So they ARE listening!

I am constantly asking my students for more – asking what they were thinking, asking how they got their answer, asking them to prove to me why their answer is correct.

Sometimes I think that I’m driving them crazy.  Sometimes I feel like a broken record on repeat day after day.

But today, I found out that they are listening to me.

We were gathered on the carpet, journals open, white boards on our laps, and there were pennies everywhere.  We were using story mats to tell stories – I asked a few, and students worked in partners and small groups to solve the story.  I watch and listened (and even snapped a few pictures!) of the work that was happening all around me on the floor.

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Then I turned it over to them – I asked if someone would be willing to share their story with the rest of us.

And to my delight, I had hands shooting up everywhere!  Look at the risk takers!

But the real surprise came on the second story; a little girl began with, “I have 9 pennies in my bag.  My mom gave me 2 more.  How many do I have now?” Students worked through the problem, and again, hands waved wildly to share their results.  She looked around, found a friend, and he answered confidently, “11!”

Then it happened.  She, with a kind and enthusiastic voice, uttered four words that began fireworks in my mind…

“How do you know?”

And without missing a beat, he explained the process he went through to come to 11.

I was stunned.  They had heard me time and time again asking for reasoning, and then, they started challenging one another for proof.  It has become the norm – we are going to hold one another accountable for our thinking.

They were listening.  And it was a Monday.  I’m excited for what’s to come!


The way they learn

I love the Rekenrek.

I love the visual it provides.  I love the way it can be used by kids to make numbers, the sounds the little beads make clanking together – not to mention, clean up is crazy easy!

I was literally bouncing off the walls with excitement, just waiting to share it with the class.  When the day finally came, I think I may have even dressed up for the event, and then…

Crickets.  Literal silence.  I probably looked something like this…

With a dress on.

What a sad day!  Why didn’t they love it?  Why wasn’t there unbelievable math happening all over the room?  They loved my Rekenrek last year!

I once was lucky enough to listen to one of my favorite Author’s, Cathy Collins, speak.  She hilariously told a story about how sometimes lessons bomb and it is best to cut your losses and just walk away.  

But that wasn’t me.  I kept at it.

And things just got worse.  

So, that night, I miserably sat down to make a plan for the next day.  The kids didn’t get it, and I knew it wasn’t their fault.  I did all that I could to force my love of the Rekenrek and the learning I wanted, and because of that, I might as well have dismissed the class for the day at 2:00.  Then I started thinking, what days did my KIDS feel successful in math?  What tools did they connect with, what sparked the deepest conversations?

I tried the next day with the same concept, but with a tool the students had been interested and more engaged with – the 10’s frame paddles.  And, of course, we were able to get where I was hoping to get the day before.  The kids were excited, I was relieved, and I think everyone shared a sense of accomplishment about what we were able to do.

I see now, as the old saying goes, “If they aren’t learning the way I teach, maybe I need to start teaching the way they learn.”

And I’ve got time – I bet I get them loving the Rekenrek yet.

So school started…

I wish I would have gotten some photos before 7:15 on day 1!  Before the milk from breakfast was spilt, before the random batches of school supplies started rolling in, and before papers/scissors/markers/broken pencils littered nearly every surface in the room.

But then, all of a sudden, eager eyes (and little, grabby hands) were here!  And something amazing started happening…

We.  Started.  Learning.

Messy, unorganized, loud learning.

Now, maybe unorganized isn’t fair to say after the hours I put in making sure everything was ready.  I wanted math to happen, right away, and I wanted to show my students that math tools were accessible and ready for them.

So, that is the picture I am choosing to share.

My picture is my proof that even though the floor is covered in goldfish, scraps of paper, rocks from the playground, and possibly a few playing cards, before they came I THOUGHT, and THOUGHT HARD about what I wanted them to see.

I wanted them to see ways to make math happen.

And I’ll leave you with a story!

After teaching my first graders the “special” way that we were going to use our fingers to represent numbers, we sang The Ants Go Marching and used our fingers to act the lyrics out.  Six year olds LOVE singing, and acting, and challenges.  So, I gave the this challenge: in partners, use something to help you act out the song.

Most of the class drove straight to what the were the most familiar with – connecting cubes.  A few first graders went for tiles, a small number went for tens frame paddles, no one (heart breaking!) was familiar with the Rekenreks – and one student picked up a deck of cards.

I wandered the room, listening to the sweet singing and discussions that were happening – and I hung around the partner pair using the cards and tens frame.  Partner 1 was very confused, 1 card for 4 ants?  How?  That couldn’t be right!

So I stepped in and asked, “Can you tell me what you are thinking?”

Partner 2 paused, looked at cards, now concerned that they were in fact wrong, and said, “This card has 4 hearts.  That’s a number 4.”
I smiled, thanked the student for their explanation and confirmed that there were four hearts, and they were singing about four ants, so that thinking made sense to me.

Then it got messy – and so exciting!  Students were going for dice, dominoes, even clocks (which unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to hear the thinking behind), yet still no one brave enough to try a Rekenreks (soon first graders, very soon!) – but my students were wanting to explore the math tools that they saw.  And they could because they were easily located and ready to be used.

Learning is messy.  Six year olds are very messy.

It’s my job to organize what they need to be successful.

I’m good with that.