue reading

Discovering Decimals Part 1: Basic Concepts

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Number sense regarding decimals usually starts with fourth grade and continues with more complex operations involving decimals in fifth grade and beyond. It is this extension of the place value system and then relating them to fractions and percentages that often perplex our students (and the teachers, too)!  Read ahead to get your freebies (Decimal practice notes, anchor charts, and Discovering Decimals Number of the Day / Game activity).

Students must understand  this base-ten value system extends in both directions — between any two values the 10-to-1 ratio remains the same. When using place value blocks in primary grades, students recognize the 100 square as 100, the tens strip as 10, and the units cube as 1.  Then with decimals, we ask them to reverse their thinking as the 100 square represents 1 whole, the tens strip represents a tenth, and the unit cube represents a hundredth.  This may take repeated practice to make the shift in thinking — but don’t leave it out. Remember the progression from concrete (hands-on) to pictorial to abstract is heavily grounded in research. Students will likely gain better understanding of decimals by beginning with concrete and pictorial representations.

I am sharing my decimal practice notes, which highlight some of the basic concepts to consider when teaching. Pronouncing the names for the decimals is not in these notes, but be sure to emphasize correct pronunciation — .34 is not “point three four.” It is “thirty-four hundredths.” Use the word and for the decimal point when combining with a whole number.  Example: 25.34 is pronounced “Twenty-five and thirty-four hundredths.” I know as adults we often use the term “point,” but we need to model correct academic language when teaching. You can get also the pdf version of these notes by clicking here: Decimal practice teaching notes.

Anchor charts are excellent ways to highlight strategies in pictorial form. Here are some examples of anchor charts to help students relate decimals to fractions, location on a number line, word form, and equivalencies. Get the free pdf version here: Discovering decimals anchor charts. It includes a blank form to create your own. Continue reading

Multiplication Strategies Part 3: Connecting to Place Value

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

In  Multiplication, Part 3  I will focus on 3 strategies for double digit numbers:  area model, partial products, and the bowtie method. Please also refer back to my Dec. 6th post on Number Talks for 3rd-5th grade where I mentioned these and other basic strategies for multiplication. I highly recommend helping students learn these methods BEFORE the standard algorithm because it is highly linked to number sense and place value. With these methods, students should see the magnitude of the number and increase their understanding of estimation and the ability to determine the reasonableness of their answer. Then, when they are very versed with these methods, learn the standard algorithm and compare side by side to see how they all have the same information, but in different format. Students then have a choice of how to solve. Try my “Choose 3 Ways” work mat as bell work or ticket in the door. Get it free here.

Area Model: This method can be illustrated with base ten manipulatives for a concrete experience. Remember the best methods for student learning (CPA) progresses from concrete (manipulatives) to pictorial (drawings, templates, pictures) to abstract (numbers only). Using a frame for a multiplication table, show the two factors on each corner (see examples below for 60 x 5 and 12 x 13). Then fill in the inside of the frame with base ten pieces that match the size of the factors. You must end up making a complete square or rectangle. This makes it relatively easy to see and count the parts: 60 x 3 and 5 x 3 for the first problem and (10 x 10) + (3 x 10) + (2 x 10) + (2 x 3) for the second. I’ve included a larger problem (65 x 34) in case you are curious what that looks like. The first 2 could be managed by students with materials you have in class, but I doubt you want to tackle the last one with individual students – nor do you probably have that many base ten pieces. A drawing or model would be preferred in that case. The point of the visual example is then to connect to the boxed method of the area model, which I have shown in blank form in the examples . . . and with pictures below. I also included a photo from another good strategy I saw on google images (sorry, I don’t know the author) which also shows 12 x 13 using graph paper. Continue reading