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Have Base Ten Blocks Become Useless?

base ten blocks
base ten blocks
I began my teaching career in August 1999 in Houston, TX. I was hired as a first grade teacher. I can remember teaching my first grade students how to add with base ten blocks and a place value chart. After I taught my lesson I could not understand why the students did not use the base ten blocks as a resource when they were not able to add or subtract. As I look back thirteen years later after I have taught many students with base ten blocks, I have to ask myself are base ten blocks useless? As teachers around the nation implement the Common Core State Standards number disks and money are the manipulative of choice to teach addition and subtraction to young learners.

This year I tried using number disks with my students that were still struggling with subtraction with regrouping. Overall many of the students grasped the concept of regrouping with the number disks. Even though many of the students understood subtraction with regrouping using the number disk there was still a small number of students who could not remember to how the number disks worked after they had not used them for an extended amount of time.

number disk
number disks

This made me wonder if using money to subtract would help my students remember how to subtract with regrouping (trading). Using money money I thought, would help anchor the student’s understanding because the students would be able to make the connection between the ones (pennies), tens (dimes), hundreds (dollar). Fourth graders already understand the concept 10 pennies = a 1 dime and 10 dimes = 1 dollar. If I wanted to extend the money concepts to the thousands place the students would already have the understanding that 10 hundred dollar bills equals 1,000.

money and regrouping
money and regrouping

Implementing the Math Common Core State Standards has helped me to see that some of the manipulatives that I have used in the past may have created unintentional stumbling blocks for students because when students are not able to connect their learning to a concept that they are already familiar with it can make learning a new concept difficult. This past school year was very challenging, yet very rewarding at the same time because within every new challenge there was a wealth of new learning that for me!

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