math, Patterning & Algebra

Money (or “Learn to get along with your classmates!”)

This week we learned more about money.  We started “Trades, Jumps and Stops”, a Context for Learning unit and the first thing students do in that unit is count some money.  On the first day, I did a Number Talk, which was definitely not a Number String! I had 50 cents in my pocket and I told the class about the 50 cents.  Then I asked, “Can you tell me which coins I have?” We wrote down 5 or 6 different combinations of coins that are equal to 50 cents.  Then I told them I had 4 coins and they immediately knew which of the options they’d given was correct.  But by “them” and “they” I mean it was only about 3 or 4 students.  Granted, we had a lot of students away due to illness but it was clear that we needed some practice with counting money and making amounts in different ways, so we took a pause from the unit and did that for a couple of days.  By Friday we were using the piggy bank cards, which we need later in the unit, to count out coins, adding up two different amounts to get a total, and comparing them to our partner. This is a detour from the original content of the unit, but I didn’t feel like we could go forward successfully without solidifying this skill. Or set of skills I guess.

I am happy to report that everyone was counting by 5s and 10s, and many were adding up quarters too!  This is because we have progressed as mathematicians!  It is also because I only gave each group 5 pennies so they didn’t have the option of counting out a very big amount by ones.

This week I am also reflecting on how well we are collaborating when we need to.  For the last several years I have done a lot of work with intentional learning partners.  I assign my students to a triad and those people are their partners for the entire month whenever they need partners. In the beginning, I assign them to a partner, or I use a random system for matching students.  As the months go by, I start to ask for their input and ask them to do some self-assessment of their ability to be a good partner.  By the 5th month of school I would not be doing random assignments anymore.

This year is different. On Thursday I pulled out our partner matching cards and I immediately thought, “Why am I still using these?  Why don’t I have partner assignments ready to go?”  Intentional learning partners are meant to match students who will be able to actually help each other out and collaborate together.  Peter Liljedahl does the opposite and has students work with different students every day.  But his work is mostly focused on older students.  I believe that in the primary grades the students need different social things than they do in the higher grades.  For example, practice putting up with each other’s oddities in order to learn some tolerance, practice noticing someone else’s preferred work style and then trying out some tips from that person, and of course they need to learn how to take turns.  They also need to be matched with someone who is close in ability.  Maybe not the exact same ability, but in a split grade class I can’t have my most accomplished grade 3 matched with a grade 2 who is really struggling.  Or worse, a struggling grade 3 matched with a grade 2 who is sailing along! I take all of this into consideration when making matches.

So, why not this year? Well, I think there are a few reasons.  First, we have an attendance problem.  I don’t want to say too much about that, but some kids are away a lot. Second, we have a few kids who are really struggling with being told what to do.  I’m quite concerned that I will assign them to a partner and they will make such a fuss that it will ruin the class period/day/week/month.  Or worse, they will want to be partnered up with someone I do not want them to be partnered up with and I will not partner them up with that person because I am the adult and IT WILL NOT END WELL!  It all seems like a better idea to say, “Sorry, not my fault.  Talk to Fate! She’s the one who picked your partner.” or, “The cards decided, not me.” (which is what I am most likely to say.) We’re a little behind in some of our executive functioning skills and random partnerships let us work on some of those areas while avoiding some of the more volatile ones.  And as I’m writing this I feel like maybe I’m taking the easy way out because I’m exhausted from all the emotional stuff that goes with teaching.

And now I’m going to spend the day thinking about maybe putting some more time into developing the executive skills that will allow everyone to manage frustration in a way that does not make Mrs. Corbett want to cry every day on the way home from school.

But we can all count money, so HOORAY!

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This is the “cheat sheet” for the partner matching cards I use.  I got them from Teachers Pay Teachers.  There are individual cards which are handed out randomly and the students have to find their partner. I use the big heart as our “pick your own partner” card for the days when we have an odd number of students in the class.