Fourth grade play-to-learn days

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They decided to use origami as a way into fractions.

Back in October we were getting ready to start a new unit in math- or maybe it was a new section of a unit. We had spent some time exploring arrays and how they are one model for multiplication. It felt to me as if kids understood this, but in a very school-y sort of way. They could dutifully draw an array to represent 13 X 7, but then would not actually ever use arrays to help solve any problems. I guess it felt like arrays fell under the category of “stuff the teacher wants me to do,” and not, as I had hoped, “stuff that can help me,” or even, dare I dream, “stuff I think is cool.” I was ready to move on anyway, chalking this up to generational disconnect. “They’ll think arrays are cool when they’re old,” I told myself.
But the thing was that I really think arrays are cool, and they’ve helped me visualize and solve really ugly multiplication problems. And working with them has made me better at seeing relationships between numbers, and also between operations. And I wanted to share this. So I decided to throw a Hail Mary pass at it. I put ARRAY PLAY onto the schedule, put out a big stack of grid paper, and told them to knock themselves out. I said they could use scissors, markers, glue, construction paper, or anything else they needed to explore and play with and maybe even discover something about arrays.

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Arrays can help you split up an intimidating multiplication problem.

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Arrays can help you work with numbers you’re more comfortable with.

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Arrays can help you see all the factors of a number.

So last week when we were getting ready to move on to a new part of the fraction unit, I decided to take a couple of days for FRACTION PLAY! I gave out origami paper, and we agreed that one sheet would be a whole unit. (We later agreed to let Isa and Lucy call 1/4 of a sheet a whole unit for various reasons). Again I said they could use scissors, markers, glue, bigger paper, grid paper, their notebooks, or anything they needed to play with fractions. Amazingly, (or not amazingly at all if you are a believer in the power of play in a person’s learning) a few very big ideas about fractions emerged.

Here are some of them.

What will we play with next?

A whole can be divided in an infinite number of ways.

A whole can be divided in an infinite number of ways.

Dividing by half again and again can lead to a spiral pattern (we got excited and showed her the Golden Spiral).

Dividing by half again and again can lead to a spiral pattern (we got excited and showed her the Golden Spiral).

Big ideas emerging about equivalenceMorgan's Discovery Part 2

2 thoughts on “Fourth grade play-to-learn days

  1. I love this – the idea that we’ll see more learning when students are given an opportunity to play and explain their learning during this play – makes perfect sense!! Thank you for sharing, and I can’t wait to have a play-to-learn day with my 3rd graders!

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