Math happens at school every day, but I want to tell you about a new way we are building math and literacy skills in the classroom. I have been using this daily routine (during the last few months of school) for the past three years.
Have you noticed the new check in method at the front of the classroom? Instead of just moving a name card into the box, we now have a question to answer. For the first few weeks, the question follows the same exact format: Do you like _______? The question is accompanied by a picture, so children can use that information to answer the question. There are also faces – smiling for yes and frowning for no, to help children decide where to put their name cards. Through the new check in process, children learn that print carries meaning. When I read the question, pointing to each word, they learn that we read English from left to right. They may start to identify early sight words like yes and no, or they may recognize particular letters in words. Using pictures to help decipher new words is a common strategy taught to beginning readers, so this is a great way use a meaningful, contextual experience to introduce that strategy. We take this opportunity to refer to children as readers, and the repetitive features combined with pictures help children do just that. Finally, there are accessible entry points for a 3-year-old who may not know any letters, as well as challenges for older children who may be starting to recognize common words.
Later in the day, we use the data collected at check in during group time. After the counter (a weekly job held by one of the children) counts the group, we make a graph of the results using the name cards. Though I create the graph initially, next week the counter will also make the graph. There are a variety of math applications using this simple graphing. After displaying the set of ‘yes’ answers, I can ask if there are more or fewer ‘no’s. I can ask if anyone knows how many will be in the ‘no’ column, or I can display the ‘no’s and ask if anyone knows how many names there will be, if we put them all together. I start referring to these questions as math problems, and introduce words like graph, columns, add and subtract, plus and minus, and equals. This activity reinforces important, foundational math concepts that are essential for kindergarten and beyond.
One-to-one correspondence: Counting each object once, and only once.
Number constancy: Rearranging the items in a group doesn’t change the total number in the group.
Cardinality: Understanding that the last number you counted is equal to the number in the group.
Number sequencing: Understanding the sequential order of numbers, i.e. that each consecutive number is one more than the last.
We will reinforce these same ideas using surveys that children can carry out, with clipboards and a form with columns for ‘yes’ and ‘no’. We will pull literacy back into the activity as we help children come up with questions and print them on the papers. They will be able to choose to write names, first letters, or tally marks in the yes and no columns. Children will also be invited to come up with check-in questions of their own, and help with the process of transferring the question onto paper for the next morning. In closing, my challenge to you is to try some of these things at home. Buy a clipboard, take a family vote to decide between two choices for dinner, and let me know how it goes!