Why I Love Unifix Cubes (Or, a Fun Way to Teach Bar Graphing)

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Teach kids how to compare and make a bar graph using unifx cubes!

Unifix cubes are a wonderful way to introduce bar graphs!  

I have a slight addiction to anything that says "office supplies" on the packaging.  I hoard rubber bands, paper clips, index cards, clipboards, and even push pins.  I'm not just talking about a small hoard collection.  I am talking about a collection so big, that I may never need to buy any of the above items every again as long as I shall live.  Yet, I still buy them whenever I see them on sale, at garage sales, or at the Craft Re-use Market downtown.  I can't help myself.

 I feel this same way about teacher manipulatives. Counters, game dice, letter tiles, marbles, wooden blocks, colored bears, jars of pennies--you name it! This addiction may have been fueled by my time as a classroom teacher, but I still have a great excuse:  I am now a homeschool teacher.  You would have thought, after finding out I was done as a classroom teacher for now, that I may have passed on my large classroom set of manipulatives to free up the space as well as the mind....Nope.

Yes, I do realize that I only have 3 children, not 30.  Look, I didn't say I was perfect.

But back to the unifix cubes, shall we?  What's so special about unifix cubes?  They are so versatile, a hands-on experience, and a great help for many foundational math skills:  

1.  colorful, interlocking, cubes of fun
2.  wonderful for patterning 
3.  addition/subtraction practice
4. sorting
5. a quiet activity for toddlers at church, restaurant, or when your ears need a slight break
6. measurement
7. tactile graph material
8. place value
9. comparing
10. multiplication/division

We have had some unifix cube fun at our house this month.  The week prior, I allowed the children to play with the cubes.  They dug deep and touched them and let them fall through their fingers.  They stacked them to see how high they could go without them falling.  They created castles and towers and fences and roads.  They used them to represent cars and people and cows.  I wanted their imaginations to soar.  For their fingers to "know" the cubes.

The next week, I had an activity planned.  On this particular day, one of our daughters was away having a special day with grandma, and the other two were home to work on math together.  My focus was to teach the preschooler how to count, sort, compare, graph, and add and strengthen her color recognition.  Our third grader, never missing an opportunity to play "teacher", was more than eager to complete the acitivity with her younger sister to compare the two sets of data, to complete a graph, and to use the < (less than), > (more than), and = (equal to) signs.  I planned on having my third-grader multiply some of the cubes together and then use the signs to compare them as some bonus practice for her when we were all done. A third grader and preschooler together at the Math table.  Each learning their own Math skills.  It is a wonderful sight to school multi-ages!

First, I gave each child a bowl full of cubes.  Randomly scooped.

I asked them to dump them out and sort them into piles.  

Our preschooler started stacking them and placing them in random order.  I was happy to see her experimenting and placing the stacks side-by-side.  She counted each one as she sorted.  Her sister had to help her stay on track.  She'd get a few numbers correct, and then belt out her own symphony of numbers:  "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 18, 12, 9, 10!   I love that she tries!


Then, I asked her to place them in order from tallest to shortest.  You could also use different vocabulary: biggest/smallest, largest/littlest, most/least, etc.  

Liv ordered her stacks as well.

Liv's job was to create cards to represent "equal to" "greater than" and "less than". 

Color by color, the girls went through each stack and compared the two using the signs.  Liv was a huge help, as our littlest one loves to learn from her big sisters!  Liv asked Georgia Reese to repeat back to her each sentence.  

"My yellow stack is larger than your yellow stack."  

I didn't take a picture of it, but I later drew the "more than" sign with teeth, to represent a hungry alligator who wants the biggest "piece".

"My white stack is larger than your white stack."

"My yellow stack is less than your yellow stack".  I remind the girls that this sign is like the letter "L" to represent the phrase "less than."

"The green stack is equal to the white stack."

Then, the girls put their stacks, in order, side-by-side for a whole comparison.  The goal was to find out how many cubes each girl had total and then, which girl had the most; which girl had the least. Remarkably, even though the cubes were chosen at random, estimating similar amounts, the number of cubes for each girls were exactly the same.  So, what we did is show the number 34 written two different ways.  Finally, the equal sign was placed between the two groups.  

This is an awesome introduction to bar graphs! 

Later on, I asked Liv to multiply the blues together, then multiply the reds together, and then use the <,>, and = signs to compare.  Then she tried the green and the yellows, and so on.  

The possibilities with unifix cubes are endless.  I consider them a staple in our home school.  

I would love to hear from you.  What are your home school staples?