Today, I had some big shopping to do. Tomorrow’s the day that my class is going to make the playdough for our Playdough Store. During the first week of school, I had some playdough out as a possible option for patterning, and I noticed that the students loved it. Many of them spoke about how they used it in Kindergarten, and even started mentioning how much they’d love to see their Kindergarten teachers again. This got me thinking! Why not make math meaningful with a little problem that aligns with student interest? The problem: The Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes want playdough to use for some different patterning activities. They’re asking for our help in making and selling them the playdough to use. When presented with the problem, the students figured out that we needed to first determine the colours that they would want to buy. They learned how to create their own surveys and collect their own data. Then students worked on adding up the totals (both individually, and then grouping them with the totals from the other students in the class). We then analyzed the data and determined the best five colours to make and why.
It’s now time to make the playdough, create some patterns with it to inspire the classes that purchase it, determine prices for the different sized balls, create an order form and collect orders, sort the play money (for change), and collect and count the money that we make (looking at number patterns and skip counting as we count by different amounts). Students are even creating posters to advertise our Playdough Store and a sign for our classroom, both of which involve writing the numerals and the number words in meaningful contexts. This play-based math project has allowed the students to explore different math tools in the classroom: from manipulatives to ten frames to the hundreds chart, as they count totals. They’re also gaining an understanding of addition, as they put groups together to determine a total amount. And they’re so excited about the project that the learning becomes equally exciting.
There is not a lot of technology involved in the project itself, but technology has played a crucial role in documenting the learning: from podcasts to record the class discussions to tweets to share pictures of the students at work. One student even wrote her first tweet, showcasing a sign that she made for the store. While not the initial intent, students have started taking this project and letting it spill into our Language block, as they’ve taken to writing about our Playdough Store, creating media texts advertising our product, and using resources in the classroom to spell familiar words that connect to our store topic (e.g., colour words). Again, technology has allowed us to document this learning: showcasing what the students have shared and linking this work to curriculum expectations.
I say all of this because when I was at the grocery store this morning buying the flour for our playdough, the cashier asked me what I was doing. I explained that we were making playdough for our Playdough Store. He commented on how much he loved this, and said that it was so nice to see that teachers still do this with the focus being on technology nowadays. That made me stop and think. I’m a big believer in the value of using technology in the classroom. Even in just a couple of weeks, my students have used our iPads and ChromeBooks to find out more about topics that interest them, share their learning with others, record their discussions, and even start creating their own digital storybooks and screencasts. That being said, the students also use paper, pencils, markers, crayons, chalk, paint, and manipulatives every day in class, and there is equally as much value to doing so. I don’t want a classroom that doesn’t include paper, but I also don’t want one that doesn’t include an iPad. Can’t these tools co-exist, and how do we help people see the value in this coexistence? Should we really be striving for paperless classroom, or instead, for maximizing our tools for learning? What do you think? I’d welcome your thoughts! I never thought that a trip to the grocery store would give me so much to think about.