Place Value Primer
I am embarrassed to say that I did not understand Place Value until I had to teach it. I could go through all the steps and answer all the questions, but the meaning behind it? I had no idea. I think that is part of the problem with the way math “used to be” taught and thankfully, for kids today, that has changed. Now that I understand place value, it is one of my favorite concepts to teach.
For those of you who are not sure (as I was) or who would like a refresher, here it goes.
What is place value? In our decimal number system, the value of each digit depends on its place or position in the number. Each place has a value of 10 times the place to its right.
What the heck does that mean? Basically it means that each digit in a number has a value based on its position in a number.
So let’s take the number 8,426,431
- the 1 is in the 0nes place and has a value of 1
- the 3 is in the tens place and has a value of 30
- the 4 is in the hundreds place and has a value of 400
- the 6 is in the thousands place and has a value of 3,000
- the 2 is in the ten thousands place and has a value of 20,000
- the 4 is in the hundred thousands place and has a value of 400,000
- the 8 is in the millions place and has a value of 8,000,000
Got that? Great!
There are many different ways to teach place value to children. The first and best way is to teach them using “base ten blocks” which you will see in almost every classroom. The blocks come in ones, tens, hundreds and thousands (sorry no image for thousands).
Student learn how to “make numbers” using these blocks. When making these numbers they are learning about the value of each digit in each number as well as the value of the whole number.
Understanding this concepts helps prepare students for adding and subtracting numbers especially numbers with more than one digit. Take this math problem for example. The number 124 is created on top (from left to right). The number 242 is just below. The answer 366 is below the line. This is how students first learn to add multi-digit numbers. And it goes on from here. Students learn that when there are 10 or more ones in the ones column they have to trade ten of those ones for a ten and the same goes for 10 or more 10s or hundreds. While doing this they are learning how to “carry”(old term) or “trade” (new term). This works the opposite way for subtraction.
Place Value Blocks
- Sugar Cube Base Ten Blocks: Use sugar cubes and glue to create the blocks.
- Play Blocks Base Ten Blocks: If you have a big set of wooden blocks, you can use them to create your own Base Ten set.
- Straws Bundles: The sets don’t have to be made from square cubes- although I highly recommend them for the younger children. Cut a straw into smaller pieces for the ones, bundle ten straws with a rubberband for tens and bundle ten bundles of tens for hundreds. You can use toothpicks, Q-tips or any other item you can bundle as well.
- Paper “Blocks”: Use the templates below. Print them on heavy paper for easier manipulation and durability.
Place Value Games
Some Place Value Websites to Explore:
- Discovery Education: Place Value of a Number
- Mathatube: What is Place Value?
- Math.com: Place Value
- Brain Pop Jr: Place Value
- Base Block: NLVM
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