Anybody who spends time with children knows the beauty of witnessing the moment when a discovery is made and an understanding is formed. Today, during a visit to 3rd grade, I was treated to one of those special experiences.
During the lesson, the teacher asked an open-ended question that prompted the students to make observations about the concept of place value. First, they shared what they noticed with partners and then with tablemates before expressing ideas to whole group. As students listened to each other’s observations, they began to develop insights founded upon previous comments. Instead of being the recipients of knowledge they were actively constructing meaning and deepening their understanding.
Toward the end of the lesson, a key observation was made about the iterative relationship of 10 between each place value. For example, ten ones becomes ten, ten groups of ten becomes one hundred, ten groups of one hundred becomes one thousand, etc. By prompting children to think, engage their minds and build meaning, it was incredible to see them “discover” that we use a base ten numeral system.
But, that wasn’t even the best part.
The highlight for me was that as the observation was being shared, I happened to look over at a student who was intently listening as the concept unfolded. When she recognized the pattern, her jaw fell open, her eyes widened and – I kid you not – she uttered under her breath, “That is awesome.”
Our goal is to provide the children at BFIS with exactly this type of mathematic experience on a regular basis. We have been working as a faculty since early last year on how to help children construct a strong conceptual understanding of mathematics in the elementary years. Our current faculty development with visiting math consultant Dr. Monica Neagoy is providing us with yet another layer of insight and expertise to continue moving in this direction.
Last, here is an example of a simple activity designed to help children strengthen their number sense by recognizing the relationship between numbers. The opportunity to break apart and reconstruct numbers in different ways allows children to develop connections, see patterns and become flexible mathematical thinkers who see multiple ways to solve problems. This ability is absolutely essential for higher level mathematics and higher order thinking tasks.