By doing this, I am nurturing the relationships that allow me to routinely make respectful requests and expect compliance (that is, to be in control of my classroom).

Further, I make it fun for them to learn what I expect of them.

Oh, it takes a little time, but not much. And I assure you, for every minute I spend setting clear and precise expectations, I gain hours of time I don’t have to spend in power struggles. It’s the old Ben Franklin adage at work, “An ounce of prevention….”

It is imperative that we learn how to keep control of our classroom while teaching with manipulatives, because our students need them to learn! Especially our youngest learners. If they can’t get concrete about math they are never going to fully understand it. Why? Because they are concrete learners.

So here is how I keep control of my classroom when I’m teaching with manipulatives.

First, I tell the class, “We are going to be using some math materials during math class today. When I first pass out the materials, the first thing you are going to want to do is NOT a math lesson. What is the first thing you are going to want to do when you are handed these materials?” The inevitable response is that they would like to play with them. So I say, “I will give you an opportunity to explore with them before we begin the teacher-directed portion of the lesson.”

Then I stop talking, and I enjoy watching the students express their delight!

I continue, “During the lesson there will be times when you will be using the blocks and not listening to me, but there will also be times when I want you to be listening to me and not handling the blocks.

“When I want you to take your hands off the blocks and look in my direction, I will say, ‘Please take your hands off the blocks and look this way.’

“Do you think you know what to do when I say, ‘Please take your hands off the blocks, and look this way’?”

Usually the class signals in the affirmative.

I continue, “Good. Please show me. Please pretend you’re building with the blocks at your desks.”

Now I wait about 5 seconds while students busily mime building with the blocks.

Then I say, “Please take your hands off the blocks, and look this way.”

I compliment the class on their rapid response to my request.

Then, I ask them, “How long do you think it should take for everyone in the class to take their hands off the blocks and look at me after I say, ‘Please take your hands off the blocks and look this way?’”

If the answer is given in a number of minutes, I chuckle out loud and suggest that the reaction time really should be measured in seconds.

If, say, 10 seconds is suggested, then I tell them we will use my stopwatch to investigate if this is sufficient time.

“OK, let’s see if 10 seconds is enough time for you to take your hands off the blocks and look at me after I say, ‘Please take your hands off the blocks and look this way.’ When I say, ‘Go,’ please pretend you’re building with the blocks, but keep listening to me so that you can take you hands off the blocks and look toward me when I ask you to.”

I then say “Go.” After maybe 5 seconds I say, “Please take your hands off the blocks, and look this way.” I start timing 10 seconds on my stopwatch, or whatever time they have chosen, and invariably it turns out to be a very long time, to everyone’s surprise. In fact, everyone has complied in less than one second, and then we wait in silence for another 9 seconds.

Although the most zealous students will want to comply instantaneously, typically others will suggest only one second.’ (This always gives me a good laugh, too. One second! How demanding they can be of themselves when we give them a chance to measure up. Kids are really wonderful.)

Then I tell the kids that since I am so generous, I am going to give them twice as much time as they need—2 seconds! Of course this delights them further. And so the expectation is set, and everyone is pleased.

We then practice this command two or three more times before the students ever have the materials on their desks or tables.

BEWARE: It is a grave mistake to allow students to handle the materials before the expectations are fully explained in detail and practiced with repetition. When the students begin their exploration of the real materials, their relationship with the materials actually begins to form, and we want it to form in a particular direction—OUR direction. In my opinion, we must be in control of our classrooms, and the teacher has control over what the kids want: access to the manipulatives. By following the instructions of the teacher, students will have maximum access to handling the blocks. (My next blog will address enforcing these expectations and the consequences for non-compliance.)

It bears repeating: set up the expectation that all hands in the room will be off the blocks and all eyes will be looking at you within two seconds. Use a stopwatch for timing to make the expectation more concrete and more dramatic.

After the instructions and response have been practiced a few times on the empty desks or tables, prepare to pass out the materials for exploration time. All eyes will be on you—here come the much anticipated math materials! (Can you believe how pleased they are now feeling about math materials? We are building a fire in them and associating it with math. We are making math fun. We are indeed teaching math in such a way that they will want more.)

But then I stop, with all eyes now on me, and I say, “You did a great job of taking your hands off the blocks during practice, but you did not actually have blocks in your hands. Do you think you could do this even if you really had blocks in your hands?”

The kids invariably assure me, “Yes!”

So I continue, “Well, we’re about to find out. Shortly after you begin building with the blocks, I am going to suddenly interrupt you and say, ‘Please take your hands off the blocks, and look this way.’ Do you think you will still be able to take your hands off the blocks and look this way in 2 seconds?”

The answer is again invariably, “Yes!”

I respond with, “Good,” and I begin passing out the blocks to the tables or clusters of desks.

(Note: As you continue successfully working with manipulative, whenever a new manipulative is going to used with the students, plan on giving the learners exploration time with the new hands-on materials before you attempt teacher-directed activities. When people of any age are presented with something new and exciting, they like to take a look at it, handle it, and discover relationships on their own. We do not want to discourage this curiosity. Getting familiar with the materials is valuable, so write this legitimate learning activity into your lesson plans. Ask the participants what they noticed, and conversations will begin to open up, full of math potential.)

Practice the “hands-off” procedure a few more times during the students’ 3- or 4-minute free exploration time with the new materials, and consistently reinforce the classroom expectation whenever you say, ‘Please take your hands off the blocks, and look this way.’

Using this protocol, by the time the active part of your lesson begins, your students will be in the habit of taking their hands off the blocks and returning attention to the teacher whenever requested. Having the ability to call your class back to your attention can make a decided difference in your comfort level with using manipulatives and perhaps in the ultimate success of your use of math modeling.

This blog has dealt with setting up expectations, and the next one will address the enforcement of this expectation AND the consequences of non-compliance with the instructions.

Meanwhile, send me your questions and experiences here!

]]>**Polly Bath**: Have you ever wondered: What happended to the rules? How did they fall apart?

What happens is that people get tired. But we have to fight that! We all have to enforce the rules no matter how tired we get.

When we all work to enforce the rules then the kids realize this, and they know what will happen. We need to say what we mean and mean what we say. When we do this, the kids will begin to expect it.

But sometimes staff in our building will say, “Well, I’m not going to tell the kid to take his hat off. Nobody else tells the kid to take his hat off, so I’m not going to. No one enforces that rule anyway.”

This is when the rules unravel. And it turns into a huge storm. No matter how tired we get, we ALL need to enforce the rules!

**Polly Bath**: I have an exercise I do in my class to teach delayed gratification.

I make an announcement on MONDAY morning, I say to the kids, “Ok, on FRIDAY at 2:05, I’m going to announce something fantastic that we’re going to be doing. I can’t wait to tell you, but I’m not going to tell you until 2:05 on Friday afternoon.” I will even put on the board, “2:05 Friday, don’t forget, exciting news!”

Well, what do you think the kids do all week?

ALL week they ask what the exciting news is. They say to me, “We promise to be good, just tell us!” But I reply, “I’ll tell you on Friday at 2:05.” And I really hold true to that.

Delayed gratification is a good thing.

Then, when 2:05 on Friday comes, I say, “It’s Friday and it’s 2:05. So, here is the exciting news: you guys have done so good this week, on Monday we’re going to have a pizza party!” Or whatever I’ve invented.

Now the kids are excited! They know what the news was and that they’ve been good all week. And they have something to look forward to on Monday.

I want to internalize the kids motivation, I want kids to like school!

**Polly Bath**: We behave differently at work than we do at home. Why is that? The expectations are clear and we know HOW to behave when we’re at work. Well, some of us know how to behave–but we do hear stories. [Laughter]

The idea is, we can teach KIDS how to behave in different environments, at different times. We know we behave differently at a grocery store than at a five-star restaurant, a public conference, watching fireworks, or just watching TV at home. It’s all about the environment and that your expectations are very clear.

If we use common language and make our expectations very clear, they will be very predictable. Then our students will be able to come to school and say, “Oh, I’m not at my house anymore. I’m in school and this is how I behave.”

**Polly Bath**: When a child in your classroom has a problem, the best thing to do is validate it right off. Even if you think it’s stupid, validate the problem.

For example, if a kid said to you, “Oh, my goldfish died.” We wouldn’t say, “Flush it and get another one.” That would only make things worse. Instead validate that this is a tragedy for them.

As soon as we validate their problem, it blows the wind out of their fight sale. And then they will sit down with you.

Next, we want to relate to them. It could be talking about something related to their problem or something completely unrelated. Again, this blows the wind out of their sales, and will open up the opportunity for you to roll in and teach.

We have to get kids available to learn a new skill. We do this by validating their problem, relating to them in some way, and then we can teach them some techniques they can use next time. After this we can reintegrate the child back into whatever the situation was where they had their problem.

**Tom Schersten**: In the last video, we talked about how to play the basic trading game with a personal savings account paper and the score sheet. In this video, we’re going to talk about extensions to make the game go faster, and how to use it for subtraction.

When we first start playing this game, usually what we’re doing is just rolling a single die into the plate, and we’re adding it each time. If we want the game to move a little faster, we can certainly roll two dice into the plate and add them together.

If we happen to be learning multiplication, we might roll two dice into the plate and multiply them with each other. We can add another die. We can have three dice and add them together.

One of my favorites is to roll three dice, add two of them together, and multiply by the third one. The total that you get depends on how you pair them up.

Another option is that I happen to have the 10 sided dice that have all the digits 0 through 9. We can roll this die and get up to nine on a turn. I also have a jumbo decahedral die that has 10s on it, so I can roll a two digit number each time.

Here’s a 44. I also happen to have some dice that have two digits on them. I have dice that have the numbers 13 through 18. I have dice that have the numbers 19 through 24, and dice that have the numbers 25 through 30.

We can roll a two digit die, or if we like, we can roll two two digit dice. Add them together for what they’re taking. Notice we’ve got lots of ways to make this game accelerate, depending on what level the kids are at.

We also use this game for subtraction. We would start with maybe 255 on the paper, and each time we roll the dice, we subtract.

Again, we have all of these different kinds of dice we could use, so we can be subtracting slowly or more quickly. Later on I like to use my add/subtract die to do mixed addition and subtraction.

Kids will roll this with the other dice, and sometimes it will be adding and sometimes subtracting. As you know, if we’ve done subtraction problems for a while and we switch to addition, the kids still do subtraction because they’re not looking at the sign.

With this die here, kids have a chance to really focus on what the sign is.

**Tom Schersten**: In this video, I’m going to show a game that kids can play day after day that will give them lots of drill on place value and won’t seem like a drill, because they’re playing a game.

Kids will roll dice which will tell them how many ones to take. They will put the blocks on a game mat.

At the top of the mat it says Personal Savings Account. On the left side is a place for putting hundreds. On the right is a place for putting ones; in the middle is a place for putting tens.

We’re also going to record everything on a Score Sheet. On the left side there’s a roll column where we write down what the dice roll was. Then we have three columns to write down how many hundreds we have, how many tens we have, and how many ones we have.

On the right side is the points column–how much all three of those tallies are worth altogether.

I also have a transition tub here, because I find that, lots of times, kids mix up their new blocks with their old blocks. Any time we’re taking new blocks, we’re going to put them into the transition tub so we don’t lose them.

Also, any time you roll the die, we roll it into a plate. If it comes out of the plate, it doesn’t count, and you have to roll again. If you roll out of the plate twice in a row, you lose your turn.

I’m going to model a few turns and how to do the recording so you’ll know how to use this game.

I roll the die, and I get a 3. The first thing I’m going to do is record a + 3 in the roll column.

I’m adding in this game, so that’s why I’m putting the plus sign there. Then I put my pencil down. I go get 3 ones, put them into my transition tub, so I can count and make sure I have the right number.

I have 3. I have checked it, so now I’m putting them onto my Personal Savings Account on the right side, where we have the ones.

Now I’m picking up my pencil, and I’m just going to record how many of each kind of block I have. I don’t have any hundreds, so I’m recording a 0. I don’t have any tens, so I’m recording a 0. I have 3 ones, so I’m writing a 3, and these amount to 3 points.

Here comes the next roll of the die. It’s a 4, so I’m writing down a + 4, putting my pencil down and getting 4 new blocks, putting them into my transition tub so I can check to make sure I have the right number.

I do have 4, so I will pick them up and add them to my paper. This is where the adding occurs. We don’t have to do any adding mentally.

We’ve added the 7, and what we’re going to record now is the cumulative total. The roll column on the left records what happens on each individual turn, but everything else is a cumulative total.

At this point, I see that we have no hundreds, no tens, and now we’re up to 7 ones, and this was worth a total of 7 points. Here comes the next roll of the die.

It’s a 5. I’m writing down that I’m adding 5, and I’ll put my pencil down and go get 5 new blocks and put them into my transition tub so I can count and make sure that it’s 5.

It is, so I will bring them out onto my paper, and I see that I have enough blocks that I can trade for a 10-stick. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. I’m trading 10 ones in for a 10-stick.

Notice that I said what I was doing at the same time I did it. Research shows that when we do that, kids are more likely to remember what they did.

It’s now time to record the cumulative total that I have. I still have no hundreds. I have 1 10-stick, and I have 2 ones. When I count them up, I have 10, 11, 12. I’m recording the 12.

Next roll of the die is a 6. I’m writing down a +6, and I’m going to get 6 new blocks, and counting to make sure I have the right number in my transition tub, and I do, and so I bring them out onto the board.

Now it’s time to count what I have. Still no hundreds. I have 1 10-stick, and now I have 8 ones. This is 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 points.

We’ll take one final turn. I roll a 4. I’m writing down a 4. I’m going to get my 4 blocks, putting them in the transition tub to make sure I have the right amount. I bring them out onto my board, and I see that again I can trade for another 10-stick.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. I’m trading 10 ones in for a 10. I pick up my pencil and record what I have. I have no hundreds. I have 2 tens and 2 ones, and when I count them up I have 10, 20, 21, 22.

One of the purposes of this game is to show kids that 22 actually is 2 tens and 2 ones. All throughout this score sheet, we will see that our tallies really tell us how many we have.

If you would like copies of the Personal Savings Account game mat or the Score Sheet, please see the links below.

]]>**Polly Bath**: There are four things we need to remember: acquisition, fluency, maintenance, and generalization.

We can’t send a child down the black diamond ski trail if we haven’t even taught him how to put the boots on! Often we feel we can bypass these steps by giving the kid a one-to-one para.

But this is a mistake! Having a one-to-one para doesn’t mean we can now throw the child down the black diamond trail.

We have to go back, teach the child how to put the boots on. This goes right back to our tiered system of foundation.

**Polly Bath**: It’s fine to use detention as a teacher-level consquence, but it matters what we do during that time.

It doesn’t matter how long a kid is in detention for, 42 minutes, 22 minutes, or 10 minutes. What matters is having a cause-and-effect conversation with the child. Discuss what his/her behavior is, what it’s creating, and how we’re going to give him/her the skills needed to make the behavior better. That should be the whole point of detention!

Then, when we’ve come to some agreement, some consensus, with our student, he/she can go home. Or I say to the parents, “The detention could take 15 minutes or it could take 50 minutes. But we have to get to some sort of goal before your child can go.” Now, I don’t say they have to stay until it’s figured out, because then the kid will be with me for a week and a half.

Don’t have the kid come in detention and do homework, or sit there with their head down. That is just a waste of their time and yours! If the consequence for the child’s behavior is doing time, it’s not going to do anything for the kid. Instead use the detention to teach skills, then you will start to see a change in the child’s behavior.

**Tom Schersten**: In this video, I’m going to model subtraction on the My Way Highway. Usually when we teach subtraction, we are using the removal model, where what we’re taking away is already embedded with what we’re starting with.

Today we’re going to be using the comparison model so you get to see what we’re starting with and how much we’re taking away. When we do the comparison model, we’re actually letting the yellow blocks stand for negative quantities.

This is like a positive 42 and a negative 27 that we’re combining. When I do this, the first thing I would like to do is I would like to do this problem by splitting my 42 into a 30 and a 12.

I’m going to record this, that I’m splitting this into a 30 and a 12, and then I’m coming over to my 27 and splitting that up into a negative 20 and a negative 7.

Then I’m going to combine my positive 30 and my negative 20. When I do, these zero out and these zero out, and when I combine them, I’m left with just a positive 10.

I’m now bringing this over the overpass to join up here, and I see that I have some zeroing I can do with the ones. Those zero out, and these zero out, and what I have left is both positives and negatives here.

I’m going to trade my 10 stick in for 10 ones 2, 4, 6, 8, 10. Then I can start zeroing out my ones.

There’s zeroing out, zeroing out, zeroing out, zeroing out and zeroing out, and when we zero those out, we see that we’re left with a positive 5 and I’m going to combine my 10 with my 5, and I have an absolute 15.

That’s one way to do it, but we have other options. Let me show you another way.

I’m again starting with my 42 up at the top and a negative 27. This time, I think I would like to split my 42 out into a 40 and a 2. I’m going to split my 27 up into a negative 20 and a negative 7.

Then I’m going to combine my positive 40 and my negative 20, and when I do, I zero out and I zero out, and I see that I’m left with a positive 20. When I combine my 2 with my negative 7, I will zero out and zero out, I see that I’m left with a negative difference of a negative 5.

We still have to zero out, so I’m going to trade one of my 10 sticks in for 10 ones 2, 4, 6, 8, 10. Those ones can come over to the ones column, and then we can zero out.

Zeroing out, zeroing out, zeroing out, zeroing out, zeroing out, and we see that when we combine our 20 and our negative 5 we end up with 15; the same answer.

Notice all we’re doing is using this mat to keep track of where all the blocks are.

The next video will show you how to make explicit connections, so the kids will make the connection between concrete based ten blocks and the symbolic representations.

If you are interested in having a copy of the My Way Highway template, please see the link below.

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