Last Friday we engaged in a fascinating math lesson in the fourth grade. Students used a math manipulative/construction tool called INTOOBA. They each had a turn to build a structure and then gave directions to their partner to build it without using any visual cues. It was so interesting to watch this learning unfold.
One of my co-teachers and I modeled how it would work. At times I would step outside my role with my partner and share my thinking and my process out loud. “Do you notice how I’m touching the structure as I go? It’s helping me keep track of what I’ve told Ms. Rogers to do since I can’t see her progress.” “Watch my hand. I’m putting it on top of this connector to help me figure out what direction to tell her to turn and how far.” Demonstrating also gave me empathy what my students would experience as they did it. I could refer back to my modeling if I needed to when I talked with partners.
I saw students adeptly give directions, and I saw students be less specific, for example, saying that it should “look like a laser.” Sometimes the errors came from the way the direction was given, and other times one occurred because of the way that the listener interpreted the directions. I got insight into who has a visual thinking strength and how students communicate their spatial sense. I could see how students handled frustration and who had persistence to push through their challenges. I also noted students who needed a little scaffolding in this lesson and gave it to them as needed. I watched fascinating strategies unfold, for example, one student figured out which direction in the classroom was north and directed her partner to make the rod point north.
Additionally, one of my goals was to provide a different sort of math experience. Unfortunately, it’s true that by 4th grade some students have already decided that they don’t like math. I feel a deep responsibility to show students the many faces of math. It was gratifying to hear students exclaim that this math was actually fun. When students wrote in their math journals to respond to the reflection questions, many replied that they learned that math was also about communicating or that math didn’t always have to be about numbers. This feels like a good first step on our 4th grade journey into math explorations.
I love having the opportunity to sit back and watch how students tackle a task. I think it’s important to be a “watcher of learners” and to carefully observe what tools students are using and which ones they’re ready for next. I need to remember to create multiple opportunities to informally assess their skills in this way throughout the entire school year.