Stories below illustrate teachers getting excited by the tools or methods used in Calculating Changes just as Nicholas Dale does in his article Threading Works which features in the In Brief link. Members have access to more stories. If you would like to contribute to these stories, email Doug.Williams: firstname.lastname@example.orgChoose from:
Crossing The Desert
While their ability to think outside the square was admirable, it was obvious that I needed to provide plenty of support throughout the lesson in the form of Handy Hints such as:
Due to time constraints and the difficulty of the task it was clear that the chance of a group solving the problem was unlikely, so I decided to conduct a 'Fishbowl' and provide them with one of the five solutions. Students were then given enough time to replicate this solution and describe their understandings.
Last week I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this activity to see how much the children remembered and whether they would be able to solve it independently. Once again we revisited the story and the problem the travellers had. Again students worked in pairs, however this time they were to imagine that they and their partner were the actual travellers. This meant that students were more likely to ensure that they both made it home safely with just enough food to spare.
|This second time around the lesson was much more efficient because the students were aware from the beginning that the key to this task lies in burying excess food stocks. Once again I was overrun by theories that did not quite solve the problem safely. In general, students were able to deliver the message and get one traveller back to safety; however the other traveller was often left to perish in the desert! Because of this, the new focus for the lesson became not only burying food, but the giving of food from the burier to the messenger.
Thankfully three or four pairs were able to derive a plausible solution, given this extra support, and were able to explain the theories to their peers. At the end of the lesson I once again conducted a 'Fishbowl' and revealed all five possible solutions. The students were fascinated that there were so many methods of solving the problem, yet I felt that most of them clearly understood that the concept of burying and giving were crucial.
This activity may be better suited to Year 3 to 6 students, but I highly recommend giving it a try in the early years also, as long as plenty of support is provided. Fellow teachers, it is a good idea to attempt this task on your own beforehand and have the solutions on-hand throughout the lesson!
Each black pathway indicates which way to jump depending on whether an odd or an even number is rolled. The adaptation of the task to this physically-involving floorboard size is the sort of teaching craft insight that flows through all 45 Investigations described in the manual.
The 60 weeks of planned activity in the manual develops number sense, number concepts and number skills through Threaded Activity, while simultaneously putting the number sense to work through problem solving Investigations, just as a mathematician would.
In Meekatharra, Western Australia, I was working in a K-2 class. It was their first time with Poly Plug so I started with Free Play. That went well - each pair around the circle made something different and I was able to challenge each with a question or two based on their own exploration. My plan was to move from here to a more structured activity and I had chosen Counting Frames. I wanted to find out how these young ones would go counting by twos.
Using my own red board as an example I asked each pair to make this:
Then, thinking to myself what a wonderful teacher I was, I stuck my fingers two at a time through the gaps and we counted happily to 10 by twos. Next I called on the mathematician's question What happens if...?:
Now suppose we put all our boards on the floor side by side. Like this...
...and make a sort of road train, can we count the gaps now?Road train's move through this town daily so I was making a connection with the children's experience. I felt I was right on target when the little girl next to me immediately said to her partner Look at all the windows. Not that road trains have windows like this - perhaps she just heard 'train'.
But now the kids were hooked. The collective drawing in of breath at the challenge of counting all these windows by twos was audible, but they were excited. So was I.
It lasted about four milliseconds. One Grade 1 boy went 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 ... 20, 30, ... and the others all went Oh yeah.
Once again I had been too focussed on what I wanted to teach and had risked being insufficiently aware of what the children had to offer.
But being the winner wasn't enough. The pair had to work out by how much the winner won. And, calling again on the Working Mathematically process, had to check their answer another way. They used materials in the room such as MAB 10, Unifix and calculators and displayed insightful mental arithmetic with comments like: It would have been 100 because of that column but the ones column is 6 for the winner and 8 for the loser, so the total is 2 less, so 98.
The children enjoyed the game much more because of the added challenges and the learning was much deeper than it would have been had I simply expected them to keep track of how many times each person won.
|I facilitated a workshop at the QAMT Early Years conference It all adds up last Saturday 15th May 2010. The title was Bits and Bobs: A Collection of Activities to Teach Problem Solving Skills.
Problems lead students to search for and find patterns in mathematics. This workshop explores ways to assist students to develop deep mathematical knowledge, reasoning ability and communication skills to investigate. I used Working Mathematically with Infants and lots of Poly Plug, dice, calculators, computers, and other 'maths stuff'.
The theme of the conference explored where play meets the curriculum. Poly Plug was an excellent medium to help the teachers in the workshop to remember how to play again. We had some amazing 3D constructions with moving parts!
The mathematician's question Can I check this another way? elicited a lot of thinking as the teachers had not been ensuring their students had more than one way of working when problem solving. In particular this enables comparing and justifying, important ways of working for thinking and reasoning.
The learning activities in WMI model multiple materials. There ensued a lengthy discussion about access to:
All in all the 30-40 participants in each workshop were engaged and positive about the activities and Poly Plug and worked to establish how it might best fit with their planning for young students developing problem solving skills. 'Inspiring' and 'interesting' were among the comments and feedback from the participants.
Also did a Problem Solving workshop with your materials at QAMTAC 2010 Functioning Mathematically. I drew the last workshop slot of the conference but still had 18 attend. My thesis was that we must teach students to make choices - empower them to make the choices as to how they are going to solve problems - as against the teacher knowing the 'best' or often only 'one' way and then remembering it.
I used several investigations from WM with Infants which confounded the secondary teachers when the source was revealed. The participants got to choose from:
I have loved doing these workshops with your materials. There is so much work still to be done. If the Australian Curriculum can drive the agenda for the necessity of frequency, and access, for teachers to good quality professional learning in mathematics pedagogy, bring it on!
Exhausted, Yes! Exhilarated, Yes!
I have just returned from teaching a bright bunch of GATEWays children in a 2 ½ hour workshop using Poly Plugs. I began asking the children, "What do Mathematician's do?". One of their responses was that Mathematicians work out the hardest problems of all.
I wrote a problem up on the board and asked them to read it and have a go. Some of the children looked a little perplexed and stated that they had read it but did not understand what it meant. I explained that this happened to Mathematicians too, but they had a strategy to help them. This lead naturally to the first Problem Solving Strategy: Read to understand the problem. They recorded this in their books.
Taking their Poly Plugs out of the bags, we then reread and understood what the problem was and so the children progressed enthusiastically into creating the numerals 0 to 9 on the Poly Plugs and recording them on Poly Plug paper. (See the activity Making Digits, Free Tour Activity.) They were bubbling when they recognised that these were the numerals they saw on their digital clocks and calculators.
After the break, we began exploring examples of symmetry found in nature and in the classroom. I asked them to create symmetrical patterns on their Poly Plugs feeling that when they understood this we would move onto rotational symmetry. (See the activities Exploring Symmetry and Rotation Challenges, both Free Tour Activities.) Before I had the chance, the children were bringing symmetrical patterns to me and exhibited such astonishment that when they rotated their Poly Plugs, their patterns remained symmetrical. Who was leading who in this investigation!!
We then moved onto a challenge using the task Row Points (Free Tour Activity). I asked the children to turn over 13 plugs on the yellow/blue board. Writing the problem on the board, the children were encouraged to use the first Problem Solving Strategy. We clarified the scoring of the task and a few rules. I also wrote the challenges on the board that included:
- What is the highest possible score?
- What is the lowest possible score?
- Are there any scores between the lowest and highest scores that can't be made?
- What scores do symmetric designs get?
One lad scored his design and despondently advised that he scored zero. It was great to see his transformation when I congratulated him. I asked him which of the challenges he had solved. The children buzzed between their tables and the board as they created new designs and improved their scores. We ended the workshop on such a high!
I have come home to rewrite next week's session as the excitement and enthusiasm just has to be allowed to continue with the obvious opportunities to go deeper into the investigation. Just how many designs are there which can score zero??