We know that physical and visual cues can help learners – objects such as tokens, cards, Dienes blocks, Cuisinaire rods, tiles, straws, beakers, multi-link cubes, string, Lego men (!) or loads of other props are great for the pupils to play with.
That said, you have to show them first how to play with them and it’s often difficult at the front of the class to give a good demonstration using these objects. Do the pupils gather round the front desk? (Then whatever you’re doing becomes of secondary interest to the friends stood next to them.) Do they sit on the carpet in front of you? (But their view will be obstructed by something) Do you somehow balance everything on one hand held high and manipulate them with the other? (Very awkward and the demonstration loses momentum.) Or use a visualiser? (Possibly but they end up watching your oversized hands on the screen for five minutes and not really following what you’re doing.)
This is where animations come into their own. They can be projected full size on your whiteboard, you can pause and discuss, no one needs to leave their seat and your hands are out of the way! With a bit of patience, you can get PowerPoint to make some very handy animations and here’s one I did that I’m quite pleased with.
As you can see, what I was trying to do was to make short division more concrete and create a visual link to the abstract. In the lesson, I showed it several times and narrated along the way. Then I gave pupils a bunch of mini cubes (~50 per pair) and a laminated place value grid for them to play around with division problems at their own desks.
We had some success together when I introduced it last year. This time round I will give them cubes earlier in the lesson and have some more probing questions prepared after they’ve had some ‘freeplay’ time. Please suggest good questions to ask in the comments!
You can download the original PowerPoint file below and another very similar one on division of decimals.
Here’s an embedded view of the last one, Short Division with decimals – visual.pptx.