Tuesday, April 5, 2011

play-dough numbers.

I didn't write anything yesterday. I didn't have anything to say, and it probably should have been favourite things monday but I was at class for most of the day and the other part was spent cycling to class, or watching online movies. About education.
That's not even a joke.
How do I spend my spare time? After I've read through my favourite blogs (y'know, the wedding or life ones), I actually do Uni work. Or watch clips about education. Or do independant research,
While my cohort has read one chapter of our many books and articles that we're supposed to have read (I'm not making this up), and those same people haven't started the assignment due on Monday... I've done that assignment, done my readings, and am researching, independently, things that I find interesting. About education.
Can anyone spell
Well done, grade 2.

Anyhoo. Just for fun I went to School this morning because they have a bit more of a structured literacy or numeracy lesson.
Or so I thought.
(Dun dun dunnn).

They were split into 4 groups of 4 kids each, and cycled through the 4 activities. One was egg-carton maths, where there were coloured counters inside an egg-carton (with only 10 egg spaces!). The kids shook the carton, opened it up and revealed, say, 6 red ones and 4 yellow ones. Thus, one can surmize, 6 + 4 = 10! Then they'd shake it again and... 8 red ones and 2 yellow ones! 8 + 2 = 10! Wow.
There was also 'time fishing', which I didn't get to see in action, so can't criticize elaborate on it, and 'word memory' which I'm guessing is words like "the" and "that" and "as" upside down, and having to match them with their pairs. Or something.
Aaaaaaand then there was play-dough numbers, which, since I "wanted to see maths", I was in charge of helping with.
Basically, the kids got a lump of play-dough and two dice. They rolled the dice, counted how many there were and then had to make the shape of that number out of dough.
No problemo.
Except only... A kid makes a backward 9, right? But because it's kinda wonky, and cos it's made out of dough, and because it's not written, I can't tell if it's the right way around or not. I have to trace it on the table with my finger (you know how you do something enough times you just know it, and when you stop to think about it, it escapes you?)  to make sure it's right... So... if I'm having to do this cos I can't tell if the number is right? Dunno if it's so useful for kids. I appreciate trying to make the activity tactile and 'real', like... feel the numbers, y'all, but I think that writing them in their scrapbook with textas or something would have been better, because... hey, how often do we have to physically make a number vs. having to write it?
And then E., the teacher, would come around and check on their handiwork... and say they'd made a 7 out of playdough, but only the downward part of their 7 went straight down. They'd get corrected. It's meant to be on an angle, see. And she'd move it so it's on a diagonal. Take a look at your 7 on your keyboard people. How many of you realized it was on an angle? And how important is this?
Hey, maybe it is. I'm new at this, she's been doing this a long time... But... It seems to me that when you have kids who don't know why the number eleven has two ones in it (so, for these kids, 11 isn't 10 + 1, it's just a 1 and then another 1), or who consistantly miss a dot when counting dice unless you pull them up on it, it seems to me like the diagonal angle of a number 7 isn't the most important thing, here. Ok, most of them do 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 back to front, like you're looking in the mirror. She has some technique for some of them about it going in the 'reading direction', like the 6... but... some of them do, but don't.. (number 2, for example... has a top that sticks out in the 'reading direction', but a pointy bottom bit that doesn't).. so it doesn't seem like a good 'rule', to me. I just remember learning about 5... he's got a neck, and a belly, and finally a hat on top. And I remember drawing monsters out of numbers- giving them teeth and horns and stuff.
So this was their math lessons. Adding 5 + 8 and 8 + 5, and 3 + 1 and then making playdough numbers. One girl (the number-skipping girl) had a breakthrough when she rolled two 3s. She said: "Two threes!!" And I said: "Ok, what does it make?" So she counted, and told me six. And I said: "So, what can you tell me about two threes?!" And she said: "One two three and one two three make six!" And she was so excited about this, that she screamed at E. until she paid attention. But then there's two kids in this class who are doing multplication in their heads already, right? Or who just... work out numbers. And there's these... It's just a huge, huge gap between where those two are, and where this girl is, who doesn't know what 11 means.
Another boy was doing some sums in his head, and I asked him how he did it, and he told me. The problem was 5 + 9. He said: "You add one on the 9 to make 10, then you have 4, so it's 14". I was excited. I'd been reading about kids just doing this stuff- I don't think this is something he's rote learned, but something he'd figured out. He had trouble for some reason with 5 + 3 later, which he eventually got... then I told him to add 7. He struggled for a little while... and I said: "Do you know what two 7s are?" He did. "So, two sevens... add one.." "Oh!!!" He said, eyes lighting up " It's 15!"

I think these kids need more formal numeracy, and more formal literacy. I love that they get to 'work at their own pace' and follow their interests in their projects... but at the same time I think they could value from more structured lessons, too. I'm not saying I want to stand up the front and lecture them, I think you can still have student-centered learning without talking at them, still letting them figure things out, work on their problems... As much as literacy and numeracy could be integrated into what they do for their projects, I don't think it is, enough, or they're not given those skills to then apply them in a context.
It will be very interesting to see the way a classroom is run when I go on rounds in August... and then how I end up doing it for the 5 weeks I'm there.

Thursday is "Harmony Day" at school, where they are all dressing up as people from around the world and bringing in food and singing songs and stuff.
I've been told to bring a costume.
Do my Gap jeans from Canada and my Icebreaker from NZ count? No? How about this scarf I bought in NYC???


  1. I'm all about the making kids learn things. :) we had to learn our times tables and addition/subtraction by heart. This actually has really helped me in my life, and I am determined to do this with my kids. C does math in the weirdest ways, and it leads to a lot of errors for him.

  2. I was supposed to learn those things by heart, and it didn't work.
    Look, I'm not for rote learning, or doing tables over and over again till you get them. I -am- for kids creating the most efficient way for them to do sums, so long as they can justify their answers and know why they do these things. A lot of the time kids get taught the standard written algorithm (omfg I sound like a maths person. people keep asking me what an algorithm is and I actually know the answer, which is terrifying in itself. I'm an English/Drama person!!!) like:
    + 38
    And you do the 5 + 8, carry the 1, then the 2 + 3 + 1... And... it doesn't mean anything, or they don't know what 'carrying the 1 means', and it stuffs everything up. Kids make up a million ways to do this problem, assuming they know that a 20 is 2 10s, and not just the number 2...
    I find it interesting that C does math in weird ways, and makes errors... I wonder if it points not so much to how he was taught (not by rote), but possibly by not receiving feedback on those methods, or having to fully 'test' those methods... A lot of what I read involves kids discussing, justifying and demonstrating how their methods work. And then getting them to see, understand and discover other people's methods as valid too.
    Anyhow. I could go on for hours about this. As someone who is truly terrible at maths, I really want to be good at teaching it. Eek.