This morning, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Sandy Cohen Family Math Day, co-sponsored by the Nassau County Mathematics Teachers’ Association (NCMTA), of which I am a member, and the Nassau County Association of Mathematics Supervisors (NCAMS). This year, the annual event featured about 80 presenters and about 300 participants engaging in mathematics activities geared towards grades K-6. The activities are all presented with the intention that participants can walk away with relevant, educational activities to complete together at home.
The day began with registration and check-in, breakfast, estimation contests, door prizes, and other introductory activities. Participants pre-registered for three grade-appropriate sessions, while kindergarteners attended two sessions, followed by time spent playing carnival-type mathematics games for prizes. All had a great time, and parents had the opportunity to spend quality time with their children engaging in educational activities.
After I helped participants check-in, I volunteered to take a presenter’s daughter around to the kindergarten sessions, since her mom was busy presenting. We had a great time attending the two sessions and carnival! The event took place at an elementary school, and since I teach high school, it was really fun for me to be in some elementary classrooms, engaging in elementary-level mathematics.
One presenter taught us quick mathematics games to play that highlighted number sense, greater than/less than comparisons, subitizing, and other addition/subtraction games. For example, a game the presenter called: “Heads Up” required two “players” to each hold a card from a typical deck of cards on their respective foreheads, without seeing the number on their own card. The presenter asked the rest of the students for the sum of the two cards, and elicited a response. Each of the two players then had to guess what his/her own card was, knowing only the sum and the other player’s card. This activity introduced algebraic thinking and subtraction, which I loved to see. It was great that the kids were having fun while engaging in abstract thinking. Our next presenter read the book: If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff, and then had the students create a board game related to the book incorporating sorting skills, counting skills, matching skills and creativity, not to mention fine motor skills and sharing etiquette when working with the materials. We then proceeded to the carnival-type games where we waited for the girl’s mom while playing an addition game.
Working with adolescents in high school, I rarely have the chance to see the material they learn during their elementary years. Today really gave me a sense of what is expected of our kindergarteners, and how they work in a classroom. I noticed that many of the same strategies I use are put into place in these elementary classes, as well. One area is vocabulary. The presenters pushed the students to use complete sentences when describing aspects of the mathematics during the sessions. As I looked around the classrooms, I saw lots of math vocabulary as well. Vocabulary is something I very much emphasize in my high school mathematics classroom. My classroom is vocabulary-rich, both physically and in conversation, and my own students know that I will push them to use proper vocabulary, and to dissect intimidating vocabulary for better remembering and understanding.
Also, the presenters encouraged the students to describe “how” and “why” they got their answers. This is also something I emphasize in my classroom, and practicing this skill early on, even in kindergarten, gets kids used to defending their work and justifying their reasoning. Building vocabulary and justifying their reasoning are important lifelong skills students will learn, practice and refine as they mature through their grade-school years, college, and into careers of their own.
My experience this morning proves that it is important to “get out of your comfort zone” from time to time in order to get a different perspective of an area in which you feel confident. Rarely do I get to see education and mathematics from this point of view, and it was a lot of fun to see the similarities and differences in how we work with different aged students.