Friday, August 8, 2014

Where is the value in play?

This week, Kathy and I presented at the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference. We adapted our previous workshop on games to focus specifically on the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice. (Here is a PDF of the session PowerPoint.)

We used the grouping by one of the Common Core authors, William McCallum, to make the Practices more manageable for the participants. Then we concentrated our attention on Standards 7 and 8 (what McCallum refers to as "seeing structure and generalizing"). I shared how some preservice teachers had synthesized this pair into three key elements to look for while doing math:
  • Noticing: recognizing patterns by breaking things down and identifying basic structures;
  • Building: creating new knowledge by connecting ideas to what is already known; and
  • Generalizing: identifying ways to create general methods/formulas
By intentionally narrowing our focus in this way, we hoped to model the importance of highlighting learning opportunities that occur during play.

Participants were given the opportunity to play three games. Two of the games, Race to 100 and Roll a Square, provide opportunities to examine the structure of our place value system and how the structure can be used to create methods for solving double-digit combining and separating problem. We asked participants to explore the games as teachers - keeping in mind scenarios that might be used to highlight Standards 7 and 8.

I provided the following as a model scenario:
While playing Race to 100, I saw Alyssa start on 14 and roll a 10. She ended on 24. What if she rolled 3 more tens in a row? What would the Rekenrek look like at the end of each roll?
While rolling four tens in a row is unlikely, we can use the shared experience of playing the game to provide learners with a chance to notice how our place value structure can be used to build a strategy for adding 10 to a number.

By playing the games before using them with learners, the teachers can be intentional about looking for opportunities to highlight "learnable moments." Then, teachers can use reflection time to talk about scenarios they observed during  game play (during planning, during the lesson, or even imagined). This can be as simple as sharing the scenario and adding one of the questions (from this PDF) associated with the Practice Standard(s) the teacher has decided is the focus of the lesson.

Too often we do not take the time to debrief around games and make explicit some of the mathematical practices that occurred. Is it any wonder that our students respond, "Nothing," when asked by their parents or guardians what they learned in math class today. Let's not leave learning to chance and assume learners will use the skills that will help them to improve their mathematical practice.

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