Come On Up, Get A Prize, And Learn A Little Math!

Friday was our school Fun Fair. I volunteered to help out where needed, as well as get a pie in my face (now that’s another story 🙂 ). I ended up spending most of the night at the prize table. Prizes were organized by points: 10, 20, or 30. Children earned points on their score cards for playing games. A full score card was 40 points, but instead of being arranged in rows of 10, each card had five rows of eight. Students that collected points could redeem them for prizes. They could choose from any section of the table, as long as their total points redeemed added up to their total points earned. Can you see all of the math potential here?

When I first heard about these prize table plans, I was overwhelmed by all of the different combinations. Could I work the numbers fast enough? Then our principal, Mr. Gris, walked by and heard my plight. He said, “Let the kids do the math.” Well, of course. Why didn’t I think of that?! I love authentic math opportunities, mental math, and playing with numbers — why not use these Fun Fair prizes as a learning opportunity? The teacher in me started to get excited. There were so many ways that I could get kids playing with math.

  • Some kids came to me with less than the 10 points or a few points short of another multiple of ten. How many more points did they need to get to their desired total? How did they figure this out?
  • Many kids came to me with point values beyond 10. They wanted some of the 10 point prize options though. How many could they get? How many points did they have left? How did they know?
  • Then there were some of the 10 point prize options that allowed for multiple items for one prize. For example, children could get four pieces of gum, five candies, or two sugar sticks (this isn’t their actual name, but it’s an accurate description) for 10 points. Some children came to me with 60+ points to redeem for these sugary prizes. How many did they get?
  • And then there was some math for me to do. Some children came to me with a full card (40 points), but only wanted to redeem 10, 20, or 30 points. How could I cross off the smiley faces quickly and know that I was correct?

It was interesting to see and hear how children approached this real world math.

  • Many children froze quickly, and just stared at me. If I gave them a few minutes though and didn’t say anything, they started talking through what they could do, and tended to solve the problem.
  • Some children benefitted from me removing the math from the problem (i.e., instead of considering 10 points, just looking at how many more are needed to add up to 10), and then helping them see that the same math skills that they use out of this context, work within this context.
  • A few children were quick to play with the numbers in different ways, from counting on, to use doubles, to even multiplying. I tried to name these math behaviours as I saw them, so that students could do the same. It’s the Kindergarten teacher in me …
  • A few other children needed me to work through the problem with them. I suggested a strategy, and we used it together. With the suggestion of a strategy (e.g., counting on), many could solve the problem on their own, but they looked to me to get started.

The kids weren’t the only ones involved in some math learning. To cross off and total up those points with ease, I needed a strategy. I quickly realized that number patterns and subitizing are also good for adults. With eight points in a row, two more in the next row would make 10. Then the pattern started to extend to four (to make 20), and six (to make 30). (Hopefully this is clear even without a visual.) If I used this pattern along with skip counting by 10’s, I could easily add up the totals. This is what I did, and it helped speed along the line, even with the math learning that I was trying to do with each child.

Based on all of these math opportunities on Friday night, what did I learn about kids, adults, math, and our diverse school of learners?

  • We can’t rescue kids too quickly. Many are looking for help right away, but if we give them wait time — and sometimes lots of it — they will start to talk through the problem and work it out on their own.
  • Lots of opportunities for authentic math are important. For some kids, they couldn’t see the math in the midst of the language. We need to give them opportunities to talk and work through math problems, and make sense of the concepts embedded within the context of the words.
  • We regularly need to notice and name the math learning and strategies that we see. This will help build children’s tool kits of strategies to use when they get stuck on a math problem. It will also help them connect what they’re already doing to math. It makes them see that math does not just need to happen on a piece of paper or in a workbook.
  • Math is not just for kids — adults also need to play with math. When we start to think mathematically, we make connections to concepts we already know. We then see the world through a mathematical lens, and I think as a result, help students do the same. When we experiment with math and share our thinking aloud, kids also feel comfortable in doing so!

It’s June, and Fun Fairs, play days, track and field, and field trips are sure to be plentiful in the next few weeks. We don’t want to spoil the fun, but what if we helped kids (and adults) see that math is a meaningful and important part of this fun? I think we’d be surprised on just how much math potential there is in all of these experiences … without us even having to create it! So for those that had to wait some extra time, and in a slightly longer line-up for their prizes, I do apologize, but it was all in the name of math. Is that a good enough reason? If not, maybe my pie in the face will make things better. Can anybody find some math connections here?


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