Saturday, September 12, 2009

Exercises in Placeholding and Place Value - Part 2

This second placeholding / place value work is for a slightly older and even the oldest child in the class. This math activity is also an arts and crafts project. It has been a favorite amongst my students and their parents. I have had more than one parent say that they loved writing out a figure and having the child place the correct beans in their Placeholder Dragon. That's right, a Placeholder Dragon. I found this lesson in an old math magazine I picked up at a garage sale. Each year, they turn out different as each year I have different supplies left over from various art projects done the year before.

This past year, I made a really fancy one for myself. I gave a workshop on placeholding for the annual Montessori Schools Of Massachusetts Conference. Yet, I have seen some pretty amazing ones made by my students. It is a fairly simple project. Have parents bring empty cardboard eggs cartons to school. Be sure to send out a note saying you have all you need when you do or they will keep coming. Prepare the egg cartons for use by removing their lids and cutting them in half the long way so that there are six egg cups on each.

(photo credit:

For the head, cut one of the egg cups from the rest leaving five cups connected.

This single egg cup is glued at an angle in the first of the remaining connected egg cups. It should be positioned so that the top, open part of the cup looks like an opened mouth. This is the head of the Dragon.

For a tail, I cut long, thin pieces of construction paper and curled them with a pair of scissors. These I stapled to the inside of the last egg cup.

I used more curled strips of paper to make a fiery tongue.

After the head and the tail were assembled, I labeled the remaining four cups - Thousands, Hundreds, Tens, Ones. The thousands cup is directly behind the head/mouth of the Dragon. The ones cup is directly in front of the tail of the Dragon. In the photo below I used a permanent marker, but I have also used pre-cut, small rectangular labels that had the words thousands, hundreds, tens and ones written on them. The students were given one of each and then they glued them in the appropriate spot.

Now all that remains is to decorate the dragon. I give the children artistic freedom here as long as they don't cover the quantity labels. Suggested materials include feathers, beads, colored markers, gold markers, poms poms and any other decorative items you might have on hand.

My only caution is that if they are heavy items, even pom poms, they may need stronger glue. Last year, my assistant used a hot gun glue to help secure some of the items in place.

Here is a photo of the one I made for my workshop:

If you think this may be a project that looks great but you aren't sure that your students will be able to put all of these pieces together in a time frame that suits your classroom needs, then do what I did once. I cut and glued the head/mouth in place, I labeled all of the quantities and I put the tail on for each of my students so that before the project was presented I had a completed Placeholder Dragon for demonstration and I had partially assembled dragons for all of my students. What they did was decorate them and use them for math. Do what works best for you. If dragons just aren't your thing, have your students make a caterpillar or an inch worm place holder.

How to use the Placeholding Dragons -

On strips of paper write a single four digit number. Make sure to include several numbers that have at least one zero. Place these strips in a basket. Fill another basket with beans. Now, select one of the pieces of paper with a number on it. Ex. 9,520. Next, place 0 beans in the ones egg cup, 2 beans in the tens egg cup, 5 beans in the hundred cup and 9 beans in the thousand cup. Empty the cup and choose another number. This work can be done with two students. One places the beans and the other checks the work and then they switch.

I have the children take their dragons home with them along with a baggie that has several beans and 6 or so slips of paper with a four digit number written on each.

Art and Math, its a good thing....


Sarah@HomeschoolinRealLife said...

That's cute! I introduced, oh the name just went right out of my head, the wooden number plaques to make 0-9999 with, yesterday along with Place Value Family Houses, that I made up based on Math-U-See. She spent the whole day doing those and said it was the most fun day of school ever. I'm sure she'd love this!

Theresa said...

This is great! Thanks!

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uberhausfrau said...

what age/grade level would you rate this activity? my son just turned five and loves numbers and math, but im not sure if he's at the level of thinking in thousands/abstract math.

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Five year olds do this arts and crafts activity in my classroom. Go ahead and try it. But don't think in terms of thousands and hundreds. Think in terms of being able to count to 9 as that is the greatest quantity that you can put in any of the egg cups/placeholders.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet