Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Aesthetics of Math - Mathematical Masterpieces in Kindergarten

This year our school was involved in very rich, practical, and ongoing math investigations connected to our school improvement plan. As an educator I have always been interested in math, but my involvement in the SIPSA work really ignited a fire for math learning in my program. It was incredibly fulfilling to see the children thrive mathematically in the classroom as a result of my learning and willingness to change aspects of our program. As a result, it has set me on a positive path for continuing to consider what math looks like in my classroom for the remainder of this school year and heading into the summer. I have realized as a result of my reading and writing that math in kindergarten is a lot like creating a masterpiece.

To be an artist one:

• Needs a strong foundation of knowledge and experience in order to manipulate the tools and materials

• Is well versed in their medium and can successfully convey a message to others

• Has a plan for how to proceed but isn’t afraid to take risks and try something new

• Is inspired each day and finds beauty and authenticity in the surrounding world

In kindergarten we want children to see math as a fun and engaging activity that has relevance and purpose to their lives. Like art there is a focus on exploring the process of learning and looking to the teacher and peers as co-creators in the process. Building a strong foundation using the big ideas helps children to be confident in their explorations and embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Flexibility in time, space, and resources cultivates an environment where authentic and complex opportunities for math naturally occur. Children are inspired by the people and space around them and strive towards proficiency and understanding. All invested participants realize that math is a journey towards understanding and improvement and not a race towards a final correct outcome.

To be an artist one needs an environment that:

· Has plentiful found and natural materials that can be used in complex and multi-faceted ways (e.g., pebbles, bread tags, sticks, shells)

· Is full of inspiration and connections to the immediate world and beyond (e.g., books, experiences, people)

· Contains a variety of tools that can be used in familiar and innovative ways (e.g., ten frames, hundreds charts, dice)

· Has spaces for working in large groups, small groups, pairs, and independently

In kindergarten our environment consists as the ‘third teacher’, helping children to become inspired to engage in rich explorations and reflect upon their past experiences. As the school year progresses the environment is built together with the children. Each day as new experiences and ideas are shared these are added to the learning centres and walls in the form of tools, resources, and documentation. The room evolves to help tell the story of the children’s time together and also to support and extend the math learning that is continuously occurring.

When one is an artist, one speaks in many different languages. Ideas can ebb and flow and inspire other ways of looking at the world. In kindergarten math is everywhere – instead of existing in isolation children are encouraged to integrate their learning. Our integrated environment provides opportunities for children to discover, explore and represent in many ways. This way of looking at the world provides a natural way to differentiate for children. Math can happen anywhere – art, loose parts, outdoors, in the hallways, drama, gym - and beyond.

Art is sometimes spontaneous, and sometimes planned. In an emergent kindergarten program educators follow the children’s lead and support and scaffold experiences based on the children’s interests, strengths and needs. However this doesn’t mean that educators can't include long term goals in planning and focus on the big ideas. There is also opportunity for the traditional three part lesson structure to exist in this type of fluid learning environment. I believe this is important for outsiders to kindergarten to understand. Many don’t realize the intricacy of play-based learning and assume what is done in the classroom is solely based on the interests of the children. This is not true - pedagogy and practice are a dance where sometimes the teacher leads and other times the teacher follows. This provides an interesting task in adaptation when something like the three part lesson is put into practice. Flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to evolve are a necessity.

Getting Started: In our classroom we have a large gathering time called ‘opening circle’. During this circle a ‘morning message’ is read to the children. During this message important information or concepts are discussed with the children. This gets their ‘minds-on’ in the sense that they are being introduced or reminded of important terms and concepts. Captivating read alouds can be used to help introduce or reinforce an idea.

Working on it: This looks many different ways in our kindergarten classroom. Sometimes we work on activities in pairs or small groups at the carpet during the next circle. Other times these guided activities (that relate to the topic introduced during the morning message) are placed at a table top centre for the children to experience during playtime. An educator (myself or the early childhood educator in our room) will guide children. We know the kids well so we are able to differentiate the activity and scaffold or challenge based on their needs. We also have a variety of math manipulatives around our room and encourage the children to engage in playful, authentic, and relevant math experiences throughout the play block and not just at a designated 'math centre'.

Consolidation and practice: After playtime we invite children to consolidate their experiences and learning and reflect with each other at our whole group time. Children can volunteer to share something from playtime or the teacher/ECE can share something. This is usually where I would bring some of the playtime math experiences that related to the original topic in the morning message back to the group so we could reflect upon something that was done and then perhaps engage in a next step (or more challenging) version of the activity based on the readiness of the children. This might inspire the children to think about a topic more deeply or in a different way and then this would guide where I next proceeded in terms of math the following day.

Consider each of these has left me with a desire to learn more - how can I encourage a confidence and interest towards math in the children in my care? How can I continue to become a better model of math for both my students and in role as a parent to my children at home? What can I do to promote problem solving and a connection to the big ideas in math throughout all facets of my program and not just in isolation during math activities? It’s exciting to think of what these ideas might spark - especially fitting as the school year winds down and I already dream about next year's possibilities!

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