Posted in learning together

learning together: a multi-level cooperative place value game

We’ve been working on place value for a while. Rondel unfortunately decided that my default place value game was his least favorite thing ever, probably primarily because Limerick utterly loves it and finds it intuitive and easy while Rondel has struggled more with the concept. Fortunately, however, we were able to adapt it using place value blocks (wooden blocks in denominations of one’s, ten’s, hundred’s, and a huge thousand cube) into a game that let each kid operate on their own level of mathematical ability while working together to earn chocolate chips!

757 represented by a stack of place value blocks, with three dice and a pile of one’s cubes on the side

Our goal as a team was to reach 1000, rolling dice to add to our total on each turn. Along the way, we could get chocolate chips: one for each person every time we added a new hundred square, and ten for each person if we made it to the thousand cube. On Aubade’s turn, she would roll just one die and practice counting the dots to find how many she had rolled, then practice counting again as she put the right number of cubes onto our combined tower in the center.

Aubade carefully placing her one’s cubes on top of our combined tower.

On Limerick’s turn, he rolled two dice, multiplied them together, and then added his total to the combined tower. (Yes, this is easy for him. Next time I’ll have to come up with something more challenging for him to do! He also tends to supervise everyone else, however.)

Limerick straightening out the blocks on the combined tower after adding his total

On Rondel’s turn, he rolled four dice and added them all together (which was perfect for him! Adding two dice is easy for him at this point, but four lined up with the addition we’d been encountering in Life of Fred and he remembered and mentioned that.) Seeing how his one’s cubes lined up to form a group of ten, and how his ten’s lines added up to form a hundred square, the concepts of place value finally started to make sense to him! These blocks are such a nice visual/tactile representation of that 🙂

Rondel adding a one’s cube to the top of the tower

By working together, we eliminated both the stress of competition and the need for everyone’s individual rolls to come out to, on average, comparable amounts. Because we were working together, it didn’t matter if Aubade was rolling much smaller numbers than Limerick or Rondel, or that Limerick’s highest possible total was higher than Rondel’s – everyone just contributed towards our shared goal in their own way. It also didn’t matter who was fastest or reached a goal first, and the shared celebration every time an intermediate goal was met (i.e., the chocolate chip for each hundred) prevented anyone from becoming jealous or discouraged. And finally, because none of those things were important to the game, we could tailor it to each participant’s math level, allowing all three kids to play together despite ranging from counting to multiplication/division with their math skills (which I’ve found surprisingly difficult, mostly when it comes to including Aubade in the game.)

Now I suppose I just need to come up with a name!

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 9

Every spring, as part of her job as a math professor at the local community college, my mom goes to a math education conference and brings home all sorts of interesting books, games, and ideas. One of these was a set of playing cards containing the integers from -12 to 12 (two sets of -12 to 0 and two sets of 0 to 12), from Eureka Math. I can only find the cards sold in packs of 12, which isn’t very useful for a single family in terms of either quantity or price, but if you have an interested support group or co-op I’d definitely recommend them.

So far we’ve come up with two different games to play (neither of which is the game for which instructions are provided with the cards, though that also looks fun). First, we’ve been playing addition war, where whoever’s sum is closest to zero wins the round. Limerick picked up the concept of negative numbers really quickly – I introduced them with a number line while we were waiting for Rondel’s speech therapy, and he understood them and was picking up speed in figuring out the sums in our game of war by the end of the 45-minute session. Rondel is more visual and tactile than Limerick, and was struggling with the concept and calculations when they were presented that abstractly, so we made a large helpful number line that has really helped.

Unlike a traditional number line that runs horizontally, this one extends vertically, with negative numbers at the bottom and positive numbers at the top. So positive numbers are like steps up a mountain, while negative numbers are steps down into a hole underground. When we make the sums during war, Rondel knows that he can start with either number and count the number of steps either up (for a positive number) or down (for a negative number) to calculate the result. After a week or so of playing with this board every day, he’s now grasped the concept well enough to be able to figure out most of the sums completely in his head, just like Limerick.

The board also gave us an opportunity to develop another game using the Eureka Math integer cards, this one cooperative instead of competitive. Each of us starts out with one playing piece (a small animal counter, usually) on the zero tick in the center of the board. Taking turns, we draw one card at a time from the pile and move that number of steps from our current position. Every time someone goes off the board (28 or -28 – my tick marks are centimeters on standard printer paper) or lands exactly on 0, everyone gets a chocolate chip 🙂 The board is large enough that the amount of chocolate earned is fairly small, but small enough to keep everyone from getting frustrated. I usually end this game (to loud protests) when we’ve gone through the entire deck three times… more than that could lead to excessive amounts of chocolate and the concomitant hyper silliness 🙂

From what my mom says, negative numbers were apparently one of the more difficult mathematical concepts for me to grasp (along with distance-rate-time problems), though I don’t remember learning (or struggling with) them. So I’m glad that these two fairly simple tools have made them intuitive and fun for my kids.

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 4

Rondel and Limerick are very different academic beings. Rondel’s first love is stories – he tells them, he listens to them, he invents them, he demands them, he constantly (since before he could talk) brings us books so he can hear their stories too. He soaks up facts about animals, and then populates his worlds with monsters generated from conglomerations of the different animals he loves. Limerick, on the other hand, has always been intrigued by symbols and patterns. He knew all (and could write most) of the letters and numbers by 18 months, spent a good 6 months nearly inseparable from a Duplo pattern board he created, and currently puts a lot of energy each day into creating symmetrical designs and exploring the world of numbers.

When we introduced Cuisenaire rods (a really great math manipulative, by the way – I grew up using these with the Miquon math curriculum and have always felt that they gave me a strong conceptual foundation in mathematics) for the first time this week in preparation for more kindergarten-type activities, this difference in their inclinations was immediately evident.

Limerick went through each color rod, noticing how long each one was as compared to the small white unit blocks. When he reached the longest rod, he began to line up the smaller rods next to it, to see how he could split it up. Ten is ten groups of one, he realized, and five groups of two, but when you try to split it into groups of three you end up with one empty space.

We made squares (one group of one, two groups of two, three groups of three, etc.) and talked about the difference between the perimeter of a shape (how long all the edges are, put together) and its area (how many white unit squares could fit inside it).

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Meanwhile, Rondel was using different sizes and color of blocks to retell the story of the Three Little Pigs with house-building fleas and a predatory lion (I think he chose fleas because they are too small to see, and he didn’t have any prey animal toys on hand to use with the lion figurine). He went through all the steps of the story with sound effects and drama, creating and destroying as necessary, completely immersed in his imagined world.

When the boys play together, I see these inherent differences leading to growth in each of them. Rondel’s love of imagination draws Limerick along with him into wildly creative and unrealistic pretend games, while Limerick’s fascination with numbers and patterns motivates Rondel to learn the vocabulary and concepts of math also. It makes me glad all over again that they have each other to grow up with.

So what are we learning, this Wednesday? We are learning about how numbers work together, how they split apart and recombine in consistent ways. We are learning about the trial and error it takes to finally build a house that can keep out a powerful lion. And we are learning about each other, and how we can help each other learn in grow in different ways.

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday (episode 2)

Limerick is currently in love with numbers.

He counts everything he can, comparing amounts and sizes: he counted all the straps on the plastic pool chairs at the public pool Saturday afternoon, at least ten times in a row; he makes long chains of flakes and counts them over and over again as he builds to find out how long they are and which color is the longest; he counts the number of bites or slices on his plate and recounts each time he eats one. Essentially, he is spending time with the numbers and quantities, becoming friends with them, getting to know how they interact with each other and discovering their unique qualities.

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Limerick figuring out how many sticks could fit on the length of our big wooden cutting board – I think it was somewhere around 40.

He will break numbers down into their component groups: if he builds a tower with fourteen wooden blocks, he will tell me proudly that it is two groups of seven. When he expanded his tower to eighteen blocks, I asked if it could split into two equal groups and he lined them up into two equal lines and counted each one to make sure that they both contained nine blocks. When I then asked if it could split into three groups, he made many little groups of three blocks and found out there were six of them – so, six groups of three and three groups of six. Since he’s been doing this on his own anyway, I introduced the vocabulary of “even” and “odd” to him.

“See this group of seven? I can’t break it into two groups of the same size – one of them is always bigger than the other. Numbers like that are called odd.”

Limerick pondered, then declared, “But eight is two groups of four!”

“Exactly! Numbers that can be split into two groups of the same size are called even!”

“Nine would be five and four,” Limerick told me with a slight frown, “but ten would be five and five!”

“So nine is odd, and ten is even!”

We’ll see if he remembers – he tends to hold a new word to himself for a week or so after he learns it, before he brings it out for everyday use.

Emboldened by all the math talk going on, I pulled out one of my favorite math tools from my own childhood (one that I believe my mom created, and that she now uses in her job as a remedial math professor at the community college):

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It’s a physical representation of place value – the numbers on the cards in front show what the number would look like written down, while the buckets hold the appropriate number of craft sticks. In this picture, there are three single craft sticks in the box on the right, six bundles of ten craft sticks each in the middle box (the tens place), and nothing in the box on the left (the hundreds place).

We pulled out some huge foam dice and decided to take turns rolling and adding the number we rolled to the number already in the buckets:

Sometimes the boys knew right away what the answer would be; other times they would line up all the sticks to count them to make sure, and to bundle up the new ten-pack if needed.

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Limerick verifying that the three bundles of ten sticks in the tens place bucket really did equal 30 total sticks! I liked how he lined them up in groups of ten instead of just all in one big pile.

Before this we hadn’t done much with written numbers – the boys know all the digits, but they didn’t understand double digit numbers. So it was a bit confusing at first for them, but by the time we stopped I think they were beginning to understand what the numbers meant and looked like, which is really cool!

Math tools and games like this aren’t necessary for learning math – Limerick has certainly been picking up on concepts ranging from quantitative comparison to division (with even a touch of fractions) just from everyday conversations about the numbers around us – but they are definitely helpful for illustrating a specific concept, challenging the mind to use a concept in a new way, or just having fun together with numbers! And since all you need for this particular tool are buckets, sticks, and paper, it doesn’t get much easier 🙂