Category Archives: Concrete-Representation-Abstract

Fractions! Meaning Making for Comparing Fractions


Fractions is one of the most challenging math topics. Many high school and college students struggle to some degree with fractions.  The Common Core of State Standards (CCSS), despite all the criticism, includes components to address the conceptual understanding of fractions. Below is a photo showing a 4th grade Common Core standard regarding fractions along with an objective for a class lesson I taught at an elementary school in my district. I subsequently presented on this at the national CEC conference in 2014. Notice the bold font at the bottom, ¨justify…using a visual fraction model.¨ The photo above shows an example of a model I used in class.

Screenshot 2017-03-16 at 9.40.19 AM

The photo below shows a handout I used in the lesson. The first activity involved having students create a Lego representation of given fractions. These would eventually lead to the photo at the top with students comparing fractions using Legos. The students were to create the Lego model, draw a picture version of the model then show my co-teacher or I so we could sign off to indicate the student had created the Lego model.

Screenshot 2017-03-16 at 9.44.45 AM

The Lego model is the concrete representation in CRA. In this lesson I subsequently had students use fractions trips (on a handout) and then number lines – see photos below.

Screenshot 2017-03-16 at 9.47.32 AMScreenshot 2017-03-16 at 9.51.37 AM

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Snow Math

2017-03-14 10.03.23

Here’s a common word problem used for linear functions and equations (y=mx+b):

There are 6 inches of snow on the ground. Snow is falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour. Write a linear equation showing total snow as a function of time (in hours). The equation would be y=2x + 6.

Often the word problems like this are presented on a sheet of paper in isolation as an attempt to make the math relevant and to develop conceptual understanding. For students who have trouble with conceptual understanding, words on paper are likely too abstract or symbolic to allow applications like the one above to be meaningful.

The real life application is useful if presented more effectively. Here’s an approach to use the same scenario but in a more relevant and meaningful presentation. The photo above shows the current amount of snow – call it 6 inches. Students can be shown the photo to allow for a discussion about accumulation and for their estimates of the amount of snow shown. The photo below shows an excerpt from a storm warning. Showing this warning and a snow fall video can allow for a discussion about rate of snow fall and the purpose for storm warnings. Combined, this approach can lead into the above word problem.

2017-03-13 21.57.29 - Edited

Once the application is presented students can be asked to compute snow levels after 1 hour, 2 hours etc. Then they can be asked to determine how long it would take for the accumulation to reach 18 inches (the prediction for the day this post was composed). After computing the answers WITHOUT the equation the students can be shown how to use the equation – the “mathy way.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Factoring Numbers


Factoring, as used in elementary school,  is the act of changing a number into numbers that multiply to produce the original number. For example, 12 can be factored to 3×4. 3 and 4 are called factors of 12.

In the photo above, a “factor tree” is used to help identify the factors. I have often seen the factor tree used as the initial approach to teaching factors. I’ve also seen it used as the primary means of providing intervention for students struggling with factoring.  Think about that. Students who didn’t understand the initial instruction that likely involved the mathy approach shown above were provided the SAME approach.

Math topics can be presented with a more concrete introduction which can allow for more in-depth understanding. The photo below shows a CRA approach to factoring. This approach can be used as part of UDL or as an instructional strategy for intervention.





Tagged , , , ,

FRACTIONS! Meaning Making for Adding Fractions


Fractions is one of the most challenging topics in math. Here’s an approach to help introduce fractions.

I show the photo above, explain to a student that he and I both paid for the pizza. We are going to finish eating the pizza and I get the slice on the left. I ask “is this fair?” This leads into a discussion about the size of the slices and what 1/2 and 1/4 mean. The pizza on the left was originally cut into 2 slices so the SIZE of the slices is halves. The SIZE of the slices in the one on the right is fourths. I have 1 slice left and it is a half so my pizza is 1 half or 1/2. He has 1 slice left and it is a fourth so his pizza is 1/4.  The bottom number is the size and the top number is the # of slices.

We cannot count the number of slices because they are not the same size. So we need to change my pizza.  So I slice my pizza and now I have 2 slices and they are cut into fourths. So now I have 2/4.  Note: I don’t show the actual multiplication to show how I got the 2 and 4.  I am sticking with the visual approach to develop meaning before showing the “mathy” approach.


Now that I have slices that are all the same size, I can now count the # of slices. “1, 2, 3…3 slices and they are cut in fourths.”


Tagged , , , ,

Corresponding Angles in Stain Glass


Found this (above) cool example of corresponding angles (see photo below for explanation). This window photo could be a nice introduction to this type of problem by printing it out on paper and having students match angles as the teacher shows the photo on the Smart Board or screen.


Tagged , , , , ,

Application for Trigonometry


Making math meaningful and maybe interesting is a challenge. The photo above refers to a real life application for triangles and trigonometry (see photo below) that is found in a news story about Russian jets and a US destroyer. The jet was flying at an altitude of 100 yards and within 200 yards of the destroyer. Topics that could be addressed:

  • Altitude (and perpendicular)
  • Pythogorean Theorem
  • Trigonometry: e.g. find angle of elevation or depression
  • Vectors (include velocities)

A relevant, real life application is a method to make information meaningful. When talking about the altitude of a triangle (the up and down part shown in the photo below) the vocabulary term of altitude becomes more meaningful both in terms of context and with the visual below.


Here is the agenda I would follow to use this application as an activity.

  1. I would show the video (show on the webpage linked at bottom of handout) and explain what a destroyer and the jets are.
  2. Discuss the situation with Russia (age appropriate discussion)
  3. Show the picture and ask the students to draw a sketch.
  4. Review the sketch and refer to the parts of the triangle in real life terms, e.g. altitude.
  5. Task the students with a problem related to this problem – create your own, e.g. find the angle of elevation or use Pythagorean Theorem to find length of missing side.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Introduction to Slope

which-jobSlope is one of the the most important topics in algebra and is often understood by students at a superficial level. I suggest introducing slope first by drawing upon prior knowledge and making the concept relevant (see photo above).  This includes presenting the topic using multiple representations: the original real life situation, rates (see photo above) and tables, visuals,  and hands on cutouts (see photos below).

10-dollars-per-hour-graphA key aspect of slope is that it represents a relationship between 2 variables. Color coding (red for hours, green for pay) can be used to highlight the 2 variables and how they interact –  see photo above and below.5-dollars-per-hour-graph

The photo below can be used either in initial instruction, especially for co-taught classes, or as an intervention for students who needs a more concrete representation of a rate (CRA). The clocks (representing hours) and bills can be left in the table for or cut out.cut-outs-hours-bills

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hands on Approach to Factoring out the GCF


Factors are “things being multiplied”, e.g. 2 and 3 are factors of 6.

Factoring polynomials like 5×2 + 15 above is one of the most challenging algebra topics, especially for students with special needs. To make these problems more accessible a more concrete approach is possible. The photo above shows how finding a greatest common factor (GCF) is possible using a hands on, visual approach. Click on this link to a folder with a document explaining this approach and with a document that is a master for these card cutouts.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Modified Multiplication Table – Area Model Included

Modified Multiplication Table Using Area Model

The idea is that the student will have to count squares. By doing so the student is more engaged (or less passive) in determining the product and has to engage the visual representation.

Here is a link to the document.

Tagged , , , ,

Addressing the Concept of Addition Part 2

2016-02-24 10.26.09

In a previous post I presented an approach to teach and assess the concept of addition. This document shows all the steps I use including the one shown in the photo above.

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: