These cups should have a place in any classroom! Making the ordinary extraordinary!

#TeamMagicalEducators: tessmaths

These cups should have a place in any classroom!

Making the ordinary extraordinary… This picture was one I picked up a couple of years ago on Twitter and it sparked a creative note. Having experimented with the approach to place value and reading numbers in this way it has very good effect. Especially when the students make the tool themselves. Younger students can get to grips with the position of numbers and the zeros prompt them to say the correct magnitude if they are a little unsure. You could write the words too underneath the numbers if necessary. Its a lovely class project for year 3 and 4 and it’s cheap too. It is also great for intervention at a later stage, with older students.

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place values cups 1

Place Value Thumb Nail Image 5

Moving this on a stage you can move into decimal numbers and multiplication and division by 10, 100 etc as demonstrated below by Ed Southall @solvemymaths (unless that is a hand model)

place value cups 2

As a teacher trainer this set me thinking to add this approach into my session called ‘making the ordinary extraordinary’ in which I give ITT students a series of ordinary objects – paper plates, wool, sweets, clothes pegs, knitting needles – to see what maths they can demonstrate and play with…working in a very different way in which they usually do or are encouraged to. This is challenging for quite a few new teachers in training. One chap, ex army, openly stated “I’m not creative…this will be awful” yet he produced this with his cups. It has a scale along the rim for positive and negative numbers which twists round – simple but very effective and something he was quite proud of. Celebrated on twitter it caused a stir and had some good feedback too.

Place Value Thumb Nail Image 4

place value cups 3

So one relatively simple idea can spark an element of creativity. Making the ordinary extraordinary…have a go.

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Place Value Roller

For more pictures of the roller click here or on the Next page.

Categorised as: CPD | Curriculum | G Post | Mathematics | Maths Toolkit | Most Popular | PGCE


  1. stephanie says:

    Good idea but wonder if there are other materials to use instead of foam. Everythign we do we are teaching others that there is permission to do it, and we need more environmental consciousness in education, in our homes, etc.

  2. Nicole says:

    what about white paper cups?

  3. Ash says:

    could always be done with recyclable paper cups to be more eco-friendly

  4. Jennifer says:

    For the “use paper cups” replies, they usually don’t stack like this. They’re meant to to stack as close together as they can, with a rim a couple millimeters wide. The purpose of the foam cups is that they have a rim you can write on. They’re only hurting the environment if you throw them away. If you make these, you can use them for years, and pass them on when you’re done.

  5. shirley says:

    I used white plastic stadium cups that I purchased at discount mugs on the internet.

  6. Ron says:

    Yes I agree this is a brilliant idea. But i consider foam-polystyrene cups are not very durable. They will soon be crushed and crumble in a school environment and, especially being carried around in a school-bag. Surely a toy manufacturer could improve on the design, to make it a bit smaller and stronger in a harder plastic.

    • Susan says:

      And they will cost so much that most teachers will not buy them.

      • Jean Frank says:

        And, once again, we’re back to teachers having to buy their own materials. And the U.S. wonders why the kids don’t succeed – until we actually fund what the kids need, we’re stuck in mediocrity.

    • Martha says:

      Or have the child & parent make them themselves, and the project will teach the math! Also, the accomplishment of a do-it-yourself goes so far with self-esteem and motivation! Something provided to them does nothing, really. Teachers and kids need the parent involvement. Funding can’t fix default parents or burnt out teachers. Maybe parents should get graded on involvement! (random thought)

  7. Shannon doak says:

    Why not get a student to design something in tinkercad and then use a 3D printer to print it in PLA? More durable and the process of creating the cups uses the design thinking process.

  8. Jane says:

    and in just 9 comments we’ve gone from being inspired to make resources out of the simple things around us to ‘leave it to businesses to create our resources.’ Mmmmm.

    • Erika says:

      Are you really that surprised? With the push of environmental awareness (especially in schools) the conversation was almost guaranteed to go that direction when styrofoam was pictured. Heaven forbid we just focus on the fact that this is a great, affordable resource for the classroom when teachers are already strapped trying to buy supplies.

  9. Marita Dixon says:

    A fantastic teaching resource . . cheap and easy to use with so many different ways to adapt it . . !!

  10. Nikki says:

    Dollar tree frequently sells sets of plastic cups that could be used instead of the foam. They are more durable and still have the lip. Plus, you could get different colors for dfferent topics/manipulative sets.

    • elizabeth says:

      I just bought plastic cups at the dollar store. I made sure they had a plastic rim. A worthwhile purchase…great idea! Thanks for sharing:-) I have little doubt that this will greatly benefit students’ learning both with respect to conceptual understanding but also to develop the habit of using materials/manipulatives, etc..

  11. marina says:

    loved this approach to early Marh

  12. Mary says:

    We made these for my 4th grade classroom 4 years ago and they are still going strong. We also used Styrofoam cups and they have been handled nearly daily through the school year. You just explain your expectations and roll with it. We use them as one of the fluency stations where the students work in pairs. We replace a few through the school year, but considering we have 10 sets, that isn’t too bad. I am at a new school this year and had actually forgotten about these since I left all my stuff behind at the other district. I will be getting these made this week!!! Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Phillip Mazurowski says:

    Just trying to brainstorm a way to use this idea for multiplication…you can use two thinner paper cups. Put the digits around the upper rims but on the inside cup, write the multiples of each number down the side instead of zeroes, being very careful to keep rows and columns in precise locations. On the outside cup, cut small holes in the appropriate location to reveal the products when the numbers are aligned at the top. Its basically a more interactive and fun multiplication table. You actually may want to cut the holes first, and then fill in the products on the inside cup as you align the numbers to ensure proper location.

    • Avis says:

      I need a picture of what you are saying here.

    • Lilian says:

      Phillip, please this idea of yours! I’m eager to see it as SO many students struggle with multiplication and hence, division

  14. Alice says:

    Why not reuse polystyrene cups after a school coffee morning or some such? They only need a good wash. Then keep using them all through the year. The cup will have done way more than it was designed for therefore good eco outcome!

  15. J says:

    I don’t know if they have anything similar in the UK, but in the US, many restaurants serve drinks in tumblers

    They’re more durable than the foam cups, but are still stackable and have the necessary rims on which to write. If it’s a restaurant you go to frequently, you can get several for no more than you’re spending on your meal already anyway…

  16. Ann says:

    What about a more permanent classroom solution like small terracotta planters that have the hole in the bottom pre-drilled. I’m thinking wall mounted paper towel holder type item. 7+ small to medium sized planters (they have the thick rim similar to the foam cups) plus an extra planter to glue to the large end of the first numbered planter so you can feed a dowel rod or PVC pipe through and still make the whole thing stable. Set up a classroom station where students can do individual lessons and activities using it.

  17. Alden Bebe says:

    How fascinating that nearly ALL of these comments were turned into an Enviro forum with few comments about the mechanics of mathmatics, or the value of the teaching aid. If all we care about is the material the cups are made of we have missed the point!

  18. tebogo says:

    Like it.

  19. Nicole says:

    For those saying that the styrofoam cups only hurt the environment when you throw them away…. That is a false statement! The production of styrofoam is bad for the environment, not to mention the after, long term affect! No one will have these forever!

  20. Heather says:

    Great idea! Love the cups!
    Don’t worry, when you are done, you can just burn them with a few tires in the backyard.
    Food for thought: How great for the environment is it to get a manufacturer to produce some special learning toy, have diesel trucks deliver the thing to a store that runs electricity all day & then have a teacher to go pick it up with their gas powered car? 😉

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