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.
The fourth book in the Brick Math Series has just been published: Teaching Counting and Cardinality Using LEGO® Bricks, plus its companion Student Edition, Learning Counting and Cardinality Using LEGO® Bricks!
Congratulations to author Shirley Disseler for bringing the series to the K - 2 crowd. It's such a natural to teach the concepts of counting and cardinal numbers using the well-known LEGO® bricks. Young students practice one-to-one correspondence by touching the studs on the bricks and compare "more than" and "less than" by building brick models. The hands-on learning with the bricks, together with Dr. Disseler's step-by-step approach, creates a teaching and learning resource that introduces students to the first mathematical concepts.
Next up will be Addition and Subtraction Teaching and Learning books to complete the K - 2 math curriculum, available in June!
New research shows that students can improve their test results by learning math with a hands-on method.
The research was done in conjunction with the Brick Math Series, a new program developed to help students learn math concepts using of LEGO® bricks as a hands-on manipulative. Author Dr. Shirley Disseler, education professor at High Point University, developed this program based on prior research showing that many students learn math more readily with hands-on techniques. (For a summary of the studies see: http://www.brickmathseries.com/how-it-works.html.) In the Brick Math Series, teachers and students build mathematical models with LEGO® bricks to help them understand concepts such as counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions.
Students who used the Brick Math Series showed impressive improvement in their comprehension of math concepts. Test sites include four elementary schools with students in grades 3 – 5 that used the program for the math subjects of multiplication, division, and fractions. The data includes 534 students in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Significant improvement in areas of engagement and time on task as related to performance was noted across all three math subjects.
Sites using the fractions curriculum report strong testing results from pre- to post-assessment. The average gain from pre-test to post-test is 7 – 9 points for those utilizing the Brick Math Series program versus more traditional teaching methods.
These preliminary results back up teacher and student enthusiasm about this new program. Kelli Coons, an instructional coach, says the program "breathes life back into math instruction." Fifth-grade teacher Jamie Piatt says, "The activities are easy to follow and make learning fun!" Teacher Tina Lupton calls the program "hands-on, engaging, and overall an exciting way to learn math." Students are equally enthusiastic about the Brick Math Series. One student said, "I finally know what a fraction is. I can see it!" Another student asked, "Why doesn't everyone learn math this way?"
For more information on the Brick Math Series, go to www.brickmathseries.com.
by Dr. Shirley Disseler
Have you ever been in a room where you did not understand what the presenter was saying? Not just because it was difficult information, but because it was in another language? That’s what your ELL (English Language Learner) students may be experiencing in your math class.
Students who have limited English proficiency struggle with vocabulary that teachers often see as ordinary. This is particularly true with math because words that are math terms are often something else, too. For example: pie and pi are homophones, product can be something you purchase or the answer to a multiplication problem, and terms like plus sign are used even though they are no longer acceptable in the math world. Because the words are confusing, ELL students need a more hands-on approach. When they have tools to model the math, can draw to show understanding, and view pictures to see how to do things, they have a better chance of math success. They need the three-step process for true math retention — Do-Draw-Write/Explain — to truly comprehend the content.
Many teachers are not aware that some ELL students are born right here in the United States. Students living in poverty or in those who do not learn to read well can be part of the ELL category. Some kindergarteners come to school knowing less than 3000 words, and this greatly inhibits their ability to learn math through word problems in context.
Using LEGO® bricks to model mathematical thought reduces the stress for ELL students. The universally known product puts students on a more level playing field with their same-aged peers and provides a common conversation for modeling math content. I have seen many ELL students learn to do math with bricks. As they progress, they demonstrate true understanding of mathematical processes and conceptual ideas. Using the bricks is a great way to put students at ease with the learning process to build their confidence and spark engagement and motivation in the classroom.