Monday, August 17, 2009

Here Comes the Very Fun Math Lady

The ASDEC Summer Program is an intense month long experience for students. There are usually three programs serving students of all ages. The program for elementary students is the subject of this entry.

In this program students receive one-on-one multisensory language therapy every single day. It is diagnostic and prescriptive. The academic therapists make every effort to provide the most positive experience these children can have, but it is still language reading, writing and spelling work. Students also receive training in mathematics, oral language and keyboarding. Most students do not relish spending half a day during the summer in an academic camp, but by the end of the program students at ASDEC often say it was one of the best experiences they have had.

Math training for younger students focuses on numeracy, place value and the concepts underlying basic operations. Students use manipulatives everyday because many of those who come display typical deficits in math. Even though some of the participants are gifted in math, they may not demonstrate this giftedness due to processing and procedural difficulties. Instruction is both classroom and individual. It is diagnostic and prescriptive. The individual academic therapists work with the math instructor to see that the program is individualized to maximize the student's potential and address individual needs.

Our initial session began with an assessment which was followed by work with manipulatives and numeracy games. On the second day I entered the building to retrieve my teaching materials and cart so that I could return to begin class. As I moved toward the elevator I heard one child say, "There goes the very fun math lady." I knew it was going to be a good summer, and it was.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Manipulatives are used to teach concepts. They offer hands-on practice which helps students form lasting kinesthetic memories. They aid in concept internalization and retention .

Research now suggests that quantity representation may be a core deficit in math disability. However, many students who are not identified as having a math disability also fail to automatize math facts or truly understand procedures they are asked to perform. Some students truly need to experience the growth of quantity to understand place value. They may need to physically bundle and un-bundle quantities to form tens, hundreds, thousands and more. Certainly, many students fail to understand regrouping if they have not physically had to unbundle a quantity of objects for that purpose.

Younger students may benefit from using craft sticks or even dry beans to create place value models. They may use sticks and dollar store hair bands to create tens, and bundles of tens to create thousands. My young students even create a bundle of ten hundreds to create one thousand. They marvel at the size and weight of it. This is a terrific precursor to commercial place value blocks. Any home school parent can afford $3 for a thousand sticks, and teachers or schools may create entire class sets of manipulatives at very little expense.

Purchase a place value mat or make your own using the table function of your word processor. Blow it up at the local office supply store. Have your students construct and name quantities as they match the manipulatives to the numbers they write. Practice the language of naming quantites. Practice creating quantites from written numbers. Pair the language of math with the physica representations. Your students will thank you for the opportunity to build and you will be building more than a collection of sticks.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Multisensory Math

The multisensory approach is a unique way of "thinking" about teaching mathematics.

This approach is:
research based,
advocated by the NCTM,
applicable to any curriculum or textbook series, and
appropriate for ALL students, but necessary for some.

This program applies Orton-Gillingham multisensory instructional strategies to mathematics. This approach fits easily with recommendations from current research and suggestions from the National Math Panel regarding instruction for struggling learners. Hands-on work with manipulative objects is recommended for all students at all ages. It enhances both concept integration and memory. This approach is especially important for LD students and those with conceptual gaps. It is however, an approach which is appropriate for all students.

The emphasis of our site is on helping all students be successful in math, helping teachers find ways of supporting struggling students, and informing educators about about learning differences which can impact student performance in mathematics.

In essence, a multisensory approach uses concrete manipulatives to teach mathematical concepts. We then transition students through the representational (pictorial) level of instruction until they are able to deal only with numerals/numbers at the abstract level. Manipulatives are used by all students because research has shown that multisensory input is stronger than unisensory input for creating lasting associations and memories. In more simple terms that means that the more of the brain that is involved in the learning, the stronger the memory.

It is also true that when students are given explicit instruction in foundational skills and concepts, less time may be needed for procedural instruction, so there is not a substantial increase in instructional time. Students are able to apply their knowledge across applications and are better at problem solving. Some studies indicate that students who use manipulatives for concept instruction including at the algebraic level, equal and even surpass their peers in summative assessments and retain the material longer.

If you are interested in more information, a workshop or a course; visit the website for a complete list of current events. You may also contact me directly at or For workshops or full multisensory math workshops, contact The Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center in Rockville, Maryland.

Feedback from both teachers and students utilizing this approach is extremely positive. It must also be noted though that not all manipulatives are appropriate for all topics and that teachers and schools do not need to spend enormous sums of money for commercially produced manipulatives. There are many simple and inexpensive items which may be successfully used for instruction. Most of all, multisensory math makes mathematics instruction fun!