Making Learning Visible

You know what, learning math is hard! As a child, I always struggled with math. It never came easily to me, I didn’t see the value in it, it was really, really difficult, and I never had a really great teacher who could speak the same language when it came to getting me to understand it. As such, I have muddled through with basic math skills and done okay. Thankfully we have calculators in our pockets. But beyond helping me to figure out the tip on a restaurant bill or how much change to give someone, I don’t have a very good number sense.

One of the classrooms I work with wanted to help their students to understand the math concept of tens and ones. Lots of elementary classrooms use colored blocks that interlock to create tens and ones. While these can be visually appealing and help tactile learners, often there are not enough for each student to use all at the same time, pieces get lost, broken, etc. We found a great app called Number Pieces Basic (free, iOS) that allows students to use ones, tens, and hundreds blocks by simply dragging and dropping.


You can break apart tens blocks.


Use the math equation function and the draw tool to annotate.


While I do not have the luxury of knowing each student’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their math skills, I was able to witness students using this tool to help them figure out complex math problems. Having a good number sense also helped students as they practiced learning how to tell time. We use another great free app – Telling Time (free, iOS) – to reinforce time. Teachers can differentiate for students who are struggling by setting the increments to be 60, 15, 5, or 1 minute. Students can also do “quiz mode” where they can test themselves to see how quickly they can answer. It’s a great way for students to practice at their own pace and skill level.


I love this – she is having fun but also working really hard to get the right answer!

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