A number system is a highly advanced concept. And yet we throw it at first grade math students expecting them to immediately grasp it.

Our number system is based on place value, like any number system (like clocks, years, etc.). Which means everything wraps around. Once you get to the “top” of the list of numerals, you have to start over, in a sense. This is crazy weird – it’s no wonder kids struggle at this point!

I promised to help a teacher this weekend who was struggling teaching place value to her first grade math class. I dug out a MathRack, a brand of rekenrek, which was part of a set MathRack.com shared with me months ago. I peeked at their book *Mastering the MathRack to Build Mathematical Minds* to get an idea of how to teach place value using this amazing tool.

The video above uses the MathRack 20 and some place value cards. I followed the Hidden Numbers activity on page 61 of the book. *(As of writing this, I’m unable to find the book online. The site where it is supposed to be doesn’t seem to be functioning anymore.)*

Glenda, the first grade math teacher, specifically wanted help teaching the comparing numbers and ordering numbers. So here goes…

### Comparing numbers is easier when visualized.

Children can see the value of two digit numbers better when they see the quantity of beads. Let them practice comparing numbers for a while using both the rekenrek and the place value cards. The more they practice, the better feel they’ll get for the place values in our number system.

I’m not sure what the structure of a first grade math class is, but the more days they can “play” with their MathRack like this, the better they will get at comparing numbers. If you have limited time, do a few minutes each day for more days, rather than more time on fewer days.

### Ordering numbers is also easier when children see it.

Once the children have played a while with the rekenrek, they will have some comparison skills. Ordering numbers is the next step. Teach them that the act of ordering numbers is just comparing numbers many times.

Computers order numbers by comparing them one at a time to each of the other numbers. Let students try ordering numbers this way, as well as other ways. The one-at-a-time method might be slower, but it could be what the child needs.

### Keep trying and share what you learn.

How about it – can you use this for your first grade number system lessons? Do you have a MathRack or can you make one? Share your successes in the comments!

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