Dianne Leoni believes that “every child can learn math; they just need the right tools.”
With that philosophy in mind, Leoni, a mathematics teacher and specialist at Amsterdam Elementary School now in her 26th year as a teacher, developed Coin Tiles, a hands-on tool to help children identify coins and make change.
Coin Tiles uses a physical model known as a “hundred board” that allows students to build horizontally to visualize the value of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, combinations and making change.
The Hillsborough resident developed the idea about four or five years ago. While working with second graders, she observed that they were challenged by the concept of money, particularly coins.
“Kids are not getting as much practice or exposure to using coins and making change. The day-to-day experiences aren’t there. Technology is great and efficient but they just don’t get to have that real-life experience,” Leoni said.
“Money is extremely challenging. Our money is a really abstract concept,” she said, pointing out that a nickel being physically larger than a dime can add to the challenge. “This is another tool to help young students and youngsters with learning disabilities to help them understand how to do it,” she said.
After some research and several prototypes and pilot lessons, she sent her idea to several companies and selected Illinois-based ETA hand2mind to produce and market her product to the educational community, with Leoni serving as author of the accompanying teacher workbook (she even incorporated the names of her three children in the word problems).
Megan McManus, special education teacher at Amsterdam, has helped Leoni pilot the project and used it in her classroom. “The kids are excited. It’s something different for them to use and another way for them to learn the concept,” she said.
For Leoni, this was her third attempt at pitching an educational tool to marketing companies.
“I struck out twice but the third one is hitting a home run. It’s very exciting,” she added, noting that Coin Tiles has been cited as a recommended resource in several educational publications and she will be addressing the Association of Mathematics Teachers of New Jersey on the use of manipulatives.
“I believe in leading by example. It’s about persevering–if you have an idea and a goal, go for it,” she added.
When her teaching days are over, Leoni hopes to continue using her skills, perhaps in product or professional development and the technological end of education.
“I’m a life-long learner. I’m always looking for new ideas.”