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Education Matters: Teach children the next 'place' in counting

By By Estella De Los Santos and Barba Patton
Jan. 4, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 3, 2014 at 7:04 p.m.


Once a child can count from one to 100 and read numbers, learning about place value should follow to help ensure future success in mathematics. A fun way of teaching children about place value is using items that represent units or ones, such as beans.

A single bean represents a unit or one. Practice by writing a number on a piece of paper and asking the child to count out that number of beans. The child may be able to count but may not understand the concept of place value.

The value of a digit depends on where the digit is placed in a number. For example, in the number 23, the "2" is in the tens place, so it represents two 10s, or 20 beans, while the "3" in the ones place represents three ones, or three beans.

Try this inexpensive way of teaching place value: glue 10 beans onto one popsicle stick. Repeat with several more popsicle sticks. Each popsicle stick with 10 beans will represent 10s and individual beans will represent ones.

Make sure the child understands that there are 10 beans on each popsicle stick by asking him to count the beans. Use the 10-sticks to help the child skip count from 10 to 100 by 10s: "10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100."

Write "23" on a piece of paper and ask the child to count out 23 beans. Next, ask the child to determine how many 10s are in 23 beans. Explain to the child that a "fair trade" can be made for each group of 10 beans. The child should count 10 beans from the group of 23 beans, remove the 10 beans and replace them with one 10-stick.

Count the beans so that the child understands that there are still 23 beans, but the beans are now represented with one 10-stick plus 13 ones. The child should then separate another group of 10 beans from the remaining beans and trade them for another 10-stick. Now, the child should understand the beans are represented with two 10s and three ones, just like the digits on the paper.

Do as many examples as necessary. Be sure to supervise young children, so they do not put the beans in their mouth, nose or ears.

The concept is mastered, for example, when the child goes straight to representing 56 beans with five 10-sticks and six single beans and can explain that the 5 digit represents five 10s, or 50 beans, and the 6 digit represents six ones, or six beans.

Professor Estella De Los Santos and associate professor Barba Patton teach mathematics education in the University of Houston-Victoria School of Education & Human Development.

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