Last year the families, staff and community fundraised for a new playground for Grauer Elementary. Grauer is a small school with only five, six or seven divisions (depending on the year) and it is hard work for a small school to raise $60 000! It was very exciting when the school reached their goal and is such a good example of an authentic numeracy experience for students to think about. In the BC curriculum, numeracy is defined as an application of mathematics to solve or interpret an issue or problem in context.
Last Saturday, I joined staff, parents and community members coming together to install the playground (self-installation with staff support from the playground company saves thousands of dollars). As Ms Partidge and I helped to read the specifications for the installation of one of the fire poles, we commented to a couple of parents around us how much mathematics was involved in the process.
I shared some of the photos from the installation day with the two grades 1 & 2 classes. All of these students had been to The Studio last year with me and had spent some times exploring the idea of “what is math?” so I framed this investigation as “where is the math?” I knew for some students this would create some dissonance as even young children can sometimes already have a very narrow view of what mathematics is and think that it is about counting, numbers and “plussing”. Part of this investigation was to disrupt this thinking. Of course counting, numbers and arithmetic operations are important content areas of mathematics, but they are not the only content. This investigation was one avenue to create meaning for learning mathematics, having students make connections to math beyond the walls of the classroom. The students came up with some initial ideas and we will continue to add to our thinking over the next couple of weeks.
The students were invited to design and create playgrounds and to consider where, when and how mathematics would be applied/used. One group of students followed the kit diagrams to create a Playmobil playground set – there was lots of math talk during that collaboration! Some students chose to draw and paint a playground from their imagination and some built playgrounds with blocks and loose parts, including a playground for animals.
After our first time together, I noticed the students were very interested in the photographs of adults using the levels and measuring tapes so I ordered some (not toy) tools to add to the construction area of The Studio. It was great to watch the students use these tools in authentic ways.
One of the classes had gone outside to look closely at the playground twice, creating detailed labelled diagrams or maps of the playground.
We extended this experience in The Studio by asking the students to create “math maps” indicating “where’s the math?” on recordings of their playground creations.
And what are are we assessing in terms of mathematics? These types of investigations and explorations lend themselves to informal formative assessment and gives us a sense of mathematical language the students have and where students are along a learning trajectory around different concepts and skills such as spatial reasoning, comparison of size and quantities and measuring. This type of assessment, that focuses on observing and listening to the students’ play and math talk is so important at this time of year and informs our instructional plans and focus for the fall.
When students engage in this type of learning through materials we make their learning visible through a sharing session at the end of our time together and capturing photographs, videos and students’ thinking so that we can revisit and reflect on the experiences, make connections to new learning experiences and consider questions for further investigation. The following are examples of documentation panels that we create to post in The Studio to help make our learning visible.
I’m looking forward to seeing where the students take us next on this investigation.