Every year, educators work to develop new and innovative ways to introduce mathematical concepts to children at a younger age. By using concepts that younger children can comprehend, it is possible to train those children to think in more complex mathematical terms early on.
One of those concepts involves blocks. Babies start playing with multicolored blocks from the moment they are able to hold objects. Between chewing on them, pushing them around and stacking them - the block is an integral part of how babies and young children develop mentally.
An innovative website called Thinking Blocks
takes the concept of blocks and uses them to help kids advance to new levels of understanding with math problems involving addition, multiplication, fractions and more.
When you first visit the website, you'll find that navigation is as simple as it can get. Just click on the type of math problem that you want to learn, and you'll go to that area of the website. For example, clicking on "Addition" in the menu will take you directly to the area where kids can work on modeling math word problems in order to come up with the solution.
Addition and Subtraction Problems
The organization of these individual pages can take some getting used to. Each of the icons are not hyperlinks like they appear to be. Instead, you click on each selection to highlight them. Once all of your selections are made, you can click on the "Begin" button to start the lesson.
For example, in the screen above, you can click on the difficulty of models you want to work with, whether you want to track progress, the volume of numbers that you want to work with, and whether you want to use the program in full screen mode. Full screen is perfect for overhead displays inside the classroom.
Using Building Block Models
There is a little bit of a learning curve to understand exactly how the problem pages work, and how to manipulate the colored blocks in order figure out the answer. The required flow is to read the word problem at the top of the display, move the colored blocks into the right position in the center panel based on the size or position of the blocks, and then use the layout to figure out the answer to the math problem. Instructions at the bottom of the screen make the learning process a little bit easier.
The Block Workspace
In more advanced problems, the process also involves correctly placing values from the word problem, accurately labeling the blocks, and then using all of the graphical work to finally decide on the right answer.
A Built-In Number Pad
When you've laid out all of the blocks, labeled them and placed the right values where they belong, the workspace presents a number pad for you to type in the answer. The number pad makes it much easier for younger kids to type their answer and keyboards that may not have a number pad on the keyboard, such as on a laptop. Once you click on "Check", the online application will tell you whether or not your answer is correct.
Multiplication and Division
It's difficult to imagine how the creators of this online application could use blocks to present more advanced math concepts like multiplication, fractions or ratios, but the creators actually accomplished this quite well. The format of the display for more advanced problems are identical to the other areas, but the use of the blocks changes significantly.
For example, to learn multiplication, the child is expected to start with a certain number of blocks, and then multiply the number in other areas based on the description in the word problem.
Using blocks to graphically display fractional math problems is a little easier for children to understand, particularly because many of these problems offer measuring lines that show the portions of a ratio. It is up to the child to determine which element in the word problem at the top belongs in the label of each ratio. The child does this by clicking and dragging those labels to the right area in the center display.
Once children make it to the ratios section, they should be pretty familiar with the layout of the workspace and how to use the Thinking Blocks application. Some of the more advanced problems include multiple steps, where the correct number of blocks must be placed into the workspace before the user can move on to the next stage of the problem.
The Modeling Tool
One of the most impressive areas of Thinking Blocks is the Modeling Tool. This is where parents or educators can actually custom-build their own Thinking Blocks word problems and associated block solutions. The modeling tool includes a word problem editor at the top, a layout/design area in the center, and all of the editing tools on the toolbar at the bottom. The designer is very easy to use, and could become a very powerful tool for teachers that want to customize Thinking Block problems for their own purpose.
Thinking Blocks Videos
Part of the site also includes a full collection of instructional videos for those times when learning how to use the tool is just too difficult. The videos will walk you through how to accomplish different tasks using a gradual step-by-step approach, where you can just sit back, watch and learn.
Have Some Fun at the Math Playground
Of course, all work and no play can be really boring. So if they click on the link to the "Math Playground", children will also have access to some of the more exciting arcade and game areas. Some activities you'll find here include the "Stay Sharp! Arcade", "Math Apprentice", and some multiplayer learning games.
Whether you're trying to find new and exciting ways to introduce math problem solving to your students, or you're a parent looking to help your child understand fundamental math concepts, Thinking Blocks can help by introducing those concepts in a unique way.
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