When updating my hands-on algebra product over spring break, I was reminded of a great tip for organizing a common math tool many of us use. Several summers ago, Courtney and I attended and in-district 3-day workshop with Angela Andrews. Angela is an expert in early math and offered an abundance of useful information and strategies.

Just want to share a great tip Angela gave us for organizing a math tool many of us use with students, Unifix cubes (or linking cubes). Angela suggested not only putting Unifix cubes in groups of ten (which many of us already do), but she also suggested using two

different colors to show groups of five (see picture below). The reason for this is quite simple, yet powerful.

As students progress in their understanding of number, the tools must progress with them. When Unifix cubes are separated and stored in a tub all mixed together, students who want to use them for modeling must count them one-by-one. For example, a second grader may choose Unifix cubes to represent a “situation”, but when he/she has to count them individually he/she is reverting back to an earlier stage of development. By organizing cubes in groups of five (two different colors) to make up ten, that second grade student can easily see five and add on. In this way, when he/she wants to show a value such as 12, using Unifix cubes/linking cubes, the use of this tool becomes much more appropriate and efficient.

Organize cubes into groups of ten with two different colors (5 of one and 5 of another). This will eliminate one-to-one counting of cubes that may not

be desired and requires students to use their understanding of 5 and 10.

*“I see six, and I know there are ten altogether. I need four more to make ten with six, so four are hiding.”*

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Tina Boley says

Thank you for this post! I teach struggling learners and concrete methods are what really works for them. Your ideas about the unifix cubes make sense! I love the game of hiding some behind a back and the other student has to say how many. Simple, but powerful! 🙂

guidedmathadventures@gmail.com says

Thanks so much for stopping by! When Angela shared the idea of linking the cubes this way, I thought to myself–"Now why didn't I think of that?". Had to pass on the tip! My grandson is in the pic with the hiding game (a couple years ago). He had just finished kg at the time and I asked him of he wanted to "play". He recognized the cubes and was quickly able to see the five and relate his understanding of five to ten. :0)

Smiles,

Sarah

yearn to learn says

Appreciated your focus on building algebraic reasoning and scaffolding number sense. I like the tip on using 2 colors for strings of 10 cubes. It parallels the concept behind rekenreks. Thanks for offering the chance on the Out of this World text. With pun intended, it brings the learning down to earth. Thanks!

angel chism says

I love using cubes to help the little ones practice their math. Your thoughts today were very helpful, can't wait to try it with my students.