Many classrooms begin the new school year by reviewing basic math concepts. As you assess your student’s current knowledge in order to build on what they already know or to identify gaps in their understanding that need to be addressed before moving on to more advanced concepts, be sure you are not just assessing rote knowledge but also conceptual understanding.

An understanding of place value is essential to understanding more complex concepts in our base-ten system of mathematics, so it is often a starting place for review. Your students may be able to state the value of a digit in a larger number, but do they understand what that value represents? Here are several ways you can use digital content to find out!

- Use place value cards to build numbers and visually remind students that there are implied zeros as place holders for each digit.
- Place the same digit in each place value and use the cards to discuss the relationship between neighboring digits. Guide your students to discover that each digit to the left is ten times the value of the digit to its right AND that each digit is one-tenth the value of the digit to its left.
- Ask your students to use their place value knowledge to build the largest number or smallest number possible with given digits in order to determine their understanding of the role of place in determining the value of a digit. What is the largest number you can build with the digits 5, 6, and 3? What is the smallest number you can build? Use base ten blocks to visually represent answers.
- Ask students to model a number with non-proportional manipulatives. For example, how could you model 356 using pennies? You will quickly learn if your students understand the concept of grouping ten individual objects to create a ten and grouping ten groups often to create a hundred.
- Correct student mis-conceptions by using base ten blocks to model solutions. Ask your students: How many tens are in 356? Most students will answer 5; however, that is incorrect. There are 35 tens in 356. Use base ten blocks to model this concept. Then challenge your students to build a three digit number using only tens from the online base ten blocks.

What numbers can they build? What numbers can’t they build?

Do you have a unique way of developing place value concepts in your classroom? Share with us in the comments below!