Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Loose Parts Math Lesson

Given time, space, materials and the ability to take risks children will investigate a variety of topics on their own. 
This week the children discovered what I used to call a "seesaw"( I'm probably dating myself here). There  used to be one every playground when I was little.  These days it is rare to see one.  They must have been deemed too dangerous by some group. 
A few children in my class made their own by putting a very long 1x4 across a stump that was on its side.  It started off as a ramp with the children walking up the ramp and then balancing as their weight shifted the board down the other side and walking off.  The play of a couple of children attracted many more as soon a flock of children were all clamoring to try out the board at once. 

From this impatience came the balancing lesson.  Several children took turns standing or sitting on each end and noticing that the board would stay up or go down as the children changed.  If the board was up one side, the goal became getting that side down and children would call for help from their peers.  

Through their play they started talking about the concepts.  "This side is heavier."  "This side has less kids."  "We need more people over here to get it to go down."

Sometimes it became the girls vs. the boys, separated on each side by their own accord.  "We need more boys, we need to make it heavier."  

This activity mimicked a similar experience we had presented several months earlier inside with pan balances and different bags of materials.  The same concepts were being learned.  But somehow, the inside activity did not elicit the absolute squeals of delight, the repeated engagement, the problem solving and the passion to keep trying new combinations day after day.  

Was there risk involved?  Absolutely.  
Did children fall off? Yes.
Did anyone get hurt?  A few bumped knees and such which were met with a quick hug or brushed off with an "I'm okay, I'm getting back on."  

We were close by reminding them to check their support and to give warnings to others if they chose to get off suddenly throwing off the weight, but that was part of the excitement.  When the weight proportion shifted-there was a dramatic change.  So much more memorable than the pan balance inside.
We were there to remind them to "have your hands out and to be ready to fall"-our standard line to children to let them know that we value risk taking, we trust them, and we expect that they will take care to be as safe as they can.  

I did not plan this math lesson.  However, my class was fully engaged in some very powerful learning and chose to repeat this experience again and again.  What we did do was provide loose parts on our playground and give children the time to use them in creative ways.  Then we supported their explorations, ideas and risk taking.  

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