Math Never Tasted So Good
- Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Our children love math! It hides in their sandwiches, seasons their spaghetti, and sweetens their apple pie. From the time our children peek over the table edge or push a chair up to the kitchen counter, they investigate, predict, collect data, and discover. The result: they understand. In the Bastian home, math instruction is multi-sensory, hands-on, and delicious, keeping young ones asking for more.
Can children really like math? Yes! Placing concepts into children’s open hands invites them to learn. As they weigh objects, measure ingredients, estimate quantities, and calculate numbers, they internalize concepts which, for some children, are nothing more than symbols on a page. Math becomes a part of life, real and useful.
The kitchen is a perfect place to teach and reinforce math concepts. Cups of water and corn syrup, measured, weighed, and compared, can be heated and transformed into a tasty pound of peanut brittle. Folded, deli-sliced cheese demonstrates equivalent fractions. The weight of a bag of flour can be estimated and confirmed with a kitchen scale. Concepts presented in digestible, practical, and relevant chunks dispel common math fears and anxiety.
Eliminating a parent’s fear of math is the first step in building math confidence in children. These fears often linger from negative personal experiences or a lack of understanding what, when, and how math can be taught. Knowledge complemented by useful tools—scales, measuring cups, tape measures, thermometers—makes math fun and relevant. Empowered and confident, parents often grasp math for the first time in their lives, and their contagious excitement invites children to enthusiastically embrace math.
Pre-number concepts are vital to understanding the value of numbers and include patterning, seriation, comparing and classifying, graphing, and introductory geometry. Each skill adds flavor to the number stew simmering in a child’s mind.
Patterns surround us. A newborn’s eyes focus on color, shape, and design. Young children recognize patterned stripes in candy canes and colorful arrays on dessert trays. Recognizing patterns in the world, and eventually in numbers, is foundational to math. Opportunities to describe, reproduce, and create patterns expand understanding and prepare children for numeration, prediction, and reasoning.
• Make lasagna, patterning ingredients: sauce, pasta, cheese, sauce, pasta, cheese. Draw a visual representation.
• Pattern fruit, cheese cube, or veggie kabobs.
• Open a package of Starburst chews on the seam. Notice the pattern. Extend and incorporate additional skills for multi-level learning: sort and graph flavors, add colors (4 orange and 4 cherry equal 8 candies), write a multiplication equation to represent the package (4 groups of 3 candies equals 12 total candies), label each flavor as a fraction of the whole package (orange is 4/12), and discuss equivalent fractions (4/12 equals 1/3).
Seriation is the ability to order objects in a series. Instruction begins with arranging objects according to one characteristic, generally length or size, and is reinforced with attributes of weight, color, amount, or cost. Seriation is a stepping-stone to comparison and classification.
• Build Cheez-It towers. The first tower is made of one cracker, the second of two and so on.
• Arrange the carrots from a 1-pound bag according to length. Weigh carrots on a kitchen scale and order according to weight.
Comparing and Classifying
Comparison, the ability to observe and analyze two or more objects based upon their differences, is the converse skill of classification (sometimes referred to as sorting), which focuses on the similarities of objects. When introducing comparison and classification, focus on a familiar feature, likely color, size, or length. From this foundation, two or more attributes can be considered, perhaps color and weight, texture and taste, size and origin, or length and use. The ability to discover and express similarities and differences in two or more objects is the first step toward comprehending set notation and computation.
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