# Embracing Her Rules

I want to preface this post with a declaration: My daughter Maria is the love of my life and being her mother is my greatest blessing.  That being said, to describe her as a “free-thinker” would be a sugar-coated understatement of my little non-conformist. (I mean would it kill her to play one game of Sorry by the rules?)

Enter Math-on-a-Stick.  The very purpose of the exhibit is to help parents help their children develop their own ways to make sense of ambiguity.  Relax, Mom!  Even a business teacher can do it!

My husband, Scott, creating a tile design.

But wouldn’t you guess, my sweet darling figured out a way to diverge.  Here she is making “caves.”

There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way.  She just threw me for a loop when it came to asking probing questions. Onto Malke’s table.  Maria decided to make a bird.

This is where the conversation gets good.

Me: How do you know it’s a bird?

Maria: (tossing paper) Because it flies. Let’s make another bird.

[She folds the paper once, makes her cuts, and opens the paper]

Maria: It’s not a bird.  There’s no wings.

Me: What do you think went wrong?

Maria: Maybe I didn’t make the cuts big enough.

[She grabs another paper and tries again with bigger cuts]

Maria: It’s still not a bird.

Me: Could we maybe try folding the paper twice instead of once?

[Bird-making, take 3 with two folds, instead of one]

Success.  We ate delicious food, we rode rides, we bought trinkets and treasures. But this conversation with my precious, independent child was the best part of the fair today.

This angel will be 5 years old tomorrow. Happy birthday, sweet girl.  I learn from you every day, and I am the luckiest mommy on the planet.

# An Open Letter and a Note of Gratitude

“I’ve been married for forty-two years which means I’ve been to forty-two state fairs.”  I’m not sure why this little tidbit from the Park-and-Ride attendant didn’t instantly put me in great spirits.

And then I walked up over the hill, took one look at Math-on-a-Stick, and the indifference melted.  The humble smile of satisfaction from Christopher Danielson was enough to warm the cockles of my heart for months.  But the kids and the konversations around shape, number, space, and patterns were nothing short of inspiring.  “This is exactly how I envisioned this,” Christopher said.  And his vision becoming state-fair reality is going to change the way parents and kids talk about math.  I love hearing kids explain their reasoning.  It’s what makes my job as an educator joyous.

Dear Adults: (all of us)

The children in your life are creative, driven, passionate, and intelligent.

GET OUT OF THEIR WAY.

Ask them how they see the pattern. Let them experiment with the shapes.  Let them lead the conversation.

Listen to what they notice. Encourage them to say more.

Then ask them how they know.

The “right” answer is so much less important than a child leading you on their own mathematical journey.

Thank you, Christopher.  Today you not only added a great new structure to the landscape of the Minnesota State Fair. But tonight, in hundreds of households, the conversation around mathematics is changing. And after nine more days, thousands more will get a chance to embrace this shift.  When my husband and I have been married forty-two years, we’ll go to the fair and stop by and listen to the kids talk at Math-on-a-Stick.

# The Stupidity of Number Flexibility (#TMWYK)

I’d compare the struggle between teachers and learners at the end of the year to that of a parent trying to carry a limp child to their bed.  Eventually they will both get there, but the parent is frustrated and the child is attempting to make things as difficult as possible.   In the end, neither party is probably happy.

Rather than focus on that inevitable struggle, I want to detail a fun experience (for me) that I had with my daughter this past weekend. Her four-year-old rebellion has included a resistance to completing her math and language at school and a refusal to engage in those conversations at home.  Grandma and Grandpa were in town this weekend, which gave me an opportunity to exploit her desire to impress them.

At school, Maria is given “problems” similar to the ones on this sheet.  They seem randomly chosen, and the children are given beads to model the problem if needed.

Given the opportunity to exploit the situation, I handed her 12 beads and wrote down 4 + 4, 5+3. 3+5, 2+6, 6+2, 1 + 7, and 7+1.

After protesting that 5 + 5 (her favorite after 4 + 4) wasn’t on there, she started sorting the beads into two piles.

I noticed:

• She knew 4 + 4 by memory and did not use the beads. (Same with 5 + 5)
• She sorted 5 + 3 into a pile of 5 beads and a pile of three beads.
• She did not grab the beads to do 3 + 5 but rather recognized it was the same two numbers and therefore totaled 8.
• 6 + 2 required her to count the beads but she did not grab new beads.  She simply rearranged the original piles.
• At 2 + 6 she was onto me and simply filled in “8” for the remaining answers.

Maria:  Mommy, this math is stupid.

Me:  Why do you think it is stupid, my sweet little bucket of sunshine?

Maria:  All of these are the same answer.

Me:  And what makes that stupid to you?

Maria:  It is just stupid.  Math is stupid. I never want to do math again.

(Awesome.)

This reaction makes me very curious about where her feelings of “this is stupid” comes from.  She’s only 4.  She has much less experience with “answer getting” than, say, a teenager.  Yet, her evaluation of the task being “stupid” seems to stem from the idea that if the answer is always the same, why do the problem in the first place?  Is the mentality of “answer over process” more innate than we think?  Or is it simply so pervasive in our education system that even my 4 year old has picked up on it?

Number flexibility is something I’ve made routine in my classroom as of late.  Detailing different strategies to arriving at the same result gives students a stronger foundation on which to build algebraic thinking.

Sigh.  It might be a long summer, but she’ll learn I don’t give up so easily.

# #TMWYK – The Return of the Sand Pool

It’s a tough time of year for teachers, and I don’t say that to garner any sympathy.  But I’m going to take a moment to deviate from the regular musings of my classroom and write about my favorite topic:  my daughter.  The discussion won’t be completely unrelated as I have learned a great deal about my students’ development of mathematical literacy while watching my daughter make sense of numbers, quantities and shape.  And of course, Christopher Danielson’s development and facilitation of Talking Math with Your Kids has encouraged me to continue the conversation with my own child.  Specifically, I appreciate that his daughter is a few years older that Maria so that I know what I’m looking for and what to look forward to.

Maria (3.5 years old) loves to be outside.  As soon as the snow melted, she insisted that it was now summer and hence every activity from that moment forward must be done in the great outdoors.  A personal favorite is the sandbox, with water.  I’m not opposed to the sandbox overall, but mixed with water, it becomes more like a swamp.  Plus, let’s face it.  It’s Minnesota. It’s Spring, not Summer, and taking out the hose just isn’t in the cards just yet.

So we made a deal that when the temperature on my weather app reached 70 or above, we could take out the hose.  In the mind of my three year-old, this meant that the first of the two digits needed to be a seven.  On Saturday, this lucky girl got to take out the hose.

Results as expected.

Sunday, I decided to test Maria’s understanding of these numbers.  She again asked “is it seven on the phone?”  I instead showed her Chicago’s temperature which was a balmy 82 degrees.    As expected, her response was “Aww, it’s not seven so we can’t do water.”   I know she knows 8 is bigger than 7, but hasn’t yet connected that a temperature that begins with an 8 represents something warmer than a temperature that begins with a 7.