In my book I talk a lot about how math exchanges must be both contextually meaningful and mathematically significant. Many times “contextually meaningful” means relevant or useful to the life of the mathematician solving the problem. However, this year with my kindergarten class I’ve been exploring the role of mathematics in the imaginative play of the five year old mathematicians.
In Virginia the days are getting cooler and we’ve been taking fall walks to look for signs of seasonal changes. We’ve noticed lots of squirrel dreys (nests–I didn’t know this word before I came to kindergarten!) in trees, but we haven’t spotted a squirrel on our walks yet. (Perhaps the squirrels see the parade of curious five-year-olds and head for the hills!?) Yesterday we set up a squirrel feeder with corn and nuts in an attempt to attract squirrels, so these critters have been on our minds.
Today I introduced some little containers covered in fabric alongside some of the acorns we have collected on our walks. “We know squirrels collect acorns for the winter. We could do some pretending with these containers. They could be dreys or holes in the ground. I wonder how many acorns will fit in these different containers? You could try figuring that out today.”
“I’m a busy squirrel!” “These are my nuts. I’ve got to get a lot for winter. Maybe even more than 30!” “Hey, 33 nuts and 31 nuts are almost the same. They look the same, but 33 is two more.”
I try to find ways to invite curiosity, play, and imagination to mathematics. Is counting acorns contextually relevant for my students? I think so. Not in a solve a real problem kind of way (We work on lots of those kinds of problems too!), but certainly in a math is playful and creative way.
And let’s not forget that math exchanges must be mathematically significant! Context is important, but it is nothing if you’re not helping kids grapple with the big ideas of mathematics. Counting (1:1, number word sequence, cardinality, number identification and writing), estimation, and comparing numbers and quantities (Which container will hold the most? Why do you think that? If this container holds 30 nuts, how many will this bigger one hold?) are all ideas that are important for kindergartners to explore deeply. These imaginative math exchanges and contexts will lead into some story problems we’ll be working on in the next few days in which I’ll be taking a closer look at students’ strategies for various types of problems. (Stay tuned!)
So, how are you making your math exchanges both contextually meaningful and mathematically significant?
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Next week I travel to Orlando for the annual NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) conference. My presentation is called “Mathematics is Storytelling: Bringing Play and a Sense of Narrative to Problem Solving,” and it is all about using storytelling to strengthen children’s understanding of problem solving. I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at a couple of pictures from the presentation.
This kindergartener explores counting collections and expands her ability to tell a mathematical story through Trick or Treating play.
Two kindergarteners solving a difficult problem type using an imaginative, familiar context, The Gingerbread Man.
Ahmed records his thinking for the problem, “The Gingerbread Man needs to cross 13 stones to get across the river. After hopping on the tenth stone he takes a rest. How many more stones does he need to hop across to get to the other side of the river?”
Ahmed records his strategy and says, “Ten stones and three more is thirteen. I just saw ten and three more!”
For those of you who will be in Orlando next week at the conference, please join me at my session on Saturday, November 5th from 1-2pm. For anyone else interested, I’ll be posting the presentation on my blog and tweeting from NAEYC sessions (@kassiaowedekind) as well!
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I’m always trying to find ways that the little mathematicians in my kindergarten class can participate in real, meaningful math that matters. Whatever I teach them, I ask myself “Do they see how this connects to the real world of mathematics?” “Do they see that what they do in math matters?”
Each morning we start our day with Explore while my wonderful assistant, Trisch, gets the morning snack ready in little containers. Today Trisch and I decided that we’d make “Snack Helpers” into an Explore choice. We made a little chart that showed that today each snack container would get “10 goldfish and 10 Cheerios.” (Yes, it’s a small snack, they’ve just eaten breakfast!) Good reading practice too because they read the names on each snack container as they get it out. Their job was to count out the snack into containers.
I thought they would like the job, but I was surprised just how much they liked it. “Wilbert, I just made up your snack!” yelled Darius across the room holding up Wilbert’s snack container. The snack helpers saw that this job helped the class and their friends, and that their counting wasn’t just “playing school” or satisfying the teacher’s needs, they were actually doing something that mattered.
As a bonus, I checked in with the four snack helpers today with their 1:1 and counting, and it gave me some good informal assessment information as to how they are moving forward with these goals.
How do you make math meaningful for your kids throughout the day?
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More Kindergarten Counting Collections…
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