No Nonsense Numeracy

math symbolsMath sure isn’t the same as it was when I was a kid! I have a distinct recollection of my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Dittus, testing us on our multiplication tables every Friday. He used the results of those tests to place us in order from chair number 1 to chair number 30 on Monday. Awk! That definitely motivated me to practice, but did nothing to help my overall understanding or love of math.

As we consider what the important concepts are that young children need to master in mathematics, we generally start with the idea of number sense. A basic deck of cards is an excellent, inexpensive tool to help at home or in your TK or kindergarten classroom!

Gersten and Chard (2001) wrote about number sense essentially referring to a student’s “fluidity and flexibility with numbers.” He/she has a sense of what numbers mean, understands their relationship to one another, is able to perform mental math, understands symbolic representations, and can use those numbers in real world situations. (MathSolutions, 2007).

1 + 2 math problem
Let’s break that down beginning with a sense of what numbers mean. To appreciate the symbol 5, a child needs to know that symbol is the same as five objects. If you sort a deck of cards, you’ll sort out four 5’s (hearts, diamonds, spades, clubs). Now, you can have your students make four sets of five. It doesn’t have to be cards, any manipulatives will do! Giving children choices about what they can use will help them stay involved and focused. They also can arrange them differently. And this is when a teacher can take advantage of another powerful strategy, “math talks.”

Math talks is a process that helps everyone to consider that there are multiple ways to solve a problem. It’s mostly both teachers and students thinking aloud. In the above scenario, the teacher may have a group of four students at a table working with the number five. Each child has chosen their manipulative and arranged them to make five.

Teacher: “Eric, I see you have chosen to put two bears in a row and three bears in another row and that makes five! Angela, you put one big pattern block on top and four little ones on the bottom. That also makes five!”

Helping children understand the quantity of number can be addressed with understanding more, less and equal. Using the card deck again, students can play with each other by comparing the cards they have with each other.

playing cards
“Cassandra, you put down an 8 and Jeremy, you put down a 3. Which one is more?”

Cards have the quantity right on the front, so it’s easy to see which has more symbols. Cassandra’s 8 of diamonds compared to Jeremy’s 3 of clubs.

Students can also put the cards in ascending and descending order (I turned the aces into ones), which helps them see the relationship numbers have with each other. And, of course, playing with the deck of cards helps children memorize their number names.

Children are born with different personalities and gifts. By allowing students to share how they understand and solve problems, we open up multiple ways to see a solution and help them to have a greater math sense.

I wish Mr. Dittus would have allowed us all to share how we learned our multiplication tables. There are so many tricks I didn’t learn until I was much older!

About Stephanie Alexander

I am just one of those people who find young children charming, entertaining and fascinating! With my husband David, I’ve raised four successful children with whom we have loving, wonderful relationships. I’ve also been in the world of education for over 25 years in the roles of preschool teacher and director, kindergarten and transitional kindergarten teacher, and, currently, I’m serving transitional kindergarten-second grade students and teachers as an Instructional Service Coordinator with the Shasta County Office of Education. In 2015, I helped start the first Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten Professional Learning Community with 18 teachers participating from Shasta County. I'm excited about my latest job assignment: coaching teachers participating in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant as part of the Reach Higher Shasta organization.
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