Now that my kindergartners have been working on acorn counting collections for a while both during our math workshop and our Explore play, I decided to add another problem solving component to this familiar context. One current focus in our math workshop is exposing children to different types of problem and helping them internalize the structure of various problem types. I use the mathematician statement “Mathematicians listen to the story and tell it again to help them solve the problem/figure out the story.” I chose a Separate-Result-Unknown problem because I noticed that some of my students tend to automatically combine quantities in story problems without thinking about the action in the story. So, here I am back to the idea that the math we do with our children must be 1) contextually relevant and 2) mathematically significant.
I believe the story telling aspect of problem solving is crucial for all students, but especially English Language Learners (which most of my students are). While traditional thought tells us to simplify language for English Language Learners, I actually think that the story context and story telling is even more crucial for English Language Learners in understanding story problems. Here’s the story I told about the squirrels and the Sneaky Robber Bird, and some of my teaching language from my recent math exchanges. I used a couple of simple toys to tell (and help retell) my story to help students understand what is going on in the problem.
“The squirrels have been busy collecting nuts for the winter. Show me with your body how squirrels collect nuts for the winter. The squirrels put ___ acorns in a hole. But a sneaky bird, Robber Bird, has been watching the squirrels from up in a tree. The Robber Bird swoops down (Whoosh!) and says ‘I’m gonna get me some of those nuts!’ (I have a funny voice for this line.) You say that part with me. The Robber Bird swoops down and takes ____ of the acorns (I use nuts/acorns interchangeably because I know my kids know both words) and flies away. How many acorns are in the squirrel hole now?”
“Now you tell me that story again.” (facilitate retell the story before solving the problem.)
“Now let’s figure it out. Would you like to use your notebook to draw a picture? Acorns? Cubes? Fingers? Which tool will you use?”
And later I use the reinforcing language “When you listened to the story and told it again, that helped us solve the problem.”
I’m hoping to take a video of a Robber Bird math exchange tomorrow, so stay tuned! What stories have you been telling with your mathematicians? What is your mathematical focus?