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.
The Teacher and Student Editions of Basic Measurement Using LEGO® Bricks have just been published! Digital editions of these books are now available on Kindle and Teacher Pay Teachers. Printed versions are available on Amazon and direct from Brigantine Media. This is the ninth book in the Brick Math series. Two more books will be published in January 2019: Decimals and Advanced Measurement & Geometry. These books will complete the Brick Math K-6 curriculum.
Announcing four brand-new books in the Brick Math Series: Fraction Multiplication and Fraction Division, Teacher and Student Editions. These new books complete the Brick Math module for fractions, along with the original Basic Fractions, Teacher and Student Editions.
The subject of fractions is one of the most challenging math topics for elementary students. It's also one that receives the most attention in standardized testing. But students are often confused by the concept of a fraction and how to perform mathematical operations with fractions. The Brick Math techniques that model fractions with LEGO® bricks are a revolutionary way to help students develop true mastery of the topic.
Basic Fractions has been the biggest seller in the Brick Math Series, and many teachers have asked for the techniques to teach multiplication and division of fractions. Now those books are available, so you can extend the Brick Math program to upper elementary students.
In the next few months, the entire Brick Math K - 6 curriculum will be available. Upcoming math subjects include: Basic Measurement (December 2018), Advanced Measurement and Geometry, and Decimals (both January 2019). These books are now available for preorder.
The Forsyth County, North Carolina, PAGE (Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education) chapter has recommended Brick Math to parents looking for math enrichment for their gifted students. Here's what they say about Brick Math in their May 2018 newsletter:
The Brick Math Series, by Dr. Shirley Disseler at High Point University. Dr. Disseler is Associate Professor and Chair of the HPU Department of Elementary and Middle Grades Education where she also serves as STEM Coordinator. She has authored a series of math books which provides activities which can help students learn the basics of the K-5 math curriculum by modeling with LEGO bricks. Specific math subjects include Counting, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, and Fractions. When they are taught with the activities in these books, students develop a deeper understanding of the concepts that are the foundation of true mathematical knowledge.
Find the website at http://www.brickmathseries.com.
Dr. Disseler has designed the program to be applicable in a variety of situations: enrichment for gifted students, remedial for struggling learners, in a small-group setting, and as classroom curriculum.
Congratulations to Donors Choose! Last week, the organization received $29 million from Ripple to fund every project listed!
That got us thinking about teachers who might want to fund the purchase of Brick Math products for their classrooms though Donors Choose. Here's the good news: it's easy to do!
Create your Donors Choose project and use the Brick Math website to determine the costs for your project. All the Brick Math products—books and brick sets—are available through one of the Donors Choose vendors, so the order will be seamless for you.
We're big fans of Donors Choose. Started by a teacher in 2000 who was trying to figure out how to get books for his students that his school wouldn't pay for (sound familiar?), the idea has exploded, and today, more than 600,000 requests have been fulfilled.
Naturally, we hope your school will be able to purchase Brick Math for you. But if you're ready to start a Donors Choose project for Brick Math materials, click here.
Teaching students to add fractions that have unlike denominators can be a challenge. It starts with teaching how to find a common denominator. Far too often, this can lead to a purely procedural account of the how, but not the why behind the math. Using LEGO bricks to teach this concept brings new understanding of the term “common denominator” by providing a visual and tactile link.
A key piece of knowledge when comparing fractions concerns understanding same-sized wholes. Students often make errors when trying to add or subtract fractions because they don’t grasp the concept that fractions can only be compared if the whole (the denominator) for both fractions is the same size.
Let’s add the fractions 1/4 and 1/3 together to show how the process works. First, build models of the two fractions on a baseplate using LEGO bricks. Model the fraction 1/4 with a 1x1 brick and a 1x4 brick, placing the 1x1 brick above the 1x4 brick. Model the fraction 1/3 with a 1x1 brick and a 1x3 brick in the same way. Build the 1/3 fraction model next to the 1/4 fraction model, leaving a little space between them, as shown.
In algebra, we use the phrase, “What you do to the left you must do to the right,” to help remember how to approach equations. Here we say, “What you do to the bottom you must do to the top,” to remember that the way you treat the denominator defines the way you treat the numerator. The fraction train shows the multiplication that takes place as you build the common denominator model. Note: As you build the fraction train, you distinguish between counting bricks and counting studs.
To build the fraction train, find another 1x4 brick and place it on the baseplate below the two fraction models. Then find another 1x3 brick and place it just underneath the 1x4 brick.
This begins the fraction train and represents the two fractions in the order they appear in the equation: 1/4 + 1/3 = ____. Add another 1x4 brick to the train, and then another 1x3 brick to its train. Continue adding 1x4 bricks to that train and 1x3 bricks to the other train until both fraction trains of bricks are the same length. Ask students to count the number of studs in each line when they are equal in length. (Answer: 12.)
This is the common denominator. Place a 1x12 brick at the bottom of the baseplate to represent the common denominator of 12. This is part of the solution model.
Now it’s time to determine the numerators, based on the common denominator. Start with the 1/4 fraction. Look at the fraction train built by the 1x4 bricks and ask: “How many 1x4 bricks are in the train?” (Answer: there are 3.) Now look at the model of the fraction 1/4 and ask: “What brick represents the numerator of the fraction 1/4? (Answer: the 1x1 brick.) Remind students that what you do to the bottom you must do to the top. Since there are three 1x4 bricks in the denominator, there must be three 1x1 bricks in the numerator of the solution. Place three 1x1 bricks above the 1x12 brick that represents the common denominator in the solution.
Repeat the process for the fraction 1/3 by counting the number of 1x3 bricks in the fraction train. (Answer: there are 4.) Since there are four bricks, place four 1x1 bricks in the solution model next to the three 1x1 bricks you just added.
Count the number of studs in the numerator: 7
Count the number of studs in the denominator: 12
The solution: 1/4 + 1/3 = 3/12 + 4/12 = 7/12
When you take students through the modeling of the solutions, you give them a powerful way to visualize what common denominators look like. Creating and modeling same-sized wholes (the fraction train that shows the common denominator) with LEGO bricks is key to understanding how to add unlike fractions. For both visual and tactile learners, this method helps students understand the multiplication process utilized with fractions, as well as the relationship of same-sized wholes and common denominators.
If you want to learn more about how to teach using LEGO bricks, check the website for the Brick Math program, www.brickmath.com.
Below is the text of Dr. Shirley Disseler's guest column wrote for The High Point Enterprise, High Point, N.C. The guest column was originally published on Jan. 29, 2018
Research shows that the creativity level of Americans is on the decline, affecting areas like problem solving, ideation, and entrepreneurial endeavors from those who finish high school and college as they enter the workplace. Many workplaces, such as Google, LEGO, and Disney, are choosing to put play into the workday to enhance communication, reduce stress in the workplace and create a greater sense that out-of-the-box critical problem solving is accepted in adult work environments.
That’s why International LEGO Building Day occurred on Sunday as a way to celebrate the patent of one of the most creative toys in the world. People across the world joined in the idea that play is not just for children.
According to experts in the field of play and creativity such as Stuart Brown, Sir Ken Robinson, and American Association for Play Therapy, the phrase “Playing with Purpose”is important to all people in terms of health, critical thinking and problem-solving, and communication. Building things with one’s hands provides the brain with a release that decreases stress, and promotes active thinking, which is key to positive decision making. A child’s imagination forms the building blocks of lifelong creativity, which is why it’s not such an outlandish notion that “Play”can help adults unlock a more creative side of themselves.
According to the famous artist, Henri Matisse, “Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” In our schools, we need to pay attention to the degree to which we allow for creative flow to occur within our classroom if we want curiosity, flexibility, persistence, and independence in our graduates.
According to research of Fortune 500 companies, 60 percent of them seek employees that demonstrate creative abilities, yet America ranks No. 11 in comparison of all nations in the numbers of employees that actually demonstrate creativity in the workplace. A recent survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute revealed that 41 percent of Americans feel extreme levels of workplace stress. Surveys conducted at locations where creative play was interwoven into the day showed much less stress, less absenteeism and a happy disposition towards their job. Being allowed to be creative in college courses also creates graduates that are better at solution finding, critical thinking and ideation.
The future of our country depends on the ideas of people, not on memorized facts; therefore, all educators, employers, and parents should embrace creativity, promote play and allow for the building of thought with hands-on materials such as LEGO Bricks. Stanford Professor James March, founder of Organization Theory, points to four domains (Called the 4Cs) in which play is crucial. First, he states that play is essential to the development of the cognitive capacity whereby neural pathways are formed through role-play, experimentation and risk-taking. Secondly, he points to creativity as a crucial factor in abolishing rules for creative endeavors. Thirdly, he discusses the connections formed through diverse working teams that offer out-of-the-box approaches to problem solving; and the fourth “C,” courage, offers workers and leaders the opportunity to change things and feel comfortable going out of the norm in their thinking and producing of ideas.
Companies interested in integrating play into the workplace need to first lighten the mood through silliness in small chunks; Secondly, advocate for change by allowing a sharing of ideas amongst groups of employees; thirdly, keep a stash of play materials in the office and put them out on Mondays to get the week rolling; and lastly, be open-minded and prepared to play yourself.
As the world celebrates the patent of the LEGO Brick, let’s build minds, build thoughts, and build dreams. As people, we were born to build! On this day, grab some LEGO Bricks and design the future.
Shirley Disseler, Ph.D., is Chair Elementary and Middle Grades at High Point University;
LEGO Ambassador; LEGO Education Trainer; Curriculum Developer; and Author of “Brick Math Series: Using LEGO Bricks to Teach Math.”
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.”