Thursday, March 26, 2020

A New Favorite

    Something I've been carrying around in a folder for years finally got a trial run this past winter in one of the grade 2 classrooms I visit, and it was a big hit.  Lifted from the Georgia Frameworks (you can find a detailed lesson plan, directions, and game sheets in Grade 2, Unit 1, pgs. 80-89), it's called Capture the Caterpillar, and if I can make any sort of contribution during this current crisis, it's an activity I'd highly recommend.  It will work just as well at home as it does in the classroom.
    Capture the Caterpillar combines place value, comparing numbers, addition and subtraction, number sense, and strategy as you attempt to get as close to a target number as possible.  All you need are:
  • A deck of cards (10s and face cards removed, though Queens can be 0s)
  • A pair of dice
  • A game sheet and a score sheet 
  • Counters or anything that can stand in as counters, such as beans, paper clips, etc.
Here's how it works:

  • Pick two cards and generate a target number.  In the example above either 28 or 82; I chose 28.
  • Roll two dice.  Find the sum.  Take that many counters.  I rolled a 3 and a 2 and that makes 5, so I took 5 counters.  
  • Place the counters in the caterpillar and try to get as close to 28 as possible.  You can place them anywhere you want, but you need to use them all. 

Here I made 14.  1 ten and 4 ones.  That's 14 away from 28.

23.  2 tens and 3 ones.  That's 5 away.  Closer... but can we do better?

32.  3 tens and 2 ones.  How far away from 28?  Is this the closest we can get?  How do you know?

     In the above example, 32 is the closest number to 28 we can make given the 5 counters.  We would score 4 points because the difference between 32 and 28 is 4.  Play as many rounds as you like (in the game it's 5) and try to get the lowest score possible.
   Here are two second graders playing this game.  Their target number is 22 and they have 9 counters.  Pay attention to how they collaborate; how they count, how they determine the differences between their numbers, how they talk through the rules, how they plot strategy:

Here's a completed scoresheet:

Two more versions:

Some notes:
  • The Georgia Frameworks include only the 100s and 1000s caterpillars.  Honestly, it's been so long I'm not sure where the 10s caterpillar came from.  I can't find it on either the new (2019) or older (2014) edition of the Frameworks.  Did I do a cut and paste job and make it myself?   Here's the image in a google doc.  Or you can make your own.  Better yet, have your kids make it!  (Actually you don't even need the caterpillars.  Just circles will do.)  
  • The scoresheet in the Frameworks has a column for expanded form.  We eliminated that column and replaced it with a column to indicate the difference between the two numbers. Here it is.   We were about to experiment with having the kids plot their target numbers along with their attempts on a number line, but never got the chance. 
  • An alternative to competing against another individual or team is competing against your (or the class's) best score.  I like that better anyway.  
  • For a change, try to make the number that's farthest away from the target number and try for the highest score possible.
  • Try it with 3 dice. 
  • Forget drawing cards and trying to get close to a target.  Instead roll the dice, grab counters, and see how many different numbers you can make.  Is there a systematic way to go about the task?  Is there a relationship between the number of counters and the number of different numbers you can make?  
  •  One possible assignment: take a picture of a set up and ask students to come up with the   closest/farthest number possible.  This is a good number sense routine.
    My hope is that this activity can be used by parents working with their children at home and teachers working virtually with their students.  I can only imagine what it must be like for all those trying their best to continue to provide meaningful educational experiences for their kids right now.  Know that, when all is said and done, you will be counted among the many heroes who held our society together during this most difficult and challenging time. 


Sunday, March 1, 2020

Math Class Needs A Makeover Turns Ten

     Ten years ago this month, on March 6, 2010, a tall man in a maroon sweater vest gave a Ted Talk.  It clocked in at 11 minutes and 24 seconds.   Here's how he described what he did for a living:
     "I sell a product to a market that doesn't want it but is forced by law to buy it.  I mean, it's just a losing proposition."
     He called the talk "Math Class Needs a Makeover."  His name was Dan Meyer.  He was a high school math teacher, and he was tired of losing.


     How long does it take to change your life?  I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw it.  Sitting at my computer in Room 10A, in that elementary school somewhere off the New Jersey Turnpike, I was an unlikely math specialist with a very conflicted relationship to the subject, searching for something, anything, that might make a difference in the lives of the basic skills kids I was supposed to be helping.  What I saw took my breath away.  Here was an actual math teacher giving voice to and validating everything I felt was wrong about math instruction while showing a way forward.  It was a manifesto.  It was a challenge.  And, for me, it was nothing short of revelatory.  From there it was a few mouse clicks to his blog, which I devoured, anxiously awaiting each new post, and his "Blogulty Lounge", where I discovered the work of Andrew Stadel, Fawn Nguyen, and Michael Pershan, among others.  (I'll admit here for the first time that it was years before I got the pun: of course an online Faculty Lounge was a Blogulty Lounge.)  I began to experiment with ideas I found in this new online universe in the K-5 classrooms in my school and, in emulation, started my own blog as a way to record and reflect on that work.  How long does it take to change your life?  11 minutes and 24 seconds.


     Ten years, 33 languages, and over 2,800,000 views later, "Math Class Needs A Makeover" is as powerful and important today as it was then.  Will we ever truly be able to measure its influence?  One of the very first comments on the talk came from a 17 year old named Timo Bronseth.  He wrote:
     "By the time Meyer's idea has overthrown our school system, maybe I'll be teaching it!"  
     Timo's now 27.  I'd like to imagine he's out there somewhere, doing a 3-act task with his class, trying to overthrow the system.