Beads, blocks, and basic math concepts are what these first graders are using to show others what they are learning and explain how math works.

Using yellow beads in groups of four, Bayfield Early Primary School first grade Alex Larson showed the local school board of  how he had hooked the group into a chain.  He also used a cube made from groups of four beads, with 16 on each side.  He was assisted by teacher Joey Lowe. \

Beads, Blocks, and Basic Math

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Math coach Carolyn Striker said the beads also come in groups up to 10. Working with them “really develops number sense and understanding of squares and cubes,” she said. First graders learn to count by fours, fives, up to 10s. Counting by 10s gets them up to 1,000.

Striker, previously a gifted and talented teacher in the district, has been changing how math is taught in elementary grades, to be more hands-on, Superintendent Troy Zabel said.

Striker said Lowe has been implementing the changes at BEPS, “so we aren’t doing work sheet after work sheet, but really meeting the needs of the kids.”

Striker showed photos of first graders, many of them sitting on the floor, working on various different hands-on activities at the same time.

Beads, Blocks, and Basic Math

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“One of the key words is differentiation,” she said. “If you have a classroom of second graders, you’ll have an ability range of kindergarten to fourth grade. By fifth grade, the range is even more. The tradition has been to teach to one level and expect kids to progress.”

Differentiation doesn’t work without the hands-on materials, she said. Each kid works on one thing until they learn it. “Teachers get to know the kids in a very deep way. You could have 18 kids doing 18 different things… My goal has been to learn what teachers need and get them the materials. There’s not a lot about math in traditional elementary teacher education. I hope to bring that.”