A Tale of Two Math Resources: Digi-Blocks and SumBlox

A Tale of Two Math Resources: Digi-Blocks and SumBlox

Sumblox, has become one of Louise Kool’s fastest growing math resources ever. Over 2250 sets have been ordered since November 2016, predominantly from one region of Ontario.

While in the past 5 years we’ve sent hundreds of Digi-Blocks primarily to Manitoba. Both of these products are incredibly effective in tackling what may be the biggest challenge in math instruction. But in both cases, even though they are the go-to resource in one specific part of the country they may be completely unknown in the rest of Canada.

Working with schools systems across the country for almost two decades this sort of anomaly between educators – whether across the country or sometimes just across the street -- fascinates me.

There are some other interesting qualities that both of these resources share. Maybe the answer for their asymmetrical popularity lies there?


The BIGGEST challenge in Math Instruction?


math concrete semi concrete abstract canada louise kool


Both Digi-Blocks and Sumblox, tackle what may be the biggest problem in math instruction – moving from concrete to abstract representation of math.

Understanding value of abstract symbols of numbers and operations is really, really tough for a lot of people. Not just kids either. Not making that leap from concrete representation i.e. working with real life math problems with concrete objects, to an abstraction of an equation (eg. 2+2=4) often carries right through to adulthood.

Sumblox, and Digi-Blocks (as you can tell by their names) use three dimensional representation so that students can explore play and build math ideas and statements. While there is some overlap, they complement each other nicely.

Sumblox, are carefully designed numbers that represent value in proportion to height so that students can build structures that show equivalency even with fractions.

Digi-Blocks go on from there, tackling the place-value problem by building and nesting blocks to show unitizing into groups of 10. This place-value first approach means you can use Digi-Blocks well into higher grades to illustrate subtraction with regrouping, division and even proportional growth.

Both of these resources really foster turning your learners into problem builders and solvers.


Two Committed Inventors


David Skaggs inventor of SumBlox and Elijah inspiration for SumBlox


The inventors of Sumblox and Digi-Blocks, David Skaggs (shown above with Elijah) and Elon Kohlberg (pictured below), respectively, both came up with their ideas while tutoring kids struggling in math.


Elon Kohlberg inventor of digi-blocks


Neither were math educators by profession but both used math extensively in their daily work-life. David was working on a master’s degree in digital game development while volunteer tutoring at a local elementary school in Plano Texas.

Elon Kohlberg is a renowned professor at the prestigious Harvard Business School specializing in Game Theory. His “ah-ha!” moment came while using pebbles and plastic boxes to model place value for his nephew.

David talks about how he tried so many other options, from iPad based learning games to various manipulatives. None of them worked with his student, Elijah.

(Want to learn more? Check out the respective company website pages for their origin stories About SumBlox and About Digi-Blocks).

In both cases, the frustration of working with a student who wanted to learn but couldn’t with standard methods drove their inspiration.

Interestingly, when I mentioned Digi-Blocks to David when I met him early this year, he’d never heard of them. Conversely, I can’t say if Dr. Kohlberg is aware of Sumblox. They both lead two independent, single product (at least for now) companies that have seen their success grow organically.

When you’re small and surrounded by giant education resource companies that manufacture dozens of lines of products it’s easy to pass by each other, unnoticed.


Why The Asymmetrical Popularity?




Canada, is a big place, and our school districts/boards are independent. It makes sharing information surprisingly difficult even in our connected age.

But in the case of both Sumblox and Digi-Blocks it’s particularly difficult to spread the word.

It’s just not easy to describe what these things do.

Even with pictures it’s a challenge. But put them in front of a student or a teacher and it’s not hard to see why educators get blown away by their potential.

That’s what makes these resources successful after all. Sumblox and Digi-Blocks model key concepts and facilitate the discovery of math ideas that are hard to understand with just verbal or written instruction.





But their new videos and gif animations definitely help. That’s why we’ve posted so many on our web pages. So check out all the visuals and talk to your colleagues across the country to discover these unique resources powerful instructional value. They might just work in your schools, too.

Want to try them out for your school district? Contact us to find out how.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.