October 16, 2011

Fun Card Game for Place Value

I was recently asked how to teach place value. One fun way to teach about place value is through a variation of the old card game, War. You'll remember that in War, the deck is dealt evenly to all players, the players players flip one card face-up simultaneously, and the player with the highest card takes the other cards. This continues until one player has all the cards.

In Place Value War, which I adapted from a Singapore Math teacher's manual, each player has a place value mat or piece of paper with thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones, written on it. Follow this procedure to play.
Click for a printable PDF version of this Place Value Chart

  1. Deal all the cards face down. (I recommend using an UNO deck rather than regular playing cards because the UNO deck has zeroes and the ones are proper ones, not aces.)
  2. Players simultaneously flip one of their cards face-up, decide where to place it on their chart, and state their choices. ("Seven hundreds" or "three ones.")
  3. Continue until all places on the paper are filled, then each player says the number that is on his paper.  ("Seven thousand, five hundred, twenty-three.")
  4. The player with the highest 4-digit number wins the round and takes the other players cards.
  5. Continue play until one player has all of the cards.
This game naturally teachers place value because players soon realize that, for example, a 3 in the hundreds place is  greater than a 9 in the tens place. Unlike regular War, Place Value War includes strategic thinking about probability. ("Should I place a six in the thousands place on my first draw or hope for a higher number?")

Of course you can adjust the game to include more or fewer places on the paper. To increase the suspense, I sometimes have the players take turns instead of flipping cards simultaneously. Enjoy the game, make up your own rules, and share your experiences or suggestions in the comments.

You may also be interested in How to Teach Math with UNO.

October 12, 2011

Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo

The other day, we visited Sunshine Aquarium in Ikebukuro. As you may know from previous posts, I love watching animals. Here are a few highlights from the day.

Sea Angels are simultaneously cute, otherworldly, and mesmerizing. They are two-inch-long translucent, gelatinous creatures that flap their "wings" like angels. They live in the Arctic Ocean. Here's a sea angel video from youtube.

The ocean sunfish looks like God played a joke. It's a gigantic fish (up to 2000 pounds!) that swims ever so slowly with a dead serious look on its face. This serious look belies that fact the the ocean sunfish looks like just a big head and tail with no body in between.

Ocean Sunfish (public domain image)

A comment that I overheard several times at the aquarium was "Oishisou!" which means "That looks delicious!" Only in Japan.

Zoos and aquariums are places that we city folks sometimes take for granted. We visit them only when we have out-of-town visitors. But they contain high concentrations of fun learning. Getting out and watching animals leads to great questions (like "Does a bat poop on itself when it hangs upside down?") So by all means, take advantage of the zoos, aquariums, and parks in your city. If you live in the country, you may be able to see plenty of God's creatures in your own backyard, or at a local farm or ranch. Go animal watching and recover a sense of wonder.

October 11, 2011

Use a Ruler As a Number Line

In math, primary students begin with concrete objects, progress through symbols, and arrive at abstract concepts of numbers. A number line is a great tool to help them along this path. Sometimes we forget, but a ruler is a perfect number line. Here's why:

  • A ruler goes from zero to twelve or thirty, depending on whether you are looking at the inch side or the centimeter side.
  • A ruler is in most kids' desks or pencil cases already, so there's no need to print out a paper number line and laminate it. (Having said that, if you do want a printable number line, there are several to choose from.)
  • A ruler is concrete in the sense that it's a real thing that students can touch.
  • Bonus! A ruler leads gently and naturally into fractions and decimals. ("Teacher, what are the little lines for between the numbers?")
So don't just use that ruler for measuring things and drawing straight lines. Use it for counting (including skip-counting), adding, subtracting, and introducing decimals and fractions.

Do you like the ruler in the photo above? Here is a link to that classic, brass-edged 12-inch wooden ruler on amazon.

Question: In your teaching, do you use objects in ways other than their "real purpose?" If so, please share in the comments.

October 3, 2011

How to Teach Children to Think

On this blog, I usually write about specific activities, books, or games that make learning fun. After all, that’s the name of the blog. But  sometimes we need to step back and evaluate what we're doing. If all we do is fill children’s minds with facts, even if the children have fun in the process, we aren’t really serving them well. We must help children learn to think for themselves and develop character.

Thinking Child (photo by Vocalities on Flickr)
Barnabas Piper has an interesting post on his blog about teaching children to think. He makes several excellent points and I thought I’d share and expand on a few of them.

He says read to your child, especially  “books that engage imagination and build vocabulary.” I would add this: when you read, make sure your child is engaging with the book. Pause before turning the page to give time for the child to digest what’s been read, ask questions, or comment on the text or picture. Children miss a lot when we are in too big a hurry to finish a book.

Piper says to be curious around your children. I agree with him and his reasons, and would add this reason. It’s good for kids to know that Mom, Dad, and teacher don’t have all the answers--that we are still questioning and learning.

After recommending that parents to be excited about learning and to use big words, Piper exhorts parents to answer their children’s questions, even if it takes time and research. I agree, except when I disagree. I think it can be better not to answer kids’ questions. Next time your child asks a tough question try responding this way: “Hmmmm. That’s interesting. What do you think?” This answer lets children know that we value their opinions and that we respect them as thinkers. Letting a child be the first one to take a stab at answering the child’s own question can lead to deeper thinking and understanding, and of course there’s the joy that comes from figuring something out for oneself.

Finally he suggests sharing the principles behind your rules. “Teach them to think in questions such as “Does this action honor Jesus?” or “Is this loving to my sister?” not just ‘Am I allowed to do this?’

If this topic interests you, please go and read Barnabas Piper’s original article.

Question: How do you make sure that your child is really thinking, and not just memorizing facts?