We like to think of Brick Math as the Swiss Army Knife of educational programs. It’s a versatile teaching tool that works in many different settings.
Whole class: The Brick Math program can be introduced to the whole class by the teacher. In fact, many schools have adopted Brick Math as their elementary math curriculum across the school. Once teachers get accustomed to using the LEGO® bricks as the manipulative tool, they recognize the power of the build-draw-explain Brick Math lesson plans. The teacher works through the lessons in each book, having the students build models at the same time. A document camera is a great help for displaying the brick models to the whole class so everyone can see them. Students share brick sets in pairs and often work together in the lessons, comparing their models and explaining their thinking processes to each other. The Student Edition makes it especially easy for teachers to assess and track students’ progress.
Small Group: Brick Math is often used by a school math specialist in a small-group setting. It’s very well suited to the interactive nature of small group learning.
Intervention: Schools are discovering the value of Brick Math as the perfect tool for math intervention. The modular components of the Brick Math system allow the program to be introduced at any point where a student is having difficulty learning through the school-wide math textbook curriculum. Time and time again, students who have been struggling with learning a concept such as fractions, for example, are successful with the Brick Math approach. We’ve heard kids make comments like: “Finally! I understand the math because I can see it!” and “Why doesn’t everyone learn math this way?”
Gifted: As useful as Brick Math is for students who aren’t learning math through other teaching methods, it’s also great as enrichment for students who already understand and love math.
Centers or One-to-One: Students really enjoy the hands-on nature of Brick Math, making it very adaptable to one-to-one learning or individual centers.
Like the Swiss Army Knife, Brick Math has something for everyone!
High Point University, home of Brick Math author Dr. Shirley Disseler, celebrated International LEGO Day yesterday, encouraging HPU students to come to the Stout School of Education and build something out of bricks that they are passionate about.
Dr. Disseler is passionate about using the bricks to help students learn math. Her Brick Math curriculum for elementary and middle school was developed to help students conceptualize math, or, as Dr. Disseler says, "to understand the why behind the math."
Here's the full article about International LEGO Day at HPU, courtesy of the HIgh Point Enterprise.
A new mixed-method study shows significant gains in test scores for math content in grades K - 2 after instruction using Brick Math. The findings from a new study of 500 students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade shows that 320 of the 500 students, or 64 percent, made pre-to-post assessment gains of 4 or more points on a 10-point scale.
Each student was given ten problems to complete, in writing or orally, in the areas of counting and cardinality, addition, or subtraction prior to being taught with the Brick Math methods. The same problems were then used with the Brick Math program. Before starting Brick Math, students were asked questions about why they responded in certain ways to the problems to help the researcher identify misconceptions held by students about number sense and computational understanding. Once the problems were completed using the Brick Math methods, the problems were again scored on a scale of 1 - 10 (correct versus incorrect).
Students were then asked to discuss the meaning of the models with the researcher. Students were also encouraged to ask questions for clarity during the teaching process. The discussion of the models yielded some important information about how students learn and understand math. Students in kindergarten made comments such as: “Now I see why 8 is larger than 3,” and "5 is between 3 and 8.” Students learning about place value said, “Counting bricks in the tens and ones place helps me know what number goes in each place.” A student further explained, “Two 1x2 bricks and four 1x1 bricks show that the tens place is 2 and the ones place is 4, and the whole number is 24.”
This study was conducted in public and private school classrooms in New Jersey and North Carolina, in rural, suburban, and urban settings for 150 kindergarten, 200 first grade, and 200 second grade students.
Data and Findings:
The data was analyzed using a one-way ANOVA from SPSS, which indicates that achievement was statistically significant across all three grade levels and all content materials. A Pearson correlation shows no significance between the performance of girls versus boys. This finding is interesting, in that many believe LEGO® bricks are preferred by boys. In this study, the girls did as well as the boys in achievement when using Brick Math. The variables measured in the study included: focus and body language when using Brick Math, verbal participation and questioning by the student, the degree to which students were able to make conceptual meanings in the models, performance pre to post (before Brick Math instruction and after Brick Math instruction). It was interesting to note that the degree of focus was significant (p = 0.03) upon introduction of the bricks to do the math problems. The findings also suggest that both the level of performance and the degree of perseverance are directly related to the degree to which the student could focus (p < .05) in all correlations of these variables. The median pre- to post-difference in the study across all groups was 4 with a range from 0 – 10.
The means are displayed for each grade, pre and post, in Table 1. The spread of the mean shows wide differences before and after the instruction in each of the three grades, with the largest difference found in grade 2.
Table 1: Comparison of Means Pre-to-Post by Grade Level
Grade N Means
K 150 3.3600 7.2667
1 150 4.0467 7.6133
2 200 3.6050 8.0300
The modeling of math offers students a way to connect, but when LEGO® bricks are introduced as the medium for learning content, students become enthusiastic, focused, and engaged, which leads to motivation and time on task. Education experts agree that motivation and engagement are the two key elements in getting students to learn. This study is part of a larger study being conducted to emphasize the value of Brick Math in elementary and middle school math classrooms. This study, which utilized Brick Math as both a guided math and whole class lesson, points to positive learning gains for children in the early years of elementary math. Setting the stage for more sophisticated math content, getting students to understand the “why” behind the basics of math is a key component necessary in early stages of math learning. If students can build a model of the problem and solution, and explain verbally or in writing the “why” behind the math, the likelihood of future success in both their opinions about math and their ability to persevere in dealing with more difficult math will be greatly enhanced.
by Dr. Shirley Disseler
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard from teachers, ”Students just need to learn the math! They need to learn the procedures so they can ace the test”. . . well, I’d have a big pile of cash, that’s for sure!
I know that data is key in schools today, but we are not educating students to be test takers—we are educating them to use math in their daily lives and to know why it works the way it works. We want them to have good number sense, problem solving strategies, and mental math frameworks.
Using manipulatives is central to this process as students move through learning trajectories in math that include conceptual, representational, and abstract levels of understanding. If we try to skip the conceptual or representational learning and go straight to the more abstract level of procedures, we will create a gap in learning that will hurt the student later on.
Too many classrooms omit the concrete application that creates conceptual understanding. By sixth grade you can easily tell whether students have been exposed to manipulative processes or not. Students who have not used manipulatives in the learning process often have gaps in their ability to think through a problem logically or to show their work.
The LEGO brick allows for the concrete math to be discovered, which helps students understand the “why” behind the math. Posing questions in context while building models with the bricks encourages a sense of inquiry. Students ask questions about the math, discover invented strategies, and “play” with numbers. The LEGO bricks offer opportunities for students to build, draw, and write about possible solutions. This opens the door for discourse about math and number theory.
So when teachers ask me, “Is all this building with bricks really necessary?” my answer is always, “It is not only necessary, it is imperative if you are teaching for more than the test.”
Congratulations to Jane O'Dell, Cindy Beacham, and Tami Broomall, winners of our Brick Math brick set giveaway! Each won a 2-person brick set that works with any of the books in Brick Math. Keep checking our Facebook page, Teaching Math Using LEGO Bricks, for the next giveaway!
Charity Preston of the website Organized Classroom just reviewed Teaching Fractions Using LEGO Bricks, and says it's "super fun!" On her very popular website, Charity notes that she thinks learning fractions always requires some concrete materials to help introduce the concepts, and that's why she was excited to try the activities in the book.
Charity adds an extra tip for teachers when they start using the Brick Math program: she suggests letting students play with the bricks for two minutes before starting the lessons, just so they get the "playing" aspect of LEGO bricks out of their systems and are ready to use them as learning tools. Great idea!
Pat Hensley of the blog Successful Teaching just reviewed one of the Brick Math books, Teaching Multiplication Using LEGO Bricks. Glad to say that Pat loved it! Read her whole review here: https://successfulteaching.blogspot.com/2017/08/teaching-multiplication-using-lego.html
Pat found the lessons easy to follow and great for classroom teachers or a homeschool situation. We're supplying a free book for one lucky reader of Successful Teaching, so go to Pat's blog and sign up to win the book before September 4!
by Dr. Shirley Disseler
According to 2017 research by the LEGO Foundation, using LEGO bricks ignites four key types of processing and 24 key skills in the brain that lead to great retention of information. The four types of processing are:
Modeling and building with bricks to learn math helps with children’s self-regulation skills. These enhance the skills of emotional regulation and attachment to content, long-term memory, attention, mental imagery, and system thinking. During the process of self-regulation, the brain places a “file folder” for that model in the long-term memory of the brain.
Using bricks when learning math helps develop the child’s executive function, which is tied to the skills of visual perception, initiation, adaptive social functioning (collaboration), and one’s ability to self-assess. Being able to actually see the steps in a math problem by modeling it with bricks is a great way to visualize what the math means and why it works.
Learning math using bricks also develops the process of symbolic representation, which directly leads to the skills of kinesthetic awareness, spatial visualization, sensory-motor abilities, mental rotation, and working memory. When you learn math, you identify numbers and spaces by visualizing what they represent or by using mental math. The process of building with bricks places the focus on the eyes and the hands, which lead to cognitive understanding and the ability to visual a number or a space.
The last of the four processes enhanced by building with bricks is spatial ability. This process provides a greater short-term memory, fine motor skills, and increased cognitive flexibility. In math, the ability to utilize invented strategies, think logically, and use reason to determine solutions is all part of cognitive flexibility. Building brick models enhances fine motor skills by providing a tactile experience.
It looks like the brick is the brain’s new best friend! It helps kids attend, engage, and focus on learning through building brick models with their hands.
by Dr. Shirley Disseler
Teachers of gifted students need to encourage them to think, create, and problem-solve. Sounds like a perfect use for Brick Math, with its hands-on modeling with LEGO® bricks! But I’ve found that using Brick Math with gifted students can be an interesting challenge.
Teaching Brick Math with gifted students has opened my eyes. Gifted students often want to get right to the answer and check the problem off the list as “completed.” They do not want to show work, write about it, or discuss with others how they got their solutions. I have found that many of these students don’t really know math. They know how to do math procedurally. They can tell you how, but they can’t tell you why! Standardized scores of US gifted students continue to remain stagnant over time because we are not challenging them to think. We are only challenging them to produce.
I served as a teacher of gifted for math at the middle grades level. I often recognized in my students their need to be perfect. When such students were forced to explain how a math problem worked, they worried about being wrong and were afraid to take risks. I began to have them write out everything to explain it clearly. It was difficult for them at first, because they weren’t always earning 100 on every test, and their parents got worried. But over time, their test scores grew tremendously as they became more comfortable explaining the process behind the math, because they were developing a deep understanding.
We can boost test scores and increase 21st-century skill sets if we encourage explanation, justification, and collaboration among our students. Creative play with content helps our brains explore new ideas and solutions. Using methods that are engaging to the mind create a lot of energy in young people. And energy creates a passion for the subject.
So…encourage your gifted students to play with math! When they see that it’s not always about just getting the right answer, they’ll start to develop the true understanding that is the foundation for math fluency and excellence.