It’s Nothing If It’s Not Concrete

Pro-tip: Give them tools. Give them tools! Really…give them the tools!

I was told this over and over by a math coach when I was a third grade teacher, and for some reason it really did not sink in at all. I made them “available”, which means I had buckets of them in a cabinet and they could go and get them if they needed them.  No one ever got them unless I brought them out. I don’t know what my problem was, were they too messy? Too loud? Too much of a pain to have available? Did I not know how to use them properly?

It wasn’t until I was an interventionist and coach that I have gotten to see why the tools are not only valuable, but essential.

Without tools or imagining what the tools can stand for, students are really not connecting the numbers to anything whatsoever.  We can tell them what to connect it to, but you know they aren’t all with you all the time.  The tools are something they have to manipulate and understand.

Right now I’m using The Cupcake Shop for my intervention group. Just because it’s cupcakes it’s a highly motivating projects, but also the stones we are using make it so REAL.  They are building orders and figuring out that in this case, the multiplication symbol actually stands for the words “boxes of”.


If I were to tell them that the multiplication symbol stands for “rows of, groups of or boxes of” without concrete materials, what could they possibly connect it to but something in their mind? And with students of all different backgrounds, we really can’t rely on them connecting it to something that we are thinking about.

Let them touch it and try it! In the preview of The Cupcake Shop you can try this project out for free to see if it’s right for you.





  1. I like this very much.
    The use of cupcakes and boxes of cupcakes makes real the multiplication thing.
    I am not a fan of “area models” at all. It is the cart pulling the horse. What exactly is “a square foot” anyway ?



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