Monday, December 9, 2013

A Little Elf and Gingerbread House Math

I love the Elf on the Shelf.  The kids get so excited.  I love the creativity of coming up with fun ways to display her.  The kids are excited to come in each morning and search for our Elf, Trinity (last years class named her and she came back this year).  I love that the First Graders (last years Kindergarten class) come in a couple of times a week to say hello to her and wish the new class a great day.  I thought I would share a picture of her and Pete the Cat having a snowball fight today.

We also do a great big Gingerbread Man unit this time of year (which I also love).  We compare and contrast all of the different Gingerbread stories we read.  We re-enact the stories in dramatic play, we graph our favorite stories as a class.  We work on rhyming, patterns in reading and patterning in math when we build our houses.  We will go on a school wide hunt searching for our run away Gingerbread cookies, we make posters trying to find them (writing) and we label and describe Gingerbread people.  Today we started building our Gingerbread houses and we learned about being architects.  We also reviewed the difference between 2-D and 3-D shapes (square versus cube, triangle versus triangular prism).  I watched them problem solve how to make their building stable, negotiate sharing materials, use expanded vocabulary to describe how they built their house and overcame the problem of the walls falling down, and how they supported and helped each other when they needed help.  I listened to them talk about the patterns they were creating in their decorations.  I sat back and watched and listened and glowed in the knowledge they did not need me during this project.  I watched in amazement at the 100% engagement, even though I ran out of Graham crackers and all the children could not participate.  I watched in amazement as one child offer another child their crackers and said they would wait until tomorrow to build their house.  The children that had to wait until tomorrow started sorting the candies the amazing parents donated for the children who were building their houses.  I dumped the whole bag on the floor and watched them work together to sort by color, type and size and place the items into containers they found in dramatic play to hold all of the treasures.  I watched them count, make groups of 10 and laugh as they worked together with their classmates.  This was truly a magical day as a teacher.  Some other teachers say I am crazy for doing this project.  Too messy, too much time, too much chaos, but I would not teach any other way.  There were so many concepts being APPLIED.  Math, language, social skills, fine motor, vocabulary, story retelling.  But mostly I watched their minds growing, their imaginations taking off, I watched them learn, teach and mostly be the kind of learners and team mates that I am proud to say will lead our future.  Here are some pictures.  I hope you enjoy them.  I leave you with this thought, do messy projects that require the students to problem solve.  Get away from the worksheets.  Let go a little bit and watch the wonders of learning.  Play with a purpose.  Know what skills you want them to master, give a guide for reference, but not step-by-step instructions.  Let them struggle.  Let them use their brains.  Let them play.  Let them play.  Let them play.  That is when the true magic of learning occurs.  That is when the brain grows in amazing ways.  Let them be excited to learn by letting them be present in the experience.  Make it interesting, make it sensory, make it messy, make it meaningful.
Do you see the pattern work this child is doing?  ABAB around the plate he said as he was placing the candies in the yard.

This child tried four times to make the house.  It fell in three times before they finally figured out how to add icing (glue they called it) to fill in the cracks.  The interesting part was they referenced the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when Pa built the little house in the big woods out of logs and had to fill in the cracks.  Then they filled in the cracks with more icing and it worked!  I loved that this child made a connection from a story read in the fall. 

This child did not want a roof.  He had one, but he took it off.  I love that he was independent and knew he was safe to create his house his own way.  He wanted to use the sprinkles but could not apply the icing to the slanted roof so he made a flat roof that he could spread icing on without the structure falling into itself.  He said Santa could have a party on that roof!

This child was so interested in the fact that it took six squares to make a cube.  This child also listened to the other child at the table talking about filling in the cracks like Pa and said "That is a great idea, I am going to do that too!".

This child has a hard time writing but can read like nobodies business!  He struggled trying to get all of the pieces to stay together.  This was a very challenging project for him, but he did not give up.  He asked another child that had completed his house to come and help.  They talked about structure, and making things strong and the importance of where to place the icing.  This child said they wanted to be an architect when they grow up.


This was my guide piece.  During large group instruction I showed how to construct a cube and a triangular prism (yes, I use those words and so do they).  They were concerned about how to fill in the roof so I stuck a gingerbread cookie there and secured it with icing.  We talked about the importance of not eating the icing and candies (germs you know) and I let them know that I had a separate stash for eating.  We used Popsicle sticks to get our icing out of the container and we did NOT lick the stick (at least I didn't catch anyone doing that).  There was a great deal of finger licking though when the structures were finished.

The beginning of the process.  Each child had to count out the correct number of crackers needed (six for the house plus two for the roof means eight total).  Then they had to start talking about how to construct their houses.  It was so interesting to listen to their reasoning about how the house should be made.  This child said you needed the floor first so the walls had something to hold on to.

These are the students that did not get to make their houses today.  They are working together to sort, separate and store the donated left over Halloween candy graciously given to us by one of the parents.  The discussion on how to do this was priceless.

They used mats to sort by candy type.  I thought that was very smart problem solving.

Fine motor practice at it's finest!  There is nothing like icing to sweeten up a math lesson!