Word problems can be challenging for students to understand and solve. As teachers, it’s our job to make math engaging and accessible for all learners. The Cubes Math Strategy is a practical multi-sensory approach that uses 3D cubes to represent critical information in a word problem in a concrete, hands-on way. This allows students to act out the scenario and visualize solutions. In this comprehensive guide, I will explore how to implement the Cubes Math Strategy step-by-step and share best practices to help students develop problem-solving skills for life.
What are the Benefits of the Cubes Math Strategy?
The Cubes Math Strategy has several research-backed benefits:
It appeals to visual, kinesthetic and tactile learners by incorporating physical movement and objects into the learning process. This engages more areas of the brain for enhanced understanding and recall. Using cubes to represent objects, actions and quantities in a problem allows students to act out word problems as mini-dramas. This makes abstract concepts more concrete and memorable.
It builds number sense by helping students connect numerical values to real-world objects and actions. This transfers math skills beyond calculations on paper. Working with peers to build cube models promotes collaboration and communication of mathematical thinking. This supports social-emotional development. Its multi-step approach breaks problems down in a logical sequence. This scaffolds the problem-solving process to build confidence.
Students are more engaged and motivated to solve problems independently when learning in a hands-on, game-like manner. This promotes a growth mindset. The strategy is effective for all ages and ability levels. It can be adapted based on students’ needs for lifelong learning benefits.
Getting Set Up
To implement the Cubes Math Strategy, you’ll need multi-colored interlocking cubes or blocks for students to represent critical details in a problem physically. I recommend having several complete sets of cubes in different colors per group that are clearly labeled and stored for easy access. This allows fluid modeling. A document camera or interactive whiteboard is also helpful for whole-class demonstrations.
Modeling the Strategy Step-By-Step
With materials ready, here are the sequential steps to model the Cubes Math Strategy for students:
Read the word problem aloud twice while students follow along. Identify and verbally highlight the essential details – objects, actions, and quantities. Assign each piece a color cube to represent it consistently. Build a cube model of the scenario on your document camera or whiteboard using the assigned colors.
Verbally explain what each color represents while pointing to the model. Have students repeat this. Identify the question being asked and circle it. Deconstruct the cube model while narrating the steps to solve the problem based on the scenario. Show your work and explain the process of deriving the answer. Have students discuss the solution in pairs before sharing it with the class.
Address misconceptions and reinforce the critical steps before moving to the next problem.
This modeling process is critical for students to independently comprehend how to apply the strategy to new problems. Be sure to break down multi-step word problems into smaller sub-problems as needed.
Guiding Student Practice
Once students have observed the strategy in action, it’s time for them to try it themselves:
Provide printed word problems for student pairs or groups to read aloud together. Have them highlight essential details and assign colors to cubes while discussing as a team. Observe as groups build their cube models to represent the scenario. Assist as needed. Circulate and ask probing questions to check understanding at each step. (“What does the red cube mean?”, “How many green cubes do we need?” etc.)
Please encourage students to explain their thinking process for solving the problem based on the model. Bring the class to share various solutions, comparing group models using a document camera. Celebrate correct answers and discuss different pathways to arriving at the solution. Address any misconceptions by re-modeling the problem together as a class.
With regular practice, students will become confident applying the Cubes Math Strategy independently to set up and solve various word problem types. Be sure to differentiate based on individual needs.
Adapting the Strategy for Different Problem Types
The Cubes Math Strategy can be adapted based on the specific type of word problem:
For combine/join/altogether problems, have students physically combine cube sets to represent the total quantity. In compare/more than/less than problems, model the quantities side by side using greater than or less than symbols. For change/increase/decrease problems, start with an initial cube model and verbally narrate how it changes while adjusting cubes.
Multi-step problems can be broken into smaller sub-problems, each modeled with a separate cube arrangement. Measurement word problems lend themselves to using cube units to represent measurements like inches, feet, cups, etc. Financial word problems work well using fake currency cubes of different denominations. The key is allowing students to physically manipulate cubes to represent the mathematical relationships and actions described. This brings word problems to life.
Continued Assessment and Growth
While the Cubes Math Strategy is highly effective for teaching word problem-solving skills, it’s essential to assess student progress and tailor instruction as needed continually. Some ways to do this include:
Observing students solving more complex multi-step problems independently to gauge understanding of the process. Provide scaffolds or extensions as appropriate. Conferring with students individually during practice time. Ask them to explain their reasoning and thought process to gain insight into misconceptions. Incorporating short formative assessments where students are given new word problems without context clues or cubes. Their written explanations demonstrate the depth of comprehension.
Surveying students periodically to gather feedback on the strategy. Are they finding it helpful? Are there aspects that could be improved? The student’s voice is valuable for refinement. Tracking progress over time using a rubric assessing skills like setting up relevant cube models, explaining solutions verbally, and transferring the approach to new scenarios. Collaborating with other teachers to share student work samples and calibrate expectations across grade levels.
Communicating regularly with families about how the strategy is implemented and ways to reinforce it at home. Ongoing assessment keeps instruction targeted and tailored to students’ evolving needs. It also empowers students to self-monitor the depth of their understanding and set new learning goals – helping them become truly independent problem solvers for life.
Additional Tips and Best Practices
Here are some additional tips for a successful Cubes Math Strategy implementation:
Introduce the strategy systematically, starting with fundamental addition/subtraction word problems. Model proper math vocabulary and encourage students to use precise terms like “altogether” or “more than.” Rotate students into the modeling role, so all have experience leading the process. Incorporate the strategy as a routine part of math warm-ups and problem-solving time.
Display anchor charts listing the step-by-step process for reference. Assess understanding formatively by observing students’ independent models. Highlight student work as a positive example for others. Differentiate by adjusting problem complexity or allowing drawing/pictorial models.
Encourage creative variations like using other objects, acting out scenarios or online virtual manipulatives. Celebrate risk-taking and learning from mistakes in a safe environment. Communicate progress to parents and get their feedback on using the strategy at home. With regular practice and these best practices, the Cubes Math Strategy empowers students to visualize, model and independently solve various real-world word problems confidently. Most importantly, it makes math fun!