Many moons ago, I posted a little sign in my third grade classroom that read, “Become a USER of math, not just a DOER of math.” This was after endless conversations about why we learned all the things we did in our third grade math classroom. I have memories of telling the kids they would not be walking about in the grocery store and have someone hand them a worksheet with problems to solve, and they would not open a cookbook with a recipe they want to double and see a multiple choice question in the margin. Yes–we learn to do a lot with math, but if we are not able to USE it for a purpose all the things we know how to DO are no good to us at all. The foundation of our explorations back then, and always will be—understanding the purpose for what we are learning and how it helps us maneuver in our daily lives.
I would like to share one of my second grade students’ recent explorations…
A few weeks before Christmas break, I was browsing the holiday items at Farm & Fleet, and I happened upon a beaded ornament kit that I knew well–those infamous pipe cleaner beaded wreath ornaments. Well, I had to get them, as they brought back memories from my own childhood and I knew my kids would enjoy making them.
I got the two kits home, sat down at the kitchen table, and took a closer look at the directions to help determine how I should divide the beads and pack them into individual baggies for my kids. I am always wanting to do things to make things easier in the long run when it comes to prep of materials. I looked at the diagram and figured out how many green beads and red beads I needed to put in each baggie. I got through one kit that made enough for 16 ornaments when I asked myself–“What am I doing? I should have the kids doing this!” I stopped midway and left my nice little prep behind.
I took the other ornament kit to school that same week and shared it with my kids. I told them how I picked up the ornament kits and they would have to help out with prep before we could make them as a class. I showed them the big bag of green beads, and the small bag of red beads, and told them there were enough beads to make 16 ornaments. I posed the same questions I asked myself at home (replacing the “I” with “we”):
- What do we need to do? (separate the beads)
- What do we need to know to be able to do it? (how many green and red beads are needed for each ornament)
- How are we going to figure it out?
The kids were very quick to answer the first two questions. They needed more information to go further. One student said loudly, “Why don’t you just look at the directions, Mrs. Masters?” Ha! Smart cookie! So we looked at the directions, and I knew he was expecting the directions to tell us exactly how many of each bead we needed to make an ornament. NOPE! Here’s what we found.
We discussed what we saw–number of each color of bead in the kit, number of pipe cleaners in the kit, a diagram showing how to feed the beads onto the pipe cleaner, and a diagram showing how to bend and tie. Did the directions show us what they needed to know? Well, yes, but they had to do some work. None of the kids chose to focus on the total number of beads in the bag, but their attention WAS drawn to the diagram. BWT this was also a perfect example of using informational text features for a purpose.
Quite a few hands went up when I asked how what we saw could help us. In our discussions we decided to just count the red beads in the diagram, that was easy–we needed 8 of them for one ornament. Then we saw that each group of green beads had 4 beads, and we needed to have 7 groups of green beads to make an ornament. I asked the kids if they had enough information to help them answer their question, and they said yes. It was time to go to it! Some kids worked together, and some went on their own, to determine how many green beads were needed to make one ornament. No directions were given except for the fact that they needed to show their thinking. Here are some examples of their thinking…
Each group/individual showed their thinking, explained, and we asked ourselves if what was shared was reasonable. After discussions began, two girls went back to their seats to do some revision. One student in particular noticed this and drew attention to the fact that they left. I asked them why they went back, and they said it was because their answer didn’t make sense. I stressed how important it was that the girls realized this and went back to rework. As we say, the trip (journey) is just as important as the solution. We, of course, had some discussions of how repeated addition of equal values is multiplication and how each section of the ornament was a group. Only a few students wrote 7 x 4 or 4 x 7. This exploration was a perfect application of skills learned and served as a foundation for new knowledge as well (multiplication). Not to mention, we had a good-ole’-time making the ornaments and taking them home to put on our trees. Something to remember!
ALSO–Just a reminder, starting January 11th, we will be joining Tara, The Elementary Math Maniac, for her book study of Number Talks: Helping Students Build Mental Math and Computational Strategies (K-5) by Sherry Parrish. The text is well worth the investment, and we hope you will join us!