At this point of the year in first grade, math is a combination of explorations, games, and learning and practicing routines. All the while, informal assessment is taking place through observation and questioning. Some of the explorations have included pattern blocks, unifix cubes, and connecting links. The explorations may seem like choice time to the students; however they are experimenting with symmetry, patterning, as well as working in a group while they are “playing.”
Math is such a great subject to teach since there are many ways to make games out of concepts being taught. Games we have learned so far are Monster Squeeze, Bunnyhop, Penny-Dice Game, and Top It. The games are fun for the students and allow me to observe each child’s understanding of many concepts, such as one-to-one correspondence; adding by ones; counting by groups (2’s, 5’s, etc.); and how facile they may be with subtraction. Flash cards are also a way to assess addition and subtraction knowledge, and having a solid knowledge and rote memorization of basic addition and subtraction facts is important for each child.
Another aspect that I particularly love about math is the literature that can accompany what we are studying. There are so many wonderful books that can be used to help introduce a concept or illustrate an idea. Since this is a group that absolutely loves being read to, using literature as an avenue to the math is a tremendous bonus. Counting books have been one focus and have included, among others, We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs, Nine-In-One Grr! Grr! Told by Blia Xiong, Handa’s Hen by Eileen Browne, and Ten Flashing Fireflies by Philemon Sturges.
Our Everyday Math Journals (the workbooks) have been introduced and while only a couple of pages have been used so far, we will utilize the workbooks consistently throughout the year; however not all pages will be completed, or even attempted. The students will be able to continue to use them for practice pages when the first journals come home for good later in the year.
The work done in class practices concepts taught or reviewed but often does not include a worksheet. The students may be playing a game; using small whiteboards to solve problems; or talking through solutions with a partner, a small group, or with me. For example, one recent activity that practiced keeping track of data through tally marks was done on individual white boards. The children listened to the sound of pennies dropping into a metal container and made a tally mark for each sound. We then compared our tally marks to the number of pennies in the container. In addition to needing to listen and attend to the penny drops, one purpose of this activity was to practice writing and counting tally marks in our standardized way. It may seem simple; however it took the students a few tries to be able to complete all aspects of the activity successfully, and the speed at which the pennies were dropping was one way to differentiate the activity.
A great aspect of all these activities is that there are uncomplicated ways to modify them for differing levels. In the game Top It for instance, instead of just comparing the numbers each child has drawn to see which is larger, some students may need to find the difference of the two numbers – which is a more challenging requirement.
Every child should feel successful and capable during math, while at the same time be challenged at their level. This balance can be challenging; however it is the aim of each math lesson every day. Some students may be more drawn to mathematical thinking and reasoning than other students; it is my firm belief, though, that everyone is capable of learning mathematical concepts and can flourish with their learning. First grade is the perfect place to set the stage for continued mathematical learning- for each child!
Until next time,