When I was a classroom teacher, I always made sure to have base-ten blocks on hand. It’s a tactile and visual tool that’s very useful in teaching place value. Handy as they may be, they can be pricey. I am happy to spend money when necessary but I’ll go to great lengths to get around it when I can! =)
I found a suitable substitute on the App Store (iOS) called Number Pieces Basic by the Math Learning Center. This free app is open-ended, meaning that you can just use the pieces as you would use real pieces (there’s no game or lesson on the app). Zoey and I will use this when working with problem solving. She is able to do arithmetic but has trouble with number sense. I think this is a product of learning rules in math before she understood what the numbers were actually doing. Having this app open when she is working on her problems is super helpful to her because she can show her thinking as she is solving the problem.
One feature I love about it is that you can group and ungroup very easily. When Zoey is adding two numbers, she can put together all the ones, tens, and hundreds. When she has enough to make a ten in a place value, she simply selects ten of the blocks and taps the grouping button. This puts those blocks together. It’s easier to understand than the “trading” that kids are often taught in school (if you have 10 ones, trade them for a tens stick).
Our set-up looks fancy and expensive, and I suppose it is, but we used things that we already had around the house. I used a tv that we already had as our monitor, and we also already had the iPad and VGA connectors. I don’t miss the tv in its old location. =) If you are interested in learning more about how to use your tv to show your iPad or iPhone screen, let me know in the comments and I might do a post on it soon!