Finding Sums
Focus Predicting the outcome of joining groups of
blocks, and finding sums without the blocks


n the previous section, students learned to model addition with the blocks and Place mats. Through your questions and their recordings, they began to reflect on this process. Now they start to predict what will happen when they combine the blocks. Students need many opportunities to combine collections of blocks. In fact, they should do so until they can consistently predict the result of any combination before they physically perform the task. This focus on prediction will lead to successful work without the blocks. When the representations and expectations are internalized, the actual blocks become unnecessary.

® Predicting the Total
As a demonstration, present the example 215 + 362. Have volunteers represent the numbers on the Counter and table and record the example on the whiteboard. Then say,

Set the dials to tell how many there will be when these two groups are combined.
Once the dials are set, students cover them and then combine the blocks. (Covering the dials keeps the numbers from distracting the students.) After combining the two groups on the Counter, the students uncover the dials to check their predictions. Repeat with an example that requires regrouping, such as 434 + 128. For this example, a student might first set the dial for the blocks-of-10 at 5, then change that dial to 6 after looking more closely at the single blocks. Note that when predictions are checked and found to be incorrect, the students can simply reset the dials to show the actual number of blocks on the Counter. Encourage students to realize that we all find predictions difficult to make, but that we get better with practice. If you notice consistent errors, however, you might encourage the students to ref lect on discrepancies by saying, for example,

I see that your dial for the blocks-of-10 is 1 less than the number of blocks. Why do you think that happened?
Students follow a similar procedure when working with the Place mats. Present an example such as 235 + 123. Tell the students to stop once they have represented the numbers and recorded the example on paper. Then say,

Set the Digit Flip Cards to tell how many there will be when you combine these two groups.

After setting the f lip cards, students turn them face down and then combine the blocks on the Place mat. Students turn the cards back over to check their predictions. Repeat with an example that requires regrouping, such as 334 + 229. When regrouping is involved, students may find it helpful to record the total number of blocks in each column at the top of the mat. Looking at these numbers can help students to predict how the blocks will look when they are packed. The image of blocks in a holder often makes it easier for students to predict totals in a column. Thus, you might have students place the blocks in holders when working on the Place mats. Students need repeated opportunities to predict the outcome of joining two groups with the blocks in view. Lack of attention to this step often leads to difficulty with the development of mental computation strategies and with the transfer to paper-and-pencil techniques.
For adding on a Place mat, predicted totals on the Digit Flip Cards are turned face down while the students combine and pack blocks.

® Developing Recording Techniques
To support computation with paper and pencil, encourage students to record their work as they combine the blocks. You can either guide them to record in the conventional manner or allow students to develop their own recording schemes. Either way, there should be a close association between the written work and the physical actions with the blocks. It can help to ask questions such as,

How can you show the new block-of-100 on the written example?
Activity Sheet 3, the Three-Place Recording Sheet, may help students to keep track of the appropriate place for each digit while they are working. It is not necessary, however, that all students depict the combining process in the same manner. In fact, variations promote interesting discussions that can lead to deeper understanding as well as efficient recording techniques. What’s important is that students use recordings that are meaningful to them and that connect to the physical models.


Following are two examples of students’ different recordings for the same problem. The first is from a student who uses lined paper turned on edge and records the sum in each column, working right to left, and then regroups in a second step. The second example is from a student who works left to right, self-correcting as she discovers the need to regroup.

2 + 2 2

5 3 8 9

6 9 15 5

256 +39 2 /8 5 295

When students are comfortable with their recordings for a particular combination, have them explain their work. Then you can present a traditional recording and ask,

Who can figure out what this person was thinking?
Encourage the students to talk about what the recordings mean and which techniques might be easier. For example some students might note that with traditional techniques, they don’t have to revisit any digits. Over time, students can adopt conventional methods or develop their own reliable and efficient recording schemes.

® Working Without the Blocks
When students are able to consistently predict what will happen when combining groups of blocks and are able to record their work, they can try adding without the blocks. Present a written example in vertical form and ask students to find the sum using paper and pencil or mental computation. Over time, students should also use such techniques to solve story problems and to find sums when examples are presented horizontally as well as vertically. Even when working without blocks, these tools should still be available to everyone. Students may want to use the blocks to check their thinking or to explore a more challenging example. As students begin to work on paper, it is important that they continue to use their number sense and their mental image of the blocks to judge the correctness of their results. In fact, some students, while working on paper and pencil, move their hands as if they were packing and moving blocks. Estimation is also helpful here. For example, you might present the combination 368 + 221 and ask,

Do you think the sum will be more or less than 500? more or less than 600? Why?

You can introduce estimation of sums as the process of reporting only the largest blocks to tell “about how many” there are. You might also present an example such as 372 + 289, which will likely prompt a few students to consider rounding before estimating. Other students may reason, “There are 5 hundreds, but I know there are more than 10 tens, so I’ll say 600.” Again, encourage students to share their thinking and to maintain their ability to work f lexibly with numbers. Finally, present students with a challenge. Ask them to imagine bigger and bigger blocks, and Counters or Place mats with more and more columns. Ask,

Suppose we were adding two very large groups of blocks, with some blocks in every column. What would we do? (Combine the blocks, packing when necessary.)
Provide an addition problem with five- or six-digit numbers and ask,

How would you add these numbers?
While use of calculators is recommended for addition of large numbers, particularly when many addends are involved, it is important that students be able to generalize. We want them to realize that they can add any two numbers they are given, by operating in each column in exactly the same way.

Practicing Key Ideas
Predict on a Counter
Students work in pairs with one Counter. The first student loads a collection of blocks on the Counter and uses the whiteboard to record the number in each place. The second student then writes a number underneath the first and sets out the corresponding blocks on the table. Students work together to predict the total number when the two groups are combined. They set the dials to record their prediction and then cover them. Next the students join the blocks on the Counter and uncover the dials to check their predicted answer. Students can repeat this activity many times, reversing roles.

Predict on a Mat
Students work in pairs with one Place mat. They lay a piece of string horizontally across the middle of the mat. The first student writes an addition example, and then represents the first addend by placing blocks above the string. The second student represents the second addend with blocks placed below the string. Students then work together to predict the total number of blocks when the two groups are combined. They set the Digit Flip Cards to represent their prediction. Then they turn the cards face down, remove the string, and combine the blocks, packing when needed. Finally they look again at the flip cards to check their predicted answer. They repeat the activity, taking turns providing the addition example.

What’s Missing?
Present a vertical addition example with the sum given but with one of the addends missing. Students first predict the missing number and then use the blocks to check.



Assessing Learning
1. Ask the student to represent 359 + 124 on the Place mat. Say,

Before you put these blocks together, set the Digit Flip Cards to show how many blocks you think there will be. Tell me how you decide.
After setting the cards, the student should perform the task physically to check. Does the student • predict the correct total? • self-correct, if necessary? • clearly explain his or her thinking? 2. Present a written example such as 176 + 253 (in vertical form) and ask the student to find the sum without using the blocks. Have the student explain his or her technique. Does the student • find the correct total? • clearly explain his or her thinking? 3. Present 735 + 273 (in vertical form) and ask,

Do you think the sum will be more or less than 900? more or less than 1000? Why do you think so?
Does the student • answer correctly? • reason correctly? • clearly explain his or her thinking?


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