The term “rigor” has been highlighted in education since the Common Core Standards have been adopted. The Common Core Standards have been deemed to be more rigorous and, therefore, students should be engaged in more rigorous lessons. What does it look like for students to be engaged in a rigorous task? Especially in the K-2 grades? Some might say if you stepped into a classroom and saw every student with a pencil in hand vigorously writing, possibly engaged in a lively discussion, that would be evidence rigorous instruction was taking place. I know many educators are still trying to calibrate their understanding around the indicators of a rigorous task. What would be the level of rigor in a task if you walked into a classroom and saw a group of students cutting a strip of paper into pieces? Not very high, you say? I beg to differ.
This spring, our Coordinating Units team has been working on understanding the fractional knowledge of 2nd and 3rd graders through an activity where a student pretends a strip of paper (about 5 inches by 1 inch) is a candy bar and they want to share it among 2 people, 3 people, 4 people, and so forth. We give each student in the group 4 strips of paper, a pair of scissors, glue, and an activity sheet that has spaces to glue down their three tries and space to reflect if each attempt was too small, too big, or just right. Sharing something, especially a candy bar, is a situation that students can relate to. The 1st and 2nd grade standards call for students to determine if pieces are equal or not equal, and to measure items using non-standard units of measurement. Usually, these concepts are conveyed in classroom by having students visually distinguish items that are equal or not equal in a textbook or see how many paperclips verses erasers it takes to measure a book. It is a completely different experience for students to physically manipulate a strip of paper with scissors to make equal pieces and use up the whole bar in the process. The 2nd and 3rd graders in our groups are engaged and work diligently each time we meet with them. They are so engrossed in the activity of trying to make equal pieces that you can almost see the sparks coming out of their head.
This is very interesting for two reasons. First, we are trying to replicate the work Dr. Leslie Steffe did with children around fractions and he used a computer program. We did not have access to the computer program so we had to brainstorm a way to replicate the activity without one. Second, we have realized the way we structured the activity has the added benefit of helping to reinforce students’ understanding of equality of pieces, estimation, and using a non standard unit of measurement. Who knew? Sharing can be a rigorous task!