Unit Coordination

It’s Just an Art Lesson…or the Best Math Lesson Ever!

In my last blog post I wrote about how the sharing activity we are engaging second and third grade students with, although seemingly very simple, is actually very rigorous. In my observations I have been amused by how fascinated and excited the students are to be doing something where they are allowed to use glue and scissors. I know why they are so intrigued. In the wake of education shifting to standards-based instruction, the emphasis in the K-6 classroom has been language arts and mathematics. With the pressure on raising test scores in those content areas, teachers felt the need to reduce, or in some cases totally eliminate, the amount of time they taught art.  Art is content area that is done in class only when there is extra time or when there is a holiday coming up. Therefore, students with glue, scissors, and construction paper in hand cannot be developing any understanding connected to academic content.

Reflecting back on my experience as a student in elementary school, I remember all the times my teacher let us loose with scissors, paper, and glue. Whether it was engaging in an art project where we were tracing and cutting out shapes, or letting us illustrate our stories by creating our own collages out of construction paper, these activities required a lot of coordination of skills involving measurement, estimation, and problem solving.

These skills lay the foundation for future work in mathematics and other content areas. As I think back to my experience teaching in the classroom, I always felt I needed to justify myself when I did an art lesson with my students, even though I understood the academic benefits of students engaging in art.

I admit I was guilty of pre-cutting shapes for my students for the sake of saving time. Students took the shapes and glued them together like I did. The research we have been studying and the work we have been doing with students around fractional reasoning validates the benefits of students engaging in activities where they experience measuring, estimating, and cutting shapes on their own. For example, give students several strips of construction paper and have them cut each strip in different amounts: one strip into two pieces, another three, the next four. Tell students that for each strip the pieces need to be the same size and they need to use the whole strip. After they cut the pieces you can then have them glue the pieces on a paper to make a picture. Do the same activity, but let them use a ruler to help them measure the pieces.  Watch what they do. It is interesting (and academic)! The more experiences like these that students have, the better foundation they will have later for reasoning with fractions.


Cotton Balls and Place Value

It is important to remember that when we engage students in experiences meant to help them build meaning behind math concepts, what might appear to be happening may or may not be actually happening. Let me explain. Place value is one of the times in math when understanding what the concepts represent requires more than… Continue Reading

I Almost Missed It

If you read the previous posts from the Coordinating Units team here at AIMS, you likely know that we are studying how children learn about fractions. Earlier this week I realized that I almost missed something amazing and encouraging about how much our students are actually learning. The tasks we are using with them are… Continue Reading

Teaching Children Fractions

“Fractions. Ugh! I’ve never been good with fractions.” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this statement. Every teacher knows that working with fractions is an area where many kids struggle. As a middle school teacher, I saw these struggles and how they can lead to further struggles in math. In fact, mastery of… Continue Reading

What comes after 3?

During a recent professional learning day, I sat in a circle with my co-workers and counted. By “counted,” I mean that we spoke number words in a standard order, not that we physically counted objects. In succession, we spoke the number word that came immediately after the one previously spoken. If anyone made a mistake… Continue Reading

Sharing Can be Rigorous Work!

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… Continue Reading

Giant Business Cards and the Art and Science of Communication

Recently, I was listening to an episode of the Hidden Brain podcast entitled, “Alan Alda Wants Us to Have Better Conversations.” The episode details Alan Alda’s work with scientists and health care professionals to help improve their communication. During the interview, he talked about an experience working with the TV show Scientific American Frontiers, during… Continue Reading

Unintended Opportunity

The team I work with at AIMS has begun working with students on fractional understanding and it has been an interesting couple of weeks. We are seeing the students have opportunities to learn things we never intended but still fit right in with expectations in elementary classrooms. Personally, I have discovered that when we develop… Continue Reading

Takeaways from Subtraction (Part 3): The Struggle

Every elementary school teacher has seen children struggle with subtraction. From these struggles, attitudes of “I’m not good at math” emerge. Our team recently worked with students on the concept of subtraction. We presented situations in which students would count out 23 cubes, hide them, and then remove some of the cubes. The students were… Continue Reading

Experts Are Made, Not Born

Teachers are incredibly busy. They need to be the experts on a variety of curricular topics, especially in the elementary years, and for a variety of learners. Most teachers have earned a bachelor’s degree and spent additional time studying pedagogy and curriculum to earn their teaching credential. Further, they have all the wisdom gained from… Continue Reading