Mini Math Lesson

You may have seen a viral image going around the internet of a check from a dad who was fed up with Common Core math. The problem is, it is really just an example of what a knee-jerk “OMG, this isn’t what I know, it must be bad!” reaction looks like. Yes, the implementation of Common Core has a lot of issues but some of the lessons truly are useful. For a well-written explanation about the check issue itself, check out this article by Hemant Mehta.

For a mini math lesson about ten frames, you’re in the right place. Check out the explanation below:

The intent of ten frames is to allow students to become comfortable with mental addition and subtraction. First, a few ten frames for examples.

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With no boxes filled, it shows the number 0. With one box filled, it shows the number 1.
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With all ten boxes filled it shows the value 10.

If all the squares were filled, it would represent the number 10 visually. With nothing filled it, it shows zero. With one dot filled it, it shows the number 1. We could put that filled dot anywhere in the frame and it would still mean just 1. We’re looking at amounts of dots, not placement.

If you use more than one ten frame you can make numbers larger than 10. Two frames add up to 20.

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With two ten frames the top shows 10, the bottom shows 4. Together they show 14.

You wouldn’t really use these frames to communicate about numbers. I wouldn’t use the above to tell someone I had 14 lettuce plants in my garden. However, it does allow for a quick visual cue to help with mental adding and subtracting.

For example, a ten frame showing 4 dots doesn’t just let us know that the number is 4. It also presents visually how 4 relates to 10, and 6.

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A ten frame showing 4 dots and a few basic sums and differences.

That’s ten frames in a nutshell. Honestly, it’s not all that different from grabbing 10 coins or legos or beans or counters or blocks and mucking around with them; taking away or adding back. That’s why they did it that way. This allows early learners transition from counting out every item to grouping items, to understanding the relationships between the values 0 through 10.

Does this work for everyone? No. It’s not perfect and every learner is different. It’s not worthless just because it happens to fall under Common Core, though.

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