Teaching Place Value the CRA Way!

Place value comes up every year throughout elementary school. But what makes it so difficult for our students to understand and what can we do to make place value instruction more clear for our most struggling students?

Where do we start and where are we going? 


  • In Kindergarten, students are building a foundation by noticing that when they have ten ones and some more ones they create a teen number. 
  • In first grade, place value explodes with students understanding that ten ones can be put together to create a unit called a "ten" and that two digit numbers are really telling the number of "tens" and "ones". 
  • In second grade this understanding is extended as students work their way up to 1,000 noticing that this pattern of grouping ten of a unit together yields a new type of unit. 
  • In third grade students round and continue adding and subtracting multi-digit numbers... not a big place value year in terms of developing new ideas around the base ten system :) 
  • In fourth grade students resume the extension of units all the way up to 1,000,000 and begin to notice that instead of just saying "ten of a unit yields a new unit" that they can describe the relationship of units next door do one another by saying 10 times more or 10 times less. 
  • In fifth grade students tie together each of these previous understandings and apply them not only to whole numbers but to decimal numbers as well! 
It is clear that mastering the standard at each grade level is critical to moving on to the next grade level because each of these understandings is so closely related and builds so specifically on previous understandings. 

What does this mean for my instruction? 

It means that your students can not leave your grade level with an emerging understanding of place value concepts! I would go as far as to say that in the world of "Concrete-Representative-Abstract" that students need to have moved as far down this continuum as possible before moving to the next grade level. 

That being said, I am a staunch advocate of letting students stay in the concrete and representative stages as long as is needed because it will help your students to be more solid in their abstract understandings and your students will be more efficient at mental math involving place value in general!

What will this look like on a daily basis?

  1. Use SO MANY manipulatives when your students are learning about place value. 
  2. Use a variety of manipulatives- don't just get stuck using base ten blocks daily! When your students use a variety of manipulatives they are deepening their understanding and building connections between these models. 
  3. Be thoughtful about using pre-grouped, non-grouped, proportional and non-proportional models when choosing manipulatives and representations. 
  4. Link manipulatives, representative models and abstract equations together. For example, if you can show your understanding using place value disks, that's great! Can you write an equation that matches what you just did with your disks? 
  5. Repetition, repetition, repetition. My third grade teacher used to say "Practice doesn't make perfect, practices makes permanent!" That means that when our students are practicing these skills it is important that they are practicing correctly and that they are practicing in great volume. What they do well and often will become permanent! 

Any tips for practice? 

Play games that promote repetition with linking of hands on tools to abstract ideas. The game "One or Bust" is an example of this type of game. Students choose a card and add that block to their game board. Students link their understanding between the concrete and the abstract as they play by stating aloud the change in their numbers as they progress through the game. In this 5th grade version of the game students would say something like "I have sixty-three hundredths. One more hundredth is sixty-four hundredths." 

If you are interested in games like "One or Bust", I have created a version of the game for numbers to 100, 1000 and 1 (decimals). Click the pictures to check them out! 








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Summer Money for Teachers

Summer is right around the corner and it's that time of year when some of us start to think about how we are going to earn some "alternative to summer school" side money during the summer months. A few months back I was thinking that I needed something to supplement my income and came across VIPKID.

At first, I wasn't sure if this company was for real, however, I was sold when I learned that VIPKID is Forbes' #1 online company to work for (really!). I have been so pleased that I took the plunge ever since!



  • Students in China sign up for English lessons through the VIPKid platform- it is highly desirable to have students learn from native English speakers as it produces a more American accent when speaking. 
  • Teachers sign up to teach these students. You will set your schedule entirely. There's basically a grid of times 7 days a week and you open 30 minute time slots when you are interested in teaching. You will teach only 1 student at a time. If a student books a slot, you have committed to teach them. If no student has booked a slot, you have the flexibility to open and close that slot or adjust that timing as much as you would like. **It does take some time to be hired and to get your bookings going. If you are looking to do this in the summer, you will want to sign up now so you can get the ball rolling.** 
  • VIPKIDs provides the interface, coordinates all of these sign-ups, provides teachers with as much or as little training as you are comfortable with AND PROVIDES ALL OF THE LESSONS. Yes. You do not have to lesson plan at all! 
  • The interface basically looks like a PowerPoint on the left side of the screen, Skype in the middle with video feeds for teacher and student, and old school AIM to the far right where you can send text messages if needed. 
  • The Fireman handle any and all IT issues. If I sign into a class and can't hear the student I just hit a button to "contact fireman" and the fireman will quickly show up and troubleshoot the issue. 
That's pretty much it. Student's sign up, teachers teach them with the provided materials, VIPKID takes care of all of the details and the fireman will be sure that IT issues are not even on your radar. 



The company will tell you that you will make $14-22 per hour. That range seems large but here's how it works: 
  • When you have your interview you will be offered a base pay of $7-9 per class. Classes are each only 30 minutes so that puts us at $14-18 right off the bat. 
  • If you show up to your class on time (which seems like a given... right??) you will get an extra $1 per class. So, if you are able to turn your computer on on time, you will be earning $15-19 per hour. 
  • If you teach 30 classes in a month, you earn an extra $0.50 per class. (So now we're up to $16-$20 per hour) 
  • If you teach 45 classes in a month, you earn an extra $1.00 per class. So, if your base pay is $9, you show up on time and you teach 45 classes in a month, you will earn (9x2)+(1x2)+(1x2)= $22 per hour. 
I personally have a base pay of $8 per hour, always show up on time, and generally teach about 30-40 classes per month. This leaves me making $19/hour. I accomplish 30 classes per month by teaching 1 class before school on Monday, 1 class before school on Friday and 2-4 classes per day each on Saturday and Sunday morning. This is about $150-190 per week for a very minimal commitment. My personal plan is to open more slots during the summer but, for the school year, this is enough to keep me busy and satisfied on the side! 


Yes, but it is incredibly minimal. In order to get started you need a computer, a headphone with attached microphone, a classroom background and minimal prompts. I, personally, bought a set of headphones that cost about $10 and then went to the dollar store for everything else. 
At the dollar store I bought: 
  • An alphabet border for $1 that I taped together so it looks like a poster and hung that in the corner of the room where I would be sitting. 
  • A pack of bows that I could hang up as rewards.
  • 2 stuffed animals that I could use as puppets (that I really don't use anymore). 
  • A pack of alphabet flashcards with cute animals on them. 
  • A pack of foam letters
  • A whiteboard with an attached marker. 
$10 for headphones. $7 at the dollar store. I was all set to go. This is a very low risk online business to try out! 



Pretty much! Could you spend way more? Oh, certainly, just check out Pinterest pictures of VIPKID classrooms. Some people go crazy in their space! In fact, if you jump on any VIPKID forum you will find that there is a whole range of people in terms of how much time, enthusiasm and investment that they want to put into this business. I am definitely on the minimalist side of the scale. 
  • I invest exactly 0 minutes in Chinese social media. 
  • I do not wear an orange shirt every (or any?) time that I teach. 
  • I do not decorate my "classroom" for holidays and events. 
  • I do not wear a crazy headband that I can add bows and stars to as students earn rewards. 
Why? That's just not me or my personality! I have found that by being myself and teaching in a way that I feel comfortable I am able to fill all 8-10 slots that I would like to teach per week. I have regular students who come back to me lesson after lesson. Because I don't put on a show I attract the older students who I really enjoy teaching, talking to, and connecting with! I am NOT putting down teachers who put more into it than I do! I encourage everyone to find their style, find what they are comfortable with and enjoying and pursue that avenue fully! The same way that I have attracted my "ideal student" you will attract the students that you fit with best by being yourself as well! 


If you are interested in learning more, click HERE to use my link to the VIPKID website. If you like what you see and are interested in applying, please reach out to me and I will support you in your application and interview process. By using my link I become your referral and am invested in seeing you be successful- so take advantage of that fact and reach out!! I have sincerely loved teaching for VIPKID and I would love to see others have the same opportunity that I have had! 



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