I recently had a customer tell me that her son didn’t understand the idea of factors until she tried Brick Math. When he saw the concept of factors made real with LEGO bricks, she said, he knew what they were! It’s exciting to hear when students finally “get it” because modeling with bricks makes all the difference for them.
I started to think about that lesson on factors, and I realized it is the perfect way to demonstrate the power of Brick Math as a learning system. Here’s why Brick Math works so well to teach elementary math: it’s tactile (kids touch the bricks and build the models themselves), it’s visual (kids can see exactly what the numbers in a math problem represent), and it’s conceptual (kids understand the underlying idea behind the math when they discover it for themselves in a guided program).
Let me show you how Brick Math works with that lesson on factors:
This lesson models all the factors of 16 and demonstrates perfectly the meaning of “factor." Like all Brick Math lessons, it starts with some basic bricks and a baseplate to build on. Begin by placing one brick that has 16 studs on the baseplate (studs are the bumps on LEGO bricks). This can be a 2x8 brick or a 1x16 brick.The model shows 1 brick with 16 studs, so the multiplication fact shown is 1 x 16 = 16. 16 and 1 are factors of 16.
Next, take two bricks that each have 8 studs and place them next to the brick that’s already on the baseplate. It’s best if those two bricks are two different colors. You’ll use either two 2x4 bricks or two 1x8 bricks. Now the model shows 2 (bricks) x 8 (studs) = 16, and that 2 and 8 are also factors of 16.
Now, here’s where the Brick Math program really becomes a powerful learning tool. For the next step, ask the student, “Are there 3 bricks that are all the same size that you can use to build the next row?” Let your students try with different bricks. They will demonstrate to themselves that there are none, so 3 can’t be a factor of 16. It’s so important that students discover for themselves while they are learning. That’s what helps them internalize what the math is all about.
When they move on to looking for 4 bricks, they’ll find that four 2x2 bricks or 1x4 bricks do the trick. Now, they have 4 (bricks) x 4 (studs) = 16, so 4 is another factor of 16.
Have them look again for 5, 6, and 7 bricks that work in the model. They’ll quickly figure out that none of those numbers are factors of 16. They’ll move on to modeling eight 1x2 bricks, with the multiplication fact of 8 x 2 = 16. Finally, they can add sixteen 1x1 bricks to the model to complete all the factors with the multiplication fact of 16 x 1 = 16. When you look at the final model and count the number of bricks, the final model clearly shows the factors of 16: 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16.
Dr. Shirley Disseler, developer of the Brick Math method, demonstrates this same lesson in the video below.
The concept of factors is key to learning multiplication, division, and fractions, so it’s in all three of the Brick Math books on those subjects: Multiplication, Division, and Basic Fractions. And it (almost) goes without saying: students have fun while they learn!
If you teach math or have a student at home who is learning math, check brickmath.com. The website includes videos for both teacher training and direct instruction of students. You can learn more about how Brick Math improves student math test scores and hear what people who are using Brick Math have to say about the program.
Brick Math is a K-6 math curriculum that uses LEGO® bricks to model 11 different math subjects: Counting, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Basic Fractions, Basic Measurement, Fraction Multiplication, Fraction Division, Advanced Measurement and Geometry, and Decimals. It works well for math intervention, for enrichment, and as a whole-school program. Materials are simple and need not be shared between students. It adapts easily to online instruction.
Contact us with any questions.
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!"
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!
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
The second edition of Basic Fractions Using LEGO® Bricks has just been published! This edition has even more ways to teach students about fractions than before.
The first edition of Teaching Fractions Using LEGO® Bricks was the very first book written in the 22-book Brick Math series. Author Dr. Shirley Disseler went back to this best-selling book and thought it was time for an update. The second edition has lots of new illustrations of the brick models as well as several new chapters with content that was not included in the original book. Here's what's new in this second edition:
Right now, until December 15, the Brick Math FREE Lesson of the Month is from the Basic Fractions book, and it shows how to teach students to compare and order fractions, using the fantastic "fraction train" method. To download the free lesson, click here.
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.
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.”
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.