Sunday, March 25, 2012

Math Fun: The Counting Corn Game

I wanted to come up with a math game that would be helpful to both of my kids, even though they have very different skills sets/ ability levels. This is a fun activity to set up with the kids as well as fairly open-ended in how exactly you play and process the experience, so that you can let the kid guide how much they want to continue to explore the ideas. It'll also be fun even if kid doesn't want to "work" on specific counting skills; playing around with little objects in and out of little containers is just fun on its own!

1 ice cube tray (or other sectioned container like a bead/tackle box or silverware tray) per kid
Blank stickers and a pen (or any other way to label each little section)
Unpopped popcorn/ dried beans/pennies/ other small counting object
Small shallow containers like large jar lids

1. I showed the kids how I would write on number on each sticker, then asked them to tell me which number to write next. I think they enjoy getting to tell me what to do, and it makes them have an active role in the creation of the game. Plus, while they are busy bossing me around, they are practicing their counting!

2. I placed the first couple of stickers along the "back wall" of each ice cube section- so that they could see the number even when it was filled with stuff. Then I had them put the remaining stickers on, though I did hand them to the one at a time to prevent skipped numbers and to make sure they did them in a row. I think that counting and  early addition and subtraction work is so much easier for them when things are neat and precise, so despite my intrinsically messy nature and my slight preference for rebellion over order, when we do math, I try to teach them to do things with an inherent sense of order that includes things like counting in rows and not skipping steps of a process.

3. I gave them each a  bowl full of unpopped popcorn and showed them how to count one kernel at a time to get the right number in each section. The kids will pretty much take it from there. I just let them guide me as far as what extra guidance they might need, and we brainstormed solutions to problems together.

Results & Discussion:
Here are some of the things that came up:

- Alex, who has a lot of fixed-mindset traits, and is hesitant to try something if he thinks he can't master it immediately, was very concerned that he didn't "know how many are the big numbers". He already has some of these traits, but the fact that Anya often masters skills like comfort with the "big numbers" just makes it more difficult for him. We talked about how each of our number slots was one number higher than the last- I had him verbalize that after asking leading questions about the lower numbers which he hasn't expressed any anxiety around. And then we came up with a plan that if he got to a number that he was worried about, he would look at the last number and add one more, which he was excited about as a solution, and I was excited about as proto-addition work!

-The physical act of manipulating the kernels and (especially) fishing them out of the ice cube trays if they accidentally added too many was a great fine motor activity. It was challenging for my guys, I would probably use bigger objects (like dried garbanzos, mancala stones or large wood beads) and bigger containers for kids any younger or for anyone that wanted to focus more on math and less on fine motor.

- Once they were done, I went through and counted each container, using a knitting needle to sort of arrange the kernels in rows and point to each as I counted aloud, encouraging the kids to count with me so that it wasn't so much me checking their work as us looking at it together- the kids usually noticed their mistakes before I said anything and were really great at figuring out if they needed to add or remove one or two to get to the right number. It also, I hope, functioned as a demonstration of how I count things. Demo would normally come in the beginning of a lesson, but I really liked how they worked out their own ways of doing it, then watched me, then added certain parts of my method to theirs as they liked.

-After a while, I got out the large jar lids and gave them to the kids to be their counting trays. They would fish out the kernels and could then manipulate them in the lids without losing any, which was very helpful for lining them up in rows in order to make counting easier. Anya has been very interested in skip counting, and lining up in rows was a great way to add a visual/real life component to something we had only talked about and tried out while driving in the car.

Coming up with math activities doesn't come as naturally to me as for science activities for the preschool set, but I was pleased with this. I'd like to start working on more skip counting, and perhaps some abacus work, or something which helps start conceptualizing the meaning of the digits in larger numbers and the meaning of place value.