Here's what we did. Each child made a snowman and then represented the number 32 using four paper base ten blocks (value of40). I gave no directions. None. I told them think together and see what you come up with. If you think your idea can help the entire class, then raise your hand.
I have to tell you, there was a moment of pause/panic in some of my kids. “I have too many blocks!” said one child in a bewildered voice. Some of the children didn't know what to do without me giving them explicit directions. But my point was for them to think about the value of 32 using the base 10 blocks, not just make 32 from a pile of tens and a pile of ones.
After a few seconds of pause one kid said, “ I know we can cut paper, so can I cut mine Mrs. Knight?” I shrugged and said, “Sure. Try it.” Then the class started to buzz. The results were as smart and unique as each child.
The next day we did this activity again, and I told the kids you cannot show 32 in the same way you did before. We glued their second way onto the back.
On the third day, I put up the sentence frame below.
I asked the children what their opinion was. Are these blocks the same? Are these blocks different? I encourage them by letting them know that both the answers were correct and nobody's opinion would be wrong. But they needed to explain their opinion using the word “because”.
In recent trainings at my district office I been learning how to help second-language learners as well as native English speakers become more proficient in the English language. One of the strategies they talked about was sentence frames. They challenged each one of us to go back to our classrooms and use a sentence frame in a way that we hadn't thought about using it before. I've used frames in writing, but I never have used sentence frames in math.
As a first grade teacher this did not freak me out, but their were teachers K-12 in the room. The high school teachers freaked, but they did their homework assignment and when we share our results I was amazed at how powerful these frames really were K-12. Were the high school frames super complex? You bet! Could I have participated better in 12th grade Computerized Robotics Class using a sentence frame. Yes!
Sentence frames help:
- The perfectionist who wants to get it right
- The language learner who can think but struggles with articulation or being brave
- The special needs student who writes poorly
- The student who sits around all day listening to others but rarely contributes to the group
This activity also pointed out to my kids how easy it is to see differences vs. seeing similarities. Few of my students thought that the blocks were the same. Many more thought they were different. Their reasoning was pretty fantastic too.
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