math, Math Workshop, Number Sense & Numeration, Number Strings, Number Talks

Early Algebra

We started the “Trades, Jumps and Stops” Context for Learning unit quite some time ago. A variety of inclement weather days has interrupted us a lot, so we are behind where I thought we’d be at this point. That might be part of the issue I’m having with this unit.  I’ve not taught it before, so that has to take a bit of the blame as well.  And finally, I’m thinking I might have misjudged our general readiness for this unit.  But I talked to my down-the-hall neighbour who is also doing the unit and she concurred:  It seems that some kids are easily getting it, and some are really, really having to work hard to get it.  There’s not a lot of in-between here.

Day 4 of the unit begins with a mini-lesson that we needed quite a bit of time with.  I was to fill 2 separate bags with a certain amount of coins in each, plus a “mystery” coin.  We have had a bit of trouble adding up coins, so I decided to stretch this out a bit instead of trying to get through it in 15 minutes.  Instead of putting the bags out of reach, I gave the coins to kids.  I started by explaining, “X and Y have some coins.  They have an equal amount of money, but they have different coins.  I want to see if you can figure out which coins they have.” On the first day only one child had a “mystery” coin (a poker chip!), but on the second day both kids had one.  The children holding the coins were very excited to be given this job. It gave them practice identifying the coin by name and value.  Have you ever thought about how we interchangeable use “dime” & “10 cents” when talking about coins? Some of the kids are still calling this “The Boat”.

We unpacked the bags a bit at a time.  I don’t have pictures of the whole process, but this is how it looked in the end.  Obviously our mystery coin was worth 10 cents this time.  This is the beginning of the children learning about a variable, and I think they did OK!

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On the second day, we talked more about the signs < > and =.  We added up the coins in chunks, as suggested in the lesson, and then decided if we needed to have a < or a > or if we finally needed the =.  This time, instead of adding them up as a group, I had the students work with partners.  We knew that X had 40 cents, and Y had 5o cents, but how much would they have once they each got another quarter?  This partnership was trying to make a number line across the bottom end of this photo, without actually making the number line.  It’s a step in the right direction for them!

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They wanted to have the numbers in a long line, but couldn’t hold all those totals in their head. Writing them above helped them work on the math and compensated for the stress load on their working memory.

We had lots of people able to do this:

Finally we made it to the mystery coin.  We knew how much money everyone had in actual coins, but what was that mystery coin worth? This led to one of those really cool moments when I felt like (most) everyone was excited about the math.  You can see here where I recorded some of the different responses to the value of the mystery coin.

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I was even able to use a double number line to show two of the answers, and since that is the goal of this unit (developing an understanding of the double number line is in fact the very next lesson we will do!) I felt very good about that.

The next day I needed a Number Talk to reinforce the understanding of the variables.  I didn’t really NEED to do it, since this doesn’t come into the curriculum until a later grade, but they were excited about it, and it certainly can’t hurt them so we did it anyway. I found some images on Math Before Bed and use them for our Number Talk.  I feel like they really help to reinforce the student’s number sense because there is more than one way to make 10, or 12, or any number really.

The weather here is terrible today (Sunday) but I’m hopeful there will be plenty of actual school days this week when we can move forward with this unit.  I don’t want to lose our momentum!  Next time I do this unit, however, I am going to maybe wait a bit.  Of course, the thing that keeps getting me through is that I have to trust Cathy Fosnot! She says this will work, and she has seen it work with many, many children, so I am going to go ahead and finish the unit.  The students are mostly getting the ideas behind the math. Some of them are actually in need of more practice with adding up money.  I am going to make sure we have a day this week when we have some activities that require counting money and we’ll rotate through those to give everyone lots of practice. Often these blogs help me think through what has happened and what needs to happen next!  Time to stop writing and plan my money counting activities.

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