Why I DON"T use C.U.B.E.S. in Grades 3-5


Several years ago the district I worked in had mentioned that we shouldn't use C.U.B.E.S. At the time I didn't know anything about the strategy so I didn't really pay any attention to the reasoning behind the why.  Fast forward to last year as my first year as an instructional coach, and I now know why C.U.B.E.S shouldn't be used in most classrooms.

C.U.B.E.S. is a strategy that is successful for students who are already successful in understanding word problems.  With this strategy students are focused on a completing steps, not what the problem is asking for.  For many students word problems create anxiety and many will complete any math problem with the operation they are most comfortable with just to get an answer.

Let's be honest think about your first lesson this year with word problems, I'm going to guess majority of your wanted to add all the numbers in the problem.  No matter the grade level, this is the operation students rely on most.  With C.U.B.E.S. students often "fake" their way through the strategy and will still add the numbers.

Don't get me wrong, C.U.B.E.S. is a great strategy for the K-2 classroom where the word problems are set up in a way in which it is easier for students to use the strategy and get the correct answer. See the sample word problem below.


However, in the upper grades (3-5) many of the word problems are multistep which is where I see many students using the strategy incorrectly or having no success with it.  Below is an example of a multistep word problem completed with C.U.B.E.S.


As I mentioned above, many students will not read the problem and will automatically start circling numbers, boxes action words, and underling the question.  They are children and something we as teachers know is going to happen. I even tested C.U.B.E.S. out on my own third grader when he came home with the strategy in his homework folder.  He is bright in math and he did exactly what I described above, just completed the steps because he was taught this strategy will help him find the answer.

I am currently coaching and teaching 4th grade reading and math. (We had a teacher move and many of the students in this class are low performing and my heart wouldn't let me leave them with a sub.) Last week I saw first hand why C.U.B.E.S shouldn't be used in 3-5, especially with lower leveled learners.  My kids did exactly what I have already addressed. So, what do I use?  The STOP Sign Strategy.

Remember I mentioned my previous district didn't want us using C.U.B.E.S? Well they shared the STOP Sign Strategy with us, although I don't think that is the name they call it.



With this strategy students are required to read the problem more than one time. I know we teach this to our students, but how often are they actually doing it without our support?  Students STOP at each punctuation and jot down notes, highlight, etc. When I teach this strategy whole group we all raise our hands and shout out stop. This requires them to actually think about what the problem is stating, asking, and how the numbers in the problem are related.  Below is the same sample problem done with C.U.B.E.S, but with STOP.

I know I may get several comments about how the math strategy C.U.B.E.S. works well in classrooms around the world, but with my experience the past two years I don't believe it is appropriate for all 3-5 classrooms. C.U.B.E.S does not work for our students in 3-5, so at our school I have made the same call as my old district...no C.U.B.E.S. The teachers do not have to use the STOP Sign Strategy, they can use any strategy they know of that does not allow students the opportunity to fake their way through the problem.

I have created Word Problem Task Cards like the samples in this post for my kids to practice this strategy next week in centers.  If you would like to grab them to try out with your students they will be on sale for the rest of the week.


2 comments

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  2. I just found your post. I teach 6, 7, 8 math. I had just found out about cubes but I think I like your stop sign method all the more. Our new curriculum is very heavy on word problems and it's a foreign language class more than a math class. Which, is important today. Discerning which information is relevant or irrelevant is part of the critical-thinking we are trying to develop.
    Thank you again!!
    -Tammy

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