Imagine If The Year Started With, “You Are A Mathematician!”

There are many things that I love about our Kindergarten Program Document, but the way that math is embedded through play might be one of my favourites. It’s really about making math authentic. I think about the value of this as children continue to progress through the grades. As a Board, we’ve spent a lot of time looking and talking about Jo Boaler‘s work on Mathematical Mindsets. I can’t help but wonder if the key to changing children’s perceptions of themselves as mathematicians rests in noticing and naming the mathematical thinking that students engage in on a daily basis, while continuing to focus on the Process Expectations. This does not mean that we negate the value in computations and learning specific skills, but we also need to help children view themselves as mathematicians, so that they regularly think, problem solve, and approach life through a mathematical lens. 

I think of the math that happens daily in our Kindergarten classroom. For everything that we do, there’s a lot that we don’t do.

  • We don’t do math centres.
  • We don’t do a Problem of the Day.
  • We rarely use traditional math manipulatives, and even when we do, they’re rarely used in a traditional way. Just look at how the dominoes are used in this house. Mind you, there is still a lot of mathematical thinking in their design.

  • We don’t require the completion of specific activities for kids. 

This does not mean that we just wait for children to become interested in math, and then develop the skills. Nor do students just happen to stumble upon the math, and we wait (fingers crossed) for this to happen. We make a lot of deliberate choices around the materials we put out, the location of these materials, the questions we ask, and our morning meeting provocations, with the intention of developing math thinking and knowledge. Even the little finger plays we do each day are done with math in mind. Here is what we do to get children engaged in thinking mathematically and developing skills, all within the context of play, inquiry, and everyday experiences.

  • We spend a lot of time observing and listening to students. Most of our time is spent with kids. Recently, a teacher told me that I never sit down. I’m not sure about that. I think that my teaching partner, Paula, and I do sit frequently, but never on our own. We’re always with a group of children, or standing back, and listening carefully to what children are saying. It’s when we listen that we can often make the connection to math and can “name” this math for kids. Some might argue that this math talk interrupts the play, and at times, we both wonder if it does. But then we see how children take what we’ve named, and use this language and share this thinking in their play … without us being the push. This makes the observing and listening well worth it!

  • We make our outdoor learning time about way more than recess. When on duty at recess, it’s hard to do anything besides supervision, but with our outdoor learning time, a smaller group and a bigger space allow children to really settle into play. This gives us an opportunity to go around, observe, listen, and talk with kids. We do not structure this outdoor time. Students decide what they want to do and where they want to play (within boundaries of course), but even so, there is so much math that happens authentically outside. Measurement talk is often huge in this space, but sometimes, there are also discussions about geometry (particularly shapes) and number sense (often counting, addition, subtraction, and subitizing). Again, after naming what we’re observing, students begin to use this language on their own. 

  • We think carefully about our transitional times. We don’t transition a lot in our room. With a long outdoor time followed by a long block of play in the classroom, our biggest transition is around mid-day when we come inside and have our meeting time. (Since eating happens all day at an eating table, we don’t heed to the nutrition breaks, which also reduces the number of transitions.) Getting 27 Kindergarten children undressed and organized is a challenge in itself, especially with this never-ending winter, so usually Paula oversees this (she’s amazing), and I connect with the kids as they come into the room. We often use this time for some phonological awareness activities, but also, some math talk. When we noticed that our children really needed to develop their subitizing skills, we created this Google Presentation that shows examples of subitizing in real life. Discussing these examples provides a great opportunity to get children thinking about subitizing. We also play some simple games that have children considering subitizing. I like to use the finger play, “Open them, shut them, give a little clap. Open them, shut them, give a little tap. Open them, shut them, fold them in your lap.” Now I’ve changed the words, and give a specific number of fingers for children to clap or tap. For example, I might say, “Open them, shut them, give a two and three finger clap.” Initially, I focused on doubles, but one child suggested I try an uneven amount, so I changed to this. Children then tell me how many fingers they’re clapping or tapping. Simple, but effective! I also use fingers for children to show me different amounts. This only takes a few minutes, but it’s really worthwhile. Having children discuss how they determined the correct total also provides a great option for communicating math thinking.

  • We’re intentional about what we put out and where we place items. During the course of the day, just about everything in the classroom is moved around, but to start, Paula and I think very carefully about what we’re going to put out and what learning and conversations these materials might lead to. We had a Math Night a couple of months ago, and as a Kindergarten team, we decided to really showcase math through play. In this document, we highlight different areas of the room and how we connect math concepts to these areas. In our room, we try to make more authentic links to data management, and now students come up with all kinds of their own reasons to survey friends and interpret data. That said, this document still shares a lot of different examples of math in the classroom, as well as extension possibilities for home. This home/school connection is so important, as then parents can also provide these authentic math opportunities, and help children see themselves as mathematicians. 

As I think more about math in the early years, and really just math in general, I wonder if the traditional math manipulatives and tools make math learning any better. I had a conversation recently with various Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers. They were surprised that I didn’t use ten frames. We may not use the traditional ones, but we explore the same concepts in different ways. Is a ten frame better than an ice cube tray with 10 spaces in it? What about a muffin tin with 10 cups? When our Kindergarten students first started in our class, many of them wondered when we were going to “do math.” Without a workbook, a blackline master, or a separate time for math learning, play didn’t seem like math. But now, with the amount of math talk that we do, more children realize that math can — and does — happen everywhere, even around the eating table.

And even better, children see themselves as thinkers and doers of mathtrue mathematicians. Isn’t this one of our goals as educators? I realize that embedding this authentic math through play can be harder as children move up in the grades, but then I see examples such as the many ones here what a Grade 6 teacher in our Board does — and I realize that it’s still possible. I wonder how many of these students view themselves as mathematicians. Does this change their mathematical mindset? Imagine if we all started the school year telling students that they are mathematicians, and helping them believe it. Would something like this make a difference to how students see themselves as mathematical learners? I know that I teach some of our youngest children, but maybe there’s something that we can all learn from the Kindergarten Program DocumentWhat do you think?


2 thoughts on “Imagine If The Year Started With, “You Are A Mathematician!”

    • Thanks Debbie! I think that these artifacts matter. If we’re not always using a pencil and paper to share math thinking and learning, how are we documenting it? Maybe this sharing also helps others see the value in a play-based approach.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *