Friday, July 12, 2013

Not All the Same

I'm telling you right now, understanding 'sameness' is hard for a kid.  It might not be hard for my adult brain, but for a six or seven year old, it takes a huge amount of concentration, analysis, and wherewithal to make it happen.

It's easily obvious to me that these slices of paper pizzas are not at all the same but you know what is really hard for me? Resisting the urge to rearrange those little pieces so this child can be 'successful' or get the 'right' answer.

When I resist the urge to correct or direct, I am able to help one child notice that he needs to select the same kinds and number of shapes for each piece of paper pizza.  When I resist the urge to rearrange, I can support the other child  who has mastered that step and now needs a chance to evaluate the position of the shapes on each 'slice.'

At some point, though, it's their project, and they can only move themselves so far in the short time we have. Sometimes just finishing is a victory.

This paper pizza activity I designed is deceptively simple because in one fell swoop it reinforces the math concepts of sameness, position, geometric shapes, pattern unit, transformation and symmetry. To adult eyes there is nothing to it. For a six or seven year old it is, I assert, the very best kind of challenge.

The activity gets an introduction with project examples and the briefest of instructions, and then the kids go at it.  Some might view my approach as flawed or, at the very least, unhelpful.  Perhaps, but how does one learn these things? I could talk until I was blue in the face about what they need to do; I could break down the making process into minute individual steps; I could do all the work for them, pointing out the next step every step of the way...and what would they learn?

Instead, I use my adult eyes for making observations. My adult hands to point out the lapses in visual reasoning. My adult mind to ask, "Does that look the same to you?" or "Does each piece have the same number of shapes?"

But at no time do I judge the work in terms of rightness or wrongness.  Most of these rising first graders 'got' it. Some did not, but each paper pizza is beautiful, not just because of the bright colors, but because it is a gorgeous snapshot into the how each individual child is thinking, at this particular moment in time.  Because no kid is the same as any other kid - and that is something to celebrate!

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