Since the 3rd grade team begins the year with an addition and subtraction unit in Investigations the teachers and I were having a conversation about how students understand place value. While I don’t see teachers using the HTO (hundreds/tens/ones) chart in their classrooms, students still seem to talk about numbers in that sense. For example, when given a 3-digit number such as 148, students are quick to say the number has 4 tens instead of thinking about the tens that are in the 100. I think a lot of this is because of how we as teachers say these things in our classrooms. I know I am guilty of quickly saying something like, “Oh, you looked at the 4 tens and subtracted…” when doing computation number talks, which could lead students to solely see the value of a number by what digit is sitting in a particular place.

We thought it would be interesting to get a vibe of how this new group of 2nd graders talked about numbers since their first unit deals with place in terms of stickers. A sheet of stickers is 100, a strip of stickers is 10 and then there are the single stickers equal to 1.

I designed a Which One Doesn’t Belong? activity with four numbers: 45, 148, 76, 40

I posted the numbers, asked students to share which number they thought didn’t belong, and asked them to work in groups to come up with a reason that each could not belong. Below is the final recording of their ideas:

I loved the random equation for 148 that emerged and the unsureness of what numbers they would hit if they counted by 3’s or 4’s. One student was sure she would say 45 when she counted by 3’s and was sure she would not say 76 or 40, but unsure about the 148. I wrote those at the bottom for them to check out later.

Since the teacher said she was good on time, I kept going. I pulled the 148 and asked how many tens were in that number. I was not surprised to see the majority say 4, but I did have 3 or 4 students say 14. As you can see below a student did mention the HTO chart, with tallies, interesting.

As students shared, I thought about something Marilyn Burns tweeted a week or so ago…

So, I asked the students to do their first math journal of the school year (YEAH!):

“For the students who answered 14, what question did you answer?

“For the students who answered 4, what question did you answer?

After the students shared, I revisited the Hundreds, Tens, Ones chart. I put a 14 in the tens column, 8 in the ones column, and asked if that was right. The light bulbs and confusion was great! It was as if I had broken all rules of the HTO chart! Then I put a 1 in the hundreds, 3 in the tens, and they worked out the 18. I look forward to seeing them play around with this some more and wonder if when they go to subtract something 148-92, they can think 14 tens -9 tens is 5 tens.

I had to run out because I was running out of time, but snagged three open journals as I left! (I especially love the “I Heart Math” on the second one!