## Equal Playgrounds?

Believe it or not, playground equity is something my students have talked a lot about.  At my school, we have a “Primary” playground and a “Junior” playground.  The Primary students think the junior side is better, and the junior students agree, but sometimes wish they could go back to the Primary side to play. I mention this because the context of a community playground and having equal play space is something I know they could relate to.  This week’s problem can be found in detail here.

Trying to solve this problem reminded me how much I still struggle to see and draw a model of my thinking.  I really didn’t have any trouble with those rectangular subs!  But 3/4 of 2/5 and 2/5 of 3/4 sort of messed with my mind.  I wanted to work it out with some manipulatives at school today.  I was going to use colour tiles. Unfortunately, I have this thing called a “full time job” that tends to interfere with my blogging life and I didn’t get to it.  Add to that the fact that we are right at the beginning of the “Measuring for the Art Show” unit and any spare time I have to work things out for my own understanding is being devoted to that right now.  (I’m going to blog about that unit at the end of the week! Or I’m going to work on report cards.  Or maybe both.)

I was able to work this one out with the numbers though. This is my first attempt at drawing a model:

I was confusing myself, so I went back to numbers. After, tried to model it again (on the top sheet.)

Working this problem took me right back to school.  I was forever answering the question I thought was being asked instead of making sure I understood the problem.  Time and again I would have a test returned to, read a problem to see if I could figure out what I had done incorrectly, and discover I simply hadn’t answered the right question. With age comes wisdom and this time I went back and listened to the teacher set up the problem a second time before I tried to solve it.  The first time I thought I was to find 3/4 of the whole and 2/5 of the whole and compare to see if the playground and pavement were equal.  Now I know what I have to ask myself if the question makes sense, and this one did not.  After listening  the second time I knew I was to find 2/5 of 3/4, and 3/4 of 2/5 and compare which is a different question!

Without going into too much detail, I’ll tell you that this turns out to be a common concern amongst my colleagues. Students answer the question (in reading, in writing, in math, on the provincial assessment) they think was asked, not the question that was asked.  I love the way putting the problem in an understandable context, and presenting it in a way that encourages students to really discuss the problem until they understand what they need to figure out, helps us make sure we are really assessing what the students know about math, not about following directions. And I also love that the conferring process can focus on straightening out misconceptions so the student can go forward with a set of skills that help them make sense of problems, not just find answers.

And I love that if I was actually going to teach this unit (I won’t because I don’t teach the grades these units are recommended for) there are some models modelled in the books and I could learn how to draw them before I teach the unit to my class.

## Is it a good deal?

Perhaps the only thing worse than being a teacher’s kid, is being a teacher’s spouse. My husband is both.  His mom and dad were both teachers when he was growing up – and  his dad was teaching at his high schools!  The worst possible fate, right?  His dad was also a principal, but luckily after my husband graduated, and in another town.  So, yes, it could have been worse for him.

He doesn’t remember this happening to him, but I am always experimenting on my children.  I try out new games, and practice my mini-lesson and conferring language, and I read them the books I am previewing for lessons planning.  This week, I decided to give them a break and experiment on my husband.

The next conversation with Cathy Fosnot and Stephen Hurley on VoiceEd.ca takes place tonight.  We were challenged to solve a problem in preparation for the learning we are doing.  I teach grades 2 and 3, and thought this was a problem that would not be appropriate for them, but I wanted to try it out myself.  Here is the problem:

A neighbourhood store is selling 12 cans of cat food for \$15.  Another store is selling 20 cans for \$23.  Which is the better deal?

You can watch a teacher introducing this to some students here.

My first thought was, “Division algorithm”, but I am pushing myself to think in new ways, so I did it like this:

I found halves of each side, until halves no longer made sense.  Then I found 3rds for the first store, and 5ths for the second store, all in order to find out the price per can of food at each.  I feel confident I am right. (Which I only mention because I don’t always feel confident when I don’t check my division with the standard algorithm.  I’m getting better! I teach primary students, and haven’t taught anyone older than grade 4 for a really long time, so division isn’t something I’ve had to think about as a teacher in a really long time.  I have taught basic, beginning division of course, but mostly I’m focused on adding and subtracting – the Number Sense, Addition and Subtraction Landscape skills.)

On a whim, I decided to ask my husband to do the same. He is not a teacher, so hasn’t done any learning about math since he was a kid, unless you count the stats class he barely survived when he was working on his master’s degree.  Here is what he did:

I conferred with him after, and you can see how well that went.  🙂

Here is the interesting part for me:  He has always been good at math.  He plays cribbage too quickly for me to learn from him, and has done so forever.  He calculates in his head really quickly, and can seriously look at numbers and just know (as he indicated in our conference!) He is a social worker and has to do math all the time, but all of it is calculating, and all of it the same week after week.  He calculates mileage, works with money, figures out time sheets for the people he supervises.  He’s had this job for 15+ years though, so he doesn’t ever have to problem solve with math.  Or at least he rarely has to. Mostly, he figured out how to do this 14.75 years ago, and now he just does the same thing week to week.  And he does it every day/week/month – so lots of practice.

The problem really came for him when I asked him to explain.  He was so irritated with me for pushing him to talk about his strategy, how he knew what he needed to figure out, why he needed to divide. He had trouble putting his thoughts into words, and that is not typically a problem for him at all.

This is one of my favourite things about teaching math now:  I’m not just training kids to do math tricks.  I’m teaching them to be math thinkers, and math communicators, and math users.

(Update:  Click here and you can listen to Cathy Fosnot and Stephen Hurley talk about the math in this problem, including my solution.)

math

## The Math Pod: Week 1 Reflection

This weeks Math Pod podcast with Cathy Fosnot was about teaching math in context – making it relevant to students and teaching it as something they will need to use, rather than a bunch of skills they might find helpful in certain jobs or when they have to balance a chequebook or figure out their discount at the clothing store sale, and thank goodness for fractions if we want to double our cookie recipe!