by Ryan and Courtney Flessner
COVID-19 forced changes to the end of the 2019-20 school year, and that in turn created extra stress and worry for students, teachers, and families. We understand that it’s difficult to manage full-time jobs, raising a family, and supporting children’s learning in non-traditional educational settings. We’re juggling all that, too.
Because of our experience as both educators and parents, we’ve received numerous questions from teachers and families, asking for help transitioning from traditional schooling to at-home learning. While many things in the world feel different now, as we’ve considered questions, we find ourselves returning to some of our existing recommendations for talking about math with kids. These ideas have always applied, but they may be even more important or relevant given these unprecedented times.
1. Ask questions.
When children solve math problems, adults’ natural inclination is often to validate correct answers and/or encourage children to rethink incorrect answers. But we encourage you to withhold praise or redirection when a child solves a problem.
Instead, ask questions such as, “Why do you think that?” or “How do you know?” These questions require students to do more than simply find correct answers. They send the message that mathematical thinking is important.
Rather than praising children for correct answers, we want to praise good thinking, persistence in problem solving, and strong communication while allowing children to validate their own answers through their justifications. As children talk through—and make sense of—the mathematics, they will arrive at correct answers.
2. Find math in everyday moments.
As we go about our days, we engage in a plethora of mathematical tasks: baking, folding laundry, setting alarms, paying bills, doing yard work. In these moments, share your thinking about your work.
Folding towels, for example, is a time to talk about fractions (folding in half, folding in thirds, etc.) Doubling or tripling a recipe can foster conversations about measurement, repeated addition, or multiplication.
Connecting math to the real world and sharing your thoughts while listening to children’s ideas shows them that math isn’t just something we do inside the four walls of a classroom.
3. Pose and solve problems together.
You don’t need an excuse to pose mathematical problems as you go about your day. We can practice observing and articulating findings in lots of contexts.
When you’re out for a walk, for example, pose questions like, “We saw twelve trees on our walk. Three were flowering. How many didn’t have flowers?” or “We walked 8 blocks. If there are 10 blocks in a mile, what fraction of a mile did we walk?”
Questions like these deepen the math that surrounds all of us in the real world. It might seem unnatural at first, but these types of conversations allow students to connect the math they’re learning to their everyday lives.
It might feel like counting is only for our youngest learners. While we agree that young children should have a variety of opportunities to count (putting away toys, climbing stairs, etc.), all students can benefit from counting collections of items around their homes.
Just recently, we had our middle school children count the amount of change in our change jar. They’ve been curious about how much we’ve collected, so they were invested in counting the collection of coins. You can count anything: acorns found under a tree outside, leftover tater tots from dinner, socks in a load of laundry…the list is endless!
What’s important is encouraging children to become more efficient with their counting methods and tracking systems. If a child is counting hundreds of pennies, how will they keep track of their count? Simply creating one large pile could be problematic (especially if they’re easily distracted). How might they organize their count so they can check their work? Posing this idea as a question instead of a directive will alert you to the many creative ideas kids have as they count.
Check out these quick examples:
Welcome back to more math with the Flessners! Today, @ryanflessner and I engage our kiddos in #countingcollectionsathome. Kids likely have all kinds of things to count at home! In this video we introduce the items we gathered to count. pic.twitter.com/Rm9AqeCzEg— Courtney Flessner (@CFless) March 24, 2020
Welcome back to #countingcollectionsathome w/ The Flessners. Adelyn shows us how she counts the Monopoly pieces & a deck of cards. Don’t forget to have them document their representations and explain their mathematical thinking. Thanks @ryanflessner for the camera work! #yaymath pic.twitter.com/19reSczTmD— Courtney Flessner (@CFless) March 24, 2020
Finally, we ended our Flessner Family #countingcollectionsathome with how the kids documented their mathematical thinking. Don’t forget to follow @ekazemi @meganlfranke @Angelaturrou and #countingcollections for tons of ideas! #yaymath @ryanflessner pic.twitter.com/hDzIPZNPpM— Courtney Flessner (@CFless) March 24, 2020
5. Play games.
A wealth of mathematical knowledge can be learned through game play. Games that use dice, cards, or dominoes reinforce visual images connected to numbers (for example, anyone who’s used dice enough understands that the “X” pattern represents 5—we don’t even need to count the dots anymore). Games like Battleship can connect to students’ understandings about the coordinate plane (X and Y axes) or map reading skills. Yahtzee encourages students to think about skip counting, repeatedly adding, or using multiplication skills.
Even Candyland—a game without numbers—can tie to mathematical learning with a little extra conversation. When a child makes a move, she can count the number of spaces associated with her turn. You might say, “You moved from an orange space to a purple one. How many spaces was that?” This question encourages the child to talk about the math as well as the colors.
We hope these suggestions give you pause, offer helpful advice, and contribute to your children’s learning—both in the short-term and long-term future.