May 19, 2010

Cheap and easy math

I found this ziplock bag full of cards marked "educational" at the thrift store a while back and even thought I couldn't open the bag to see what I was paying for, they were only a buck and claimed to be educational so I got them. I figure, even if the way they are intended to educate is lousy, I am a whiz at finding creative ways to teach with just about anything.

They turned out to be Baby Einstein cards. Keep in mind that the activity I am about to explain can be done with home made versions of these cards. Now, the Baby Einstein people have been in a little legal trouble lately for all of their claims and while I am happy to see people finally realizing that the videos don't really constitute baby education, these cards are great. And I suspect that because of the legal issues you could find a used set quite easily.

So this bag contained sets of several kinds. Some with nature pictures on one side and factoids on the other. Those are fine. But what I love are the cards with numbers or pictures of groups of items that correspond to those numbers.

I line up the number cards along the wall and give the boys a stack of cards with multiple items in the picture. They match up the picture cards to the correct corresponding number. They think it's fun because the pictures are detailed and beautiful and there are poems with the number in them on the back of some of the cards.

Best of all, they are busy and engaged for a good little while with these. Sure they get off task and start discussing the pictures with each other, but who cares? They are getting a fuller experience when they are allowed to discuss what adults would find off topic than they would if I just stood there and demanded they only match the cards and never enjoy them.

The other favorite of the week is food fractions. I am trying to encourage the kids to try a broader range of foods and this is a fun way to do it. They pick out a few healthy produce items of interest at the market and we come home and cut 'em up!

First we do halves. There are 3 of them, so of course they flip out over who is not going to get a share of the food. This is good. I let them proceed to flip for a second before I talk them through a solution. "What?!?! 2 halves won;t feed the three of you? Hannah Jane, cut yours in half and give half to your brother." Then of course a little more flipping out over one person getting more than her. "Oh, so how many equal parts do we need for everyone to have a fair share?"

Here's where we talk about ordinal numbers and find the pattern for making the word for the numeral in to the word for the ordinal number. Then they guess the ordinal term for the next piece of food. WE do halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths. While we cut, we talk about how to know they are even. This is easier with the even ordinals because you can just continue to cut the segments in half.

We've done this enough now that I let them make the cuts. But we have the same rule for our food math as we do our regular snack time. One person cuts it and the others get to choose their pieces before the cutter. It is really amazing how equally pieces are cut when the person cutting knows they get last choice!

Soon we move on to fractions. As we eat the food piece by piece we talk about what fractional amount has been consumed and what fractional amount is left. We even do basic processes with fractions like, "one whole minus one third leaves us with two thirds." It seems so easy like this that they forget they are learning and later, as they encounter this on paper, maybe it won't seem so foreign and onerous.

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