I started working with six, seven and eight year olds this week. Two more weeks to go. To start things out, the summer program I'm working with requires me to create and ask my new students a few questions which I'll also revisit at our last class.
One is "How can you make rhythm with your feet?" The other, "How can you make a pattern?" The predictable and unsurprising answer to that one?
And that's it. That's all they got.
My dream is to move kids beyond one-attribute linear patterns. You know, "red blue red blue" or "circle square circle square." I think those are fair places to start, but based on my experience last summer, even when kids get into upper elementary, they still give the same two answers as the 6 year olds.
It's a wasteland out there. We're literally wasting kids' time on AB patterns when we could be engaging them in some truly exciting, interesting and beautiful mathematical pattern-based play, analysis and reasoning.
On my board after the first three days I have written:
"How many different kinds of patterns can we make?"
Rhythm patterns, in our feet, in our hands
"Recipe" (algorithm) patterns (and there I've noted the beginning 'recipe' for our Pizza Clogging choreography which we'll extend next week with our own favorite pizza toppings in our feet. I also read them the fabulous book How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World).
Nature's numbers: The first nine numbers in the Fibonacci sequence including the one that showed up in the apple star I 'magically' discovered.
Also, in the slices of paper pizza we've been designing. More magic and transformation for the primary set. (The more math magic the better, as far as I'm concerned.)
Of course we'll also look into linear patterns too, but before we design pattern units and make our beaded icicles we'll read The Lost Button (a Frog & Toad story) and investigate the attributes in our bead choices (color, texture, shape, size).
Because, when you have more than one attribute you get to think deeply about similarities, sameness and differences, another thing I don't think little kids are asked to do often enough. With more than one attribute you get a chance to evaluate, analyze, think, talk, make, dance, sing, tap and clap mathematics.
I don't have a lot of time with these kids, but I hope that the world gets a little bigger and their eyes open just a little more to the beauty and structure around them. Because how will they come to know and love math otherwise? These are the basics, folks. Just like 'literacy' is way more than decoding written words, so too is math. A visual, kinesthetic, aural and expressive mathematical literacy for all elementary students. That's my dream.