Recently we read about Math Their Way, which allows children to feel the manipulatives and be involved with them. Children are able to get feedback from the objects which occurs their interests and promotes a higher level of thinking. Adults are still working with the children and teaching them, but children able to experience, react, and think in their own way. Discoveries are able to occur from students learning and exploring on their own.
The approach involves tubs that are structured to guide the students through their learning and are changed out as needed. Some teachers use fruit flats for the tubs. The tubs are based on one concept and children are able to pick what concept they want to work on. The children are not ability grouped, but can move freely. The teacher actively promotes the children’s learning by introducing the concepts in small groups, and then allowing the students to use the concept the next day. There are observation sheets, but you can just use student names and a checklist. Generally math sessions are thirty to forty five minutes throughout the year and about three times a week. First the class gathers for whole group, then the teacher counts off for groups, and finally the children are dismissed. There are rules like you and only you have the right to mess up and put up what you have created at a station and materials for learning are never to be thrown. There should be at least eight to ten stations for the children and stations should be varied.
We went to an elementary school and observed a teacher who uses the Math Their Way concept. In her kindergarten, she starts the school year off with simple preschool materials for the first week, which helps her to understand where some kids are coming from. These may be cut out cardboard for shoelaces, puzzles, pattern blocks, and strings for beads. As kids experience these, she begins to do small groups where students come and learn how to use the materials with her. She will spend one or two days introducing a tub and working with kids on mastering how to use the tub. Some of the items in the tubs stay for the whole nine weeks; others rotate more frequently depending on the children’s interests. All of the items match the AMC math curriculum she uses. After the first two weeks, she has a few tubs out for the students. The students put the tubs out and each tub matches a table star. The tub may have a blue star on it for the blue table or a red star for the red table, which helps to promote autonomy for the students. I liked that almost all of her materials were homemade or did not cost much to produce. All were creative and promoted learning on a higher level, but also as an interesting game. I have watched kindergarteners do worksheets and have no focus for them, so to keep them interested while learning would be key. I learn so much more when I am able to be hands on, so they would too.
A few of her awesome stations were:
1: A pattern center where simple stand up foldable mirrors mirrored the pattern the kids created so they were able to keep creating. They would later try to create the pattern in the mirror.
2: Lima beans that were spray painted on one side red. Kids had a film canister where they would roll a certain number of lima beans then spill them out. They would then color a worksheet that had a few lima beans on it, and count how many red and white they got. At the bottom, they would write the addition statement.
3: A box of keys she got from a hardware store by asking for their misprints. The children are able to sort through them and put them in a chip and dip tray. She also uses ice trays for sorting small seashells and large seashells. All of these materials are kept in separate SpaceMakers (or junk drawers). A good way to add in fine motor skills would be to use chopsticks to do this activity.
4: Dice Write. Children throw the dice (which does not have numerals, only dots) and write what number they got on a worksheet. They continue until they fill the worksheet to see who had the most. The dice are simple wooden cubes that she wrote on. As the school year progresses, the dice progress with numbers to eventually be 20-25.
5: Your Turn My turn. The children roll a numbered dice and have a simple 9 counter frame in front of them. In the middle of the nine-counter frame is a line, and children are moving one block back and forth, trying to see who will get the dice to move them enough spaces to be close to them. They cannot move the block to the final mark unless the dice is exactly right.
6: Patterns with matching pattern pages. Children will select from AB or ABC bags (depending on the skill level of the child). These bags have paper that has colored blocks on a ten frame that matches a unifix pattern that can be created. Children are able to create patterns with hands on work.
6: A clothesline that has cut out shirts, pants, and dresses each with a number on it. The top line will be lined up 1-10 on clothespins and the bottom line will have nothing on it. You can then use the bottom line for the children to practice hanging up their numbers and counting one through then.
7: Little girls or boys can use extra sewing pattern and neat paper (again, parents may have some), to create patterns in dresses or tops. They can explore fashion while they learn.
8: Children can sort lids and learn from the lids. Some lids will have writing on them and some won’t so children will enjoy the different types.
Almost all of her stations were not very expensive and come from things that parents or community members can easily donate. While I don’t know what my math curriculum will be next year, I do know that children learn math best when they are able to play. Depending on where I teach, I may only be able to do this on Fridays or at certain points in the year, but it is definitely a worthwhile try and would be great for more research on fun ways to teach math topics.
The Math Their Way Website:
Math Their Way Kindergarten