Many elementary schools are planning for a combination of in-school and online learning for the upcoming school year. But studies show that students have missed about half the math they should have learned this spring. It’s important that the math instructional methods for the fall carry through from the classroom to the home.
Steven Blackburn, writing for District Administration, talks about two key needs for learning math: the use of manipulatives, and the ability for students to share their thinking with teachers and peers. He quotes Trena Wilkerson, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM): “Making math meaningful involves providing tasks and opportunities that allow students to engage in ways that make sense in their world to build upon whatever understanding they have at that moment to do meaningful work.”
That’s how Brick Math works. Students build models with a familiar and fun manipulative, LEGO® bricks. Then they share their thinking about the math, both orally and in writing. Wilkerson is clear about the need for communication in math instruction: “There needs to be an open dialogue in learning just to ensure students are engaging with the mathematical principles and making sense of it in their world.”
Schools can use the Brick Math curriculum and brick sets on site at school and also send brick sets and student workbooks home for students’ use there. Even students without Internet access can discuss their Brick Math work with teachers via phone or text.
Whether in our new virtual classrooms or in real life, students need to learn along with the teacher, using a model to explain and describe the math. Dr. Shirley Disseler, author of the Brick Math curriculum, recently found that most parents of elementary students don’t feel qualified to work with their child in the area of math (23% of 250 respondents). In contrast, 65% felt they could help their child with reading tasks. For math, students need to see the teacher, hear the teacher, and work alongside the teacher whether online or in person.
No matter how it is delivered, instruction must provide student engagement that is rooted in manipulative and hands-on work that is not solely worksheet and app based. Brick Math is a curriculum that helps students learn K-6 math in any learning environment.
While kids are learning from home, Brick Math helps to make math fun! Dr. Shirley Disseler (aka "Dr. D") has launched a series of videos for students that help them learn K - 6 math using LEGO® bricks!
In the "Brick Math with Dr. D" videos, Dr. Disseler teaches Brick Math directly to students, showing them the brick modeling techniques and explaining the "why" behind the math.
"It's a great way for kids to start using LEGO® bricks to learn math concepts while they're home," says Dr. Disseler. "The lessons are really fun for kids to do, and they feel a great sense of satisfaction when they learn by building along with me as they watch the videos."
"Brick Math with Dr. D" videos have lessons in Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Basic Fractions. New videos are being added all the time to cover more math subjects.
Says Dr. Disseler, "And parents are welcome to join us—Brick Math is fun for everyone!"
The Brick Math method of learning by using LEGO® bricks to model math problems adapts to anywhere kids are learning – it’s a great method to learn K-6th grade math at home. It makes math easy to teach and fun to learn!
Here are the basics you need to know to use Brick Math at home with your own children:
Brick Math is taught by math subject. It corresponds to grade level roughly this way:
K-2: Counting, Addition, Subtraction
3-4: Multiplication, Division, Basic Fractions, Basic Measurement
5-6: Fraction Multiplication, Fraction Division, Advanced Measurement and Geometry, Decimals
Choose the subject(s) you need for your children. You can mix up the grade levels, depending on their interest and what they’re learning.
There is a Teacher Edition for each subject for you to use. These have all the lessons in chapter format. There is also a Student Edition for each subject, which is a workbook with extra problems, assessments, and a place to keep your child’s work all in one place. These are optional, but they are really useful. The books come in physical paperback versions as well as PDFs that can be downloaded immediately.
The LEGO® bricks that are used to model the math are the common sizes and shapes – 1x1, 2x2, 2x4, etc. Each chapter lists the bricks you need to do the lessons in that chapter, and the appendix of each book has a list of all the bricks needed for the whole program. There is a Brick Math brick set you can purchase, but if you have LEGO® bricks at home, feel free to use them!
Brick Math has lots of resources for helping parents teach their children with the program. You can start with video lessons, and then follow the Teacher Edition to guide your child through all the lessons. Every Teacher Edition has tips for teaching with Brick Math. The short assessments in every chapter of the Student Editions will help you make sure your child is learning.
And, as always, feel free to contact us with your questions – we’re here to help!
The concept of Least Common Denominator (LCD) is key to being able to add and subtract with fractions that have unlike denominators or compare the size of different fractions. It's essential for students to thoroughly grasp the idea, and until they do so, they can't move forward with fractions.
Modeling with LEGO bricks is the perfect way to teach students how to find the least common denominator. This method from Brick Math, called the "Fraction Train," starts with concrete representation of the math problem using bricks, to teach students exactly where the idea of a common denominator comes from.
1. Start by explaining that the process for finding Least Common Denominator with bricks is called the "Fraction Train." Have students build brick models of 2/3 and 3/4. Label them Fraction 1 and Fraction 2.
2. Discuss the value of the numerators and the denominators of 2/3 and 3/4. Ask students if the wholes are the same, and if not, which whole is larger? Explain that you will be finding the Least Common Denominator so you can compare the fractions.
3. Place one 1x3 brick on the baseplate, showing the denominator of Fraction 1, and under that, a 1x4 brick showing the denominator of Fraction 2.
Now it's time to start building your "fraction train." You'll be building out a train of bricks that makes a rectangle.
Add enough 1x3 bricks to the top row, and enough 1x4 bricks to the bottom row, until both rows are the same length and the bricks form a rectangle. Count the studs in each row (12) to find the Least Common Denominator—the smallest number that both denominators can divide into evenly.
Discuss the fact that 12 is also the equivalent whole for both fractions 2/3 and 3/4.
4. Now it's time to build the equivalent fractions for 2/3 and 3/4, using the Least Common Denominator of 12.
Place two 1x12 bricks on the baseplate to represent the LCD of 12 for each fraction.
5. Look at the fraction train again. There are 4 bricks in the top row of the fraction train. This shows the number of 1x2 bricks (from the numerator of Fraction 1) that will model the numerator of the equivalent fraction. Count the studs in the numerator (8) and the denominator (12) . This shows that the equivalent fraction for 2/3 is 8/12.
6. Repeat the process for Fraction 2. Count the studs on the model of the numerator (9) and on the denominator (12). The equivalent fraction for 3/4 is 9/12.
7. Now the equivalent fractions can be compared, since they both have the same denominator. Have students look at the numerators of each fraction and determine which fraction is larger, based on having the larger number of studs in the numerator. Extend the learning by having students draw their models. Have them write a math sentence that compares the two fractions (2/3 <3/4 because 8/12 < 9/12).
Whether you are a longtime LEGO® fanatic or new to the wonders of the plastic brick, it’s not hard to understand how well LEGO bricks work as a tool to teach fractions. The bricks can easily show concepts of benchmark fractions (½, ¼, 1/8, etc.), and since many students are familiar with them as a toy, they really enjoy using them in math class.
Brick Math’s Basic Fractions Teacher Edition has a full curriculum for teaching fractions using LEGO® bricks. It starts with activities to answer the question “What is a fraction?” and moves through all the fraction topics – benchmark fractions, adding and subtracting fractions, factors, equivalent fractions, finding common denominators, and mixed numbers.
Benchmark fractions (½, ¼, 1/8, ¾) are important for students to learn early on in their exploration of fractions. These are fractions they will see often, and understanding their value will help them make estimates in real-life situations. Benchmark fractions will also help students recognize that fractions are made from different-sized wholes. This is key to understanding fractions.
Here’s how to teach benchmark fractions using the Brick Math technique:
1. Start by placing a 2x4 LEGO® brick on a baseplate to represent the whole. Make sure students know that because there are 8 studs on this brick, it represents the whole of 8, and that is the denominator of the fraction.
2. Have students find a brick that shows ½ of this whole. Have them look for two bricks that are the same size and together take up the same space as the whole 2x4 brick when placed together. They should find either two 2x2 bricks or two 1x4 bricks. Explain that one of these bricks represents ½.
The 1x4 or 2x2 brick has 4 studs, so the brick shows the numerator 4 of the fraction modeled here – 4/8 (or ½).
3. Ask students to find ¼ of the whole of 8 in the same way, with four bricks that take up the same space as the 2x4 brick. They should find four 1x2 bricks, and understand that one of these bricks shows ¼. With 2 studs on this brick, it models the numerator of the fraction 2/8 (or ¼).
4. Have students do the same process to find the brick that represents 1/8.
Then have students place these benchmark fractions bricks next to each other, to show the whole, ½, ¼, and 1/8 – and that each fraction is half of the one preceding it.
5. To show ¾, have students look for the brick that shows ¼, then find three of them and put them next to the whole. See if your students make the connection to the 6 studs on these bricks as the numerator of the fraction 6/8. They’ll do this by showing that the three ¼ bricks are equivalent to one 2x3 brick.
Brick Math is a complete K – 6 curriculum that uses LEGO® bricks to teach math. Besides Basic Fractions, Brick Math topics include: Counting, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Basic Measurement, Fraction Multiplication, Fraction Division, Advanced Measurement and Geometry, and Decimals.
Try Brick Math with your students with a FREE Brick Math lesson every month! You'll be able to download a PDF that includes the teacher instructions for a lesson, plus the student pages that go along with the lesson. It's a great way to test out the Brick Math program with your students. Once you've signed up, you'll receive a new Brick Math lesson every month.
Click here to sign up now for the monthly free lesson plans and student pages to build your Brick Math library!
We'd like to get feedback about Brick Math from people who have tried the curriculum. If you're a teacher, administrator, or parent who has used Brick Math with a student, please take a few moments to complete our short survey.
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We hear from teachers all the time who tell us that Brick Math is very effective for their students who weren’t learning math through the established school curriculum. Often the reason is because the Brick Math methodology appeals to all kinds of learners.
Obviously, kinesthetic learners take to Brick Math because they can manipulate the bricks, and actually touch the math content. Auditory learners learn from Brick Math through the process of explaining in words why their models show the math. Visual learners enjoy the highly visual nature of brick models, both through seeing completed models and through building and drawing their own models. And reading/writing learners respond particularly well to the component of the program that asks students to explain their thinking in writing.
When Brick Math was being developed, author Dr. Shirley Disseler recognized the creative nature of the program. Often there is not just one right way to model a problem, but a variety. She continues to be surprised by new ways that students find to use the bricks to explain the underlying math concepts.
The flexibility of Brick Math for all types of learners helps many students find success with math!
Happy holidays to all! Here's our present to you: A brand-new Brick Math Lesson of the Month!
For December, we have a lesson from Addition Using LEGO® Bricks. The lesson helps students learn two important concepts:
1. How to model place values with bricks
2. How to model addition using those place value models
This is a great way to teach students about place values. The lesson models the ones with 1x1 bricks, the tens with 1x2 bricks, and the hundreds with 1x3 bricks. Once students understand how to model numbers using place values, it’s a short step to learning how to add using place values.
The lesson of the month gives the step-by-step lesson from the Teacher’s Edition first, and then shows the corresponding pages in the Student Edition that students will complete as they learn.
To receive this Lesson of the Month and be registered to get a new one every month, click here.
LEGO® bricks are a very versatile manipulative for math. In fact, Brick Math author Dr. Shirley Disseler has developed a method of teaching students to tell time using bricks!
The technique is called a “linear clock,” which models the numbers 1 through 12 with bricks. It works well to teach students how to tell time and how to find elapsed time. Baseplates are joined together to make the clock, and each stud on the baseplate models a five-minute increment.
Naturally, when using bricks to teach the concept of time, it’s important to also relate the linear clock to both an analog clock and a digital clock, so students learn how to tell time through conventional means.
Here’s an example of using bricks on the linear clock to show elapsed time (from Basic Measurement Using LEGO® Bricks):
Using the linear clock model, place a red 1x1 brick at 2:00 pm on the baseplate. Count forward 65 minutes, and mark the new time on the baseplate with another red 1x1 brick. What time is it now? Write a math sentence for your model.
Answer: The new time is 3:05 pm.
Math sentence: 2 hours + 65 minutes = 3 hours 5 minutes or 3:05 pm