Guest Contributor: Kim Heiligenberg
“Calling on my Math teacher friends. What resources do you love to help a first grader killing it in math? Want to make sure he keeps growing in the right direction. Thanks!”
This was a recent post on Facebook from a friend who once taught my oldest daughter English in fifth grade. She took extra time to do book studies with her to challenge her with stories advanced and complex. I was not a teacher at the time and did not appreciate how hard it is to find that extra time and energy; but now, now I could return the favor in a small way!
When my kids were little, I did what any math-loving degree holding mom would do and immediately focused on teaching them to count and add and subtract, all the steps that everyone needs to focus on to be good at math, right? Wrong. I only wish I knew then what I know now, which is that the very best mathematical gift any parent can give their kiddo is number sense.
The best place I could have started was to frequently compare things with words like more and less or larger and smaller. I would have shown my toddler three fingers and ask if they want more or fewer cookies. I should have had my first graders try to find the right size container to hold leftovers, used it, then decided if we could have used one smaller or need one bigger. I might have asked my third grader if it took longer to drive to school or the grocery store, may be used my phone to time them. Whoops, I didn’t have a smartphone then!
I did have my preteen help figure which size of peanut butter was a better price, and didn’t tell them that our grocery store showed the unit price on the shelf tag. My girls always liked to go to the grocery with me, I wish I had played the Goldilocks game before we checked out. In this game you pick an estimate of the total that you are sure is too small and one that is too big, then pick an estimate that you think is just right. The point isn’t to be super accurate (although it’s fun if you are) but to learn to recognize when answers are wrong enough to inspire more investigation.
As a math teacher, I realize now that number sense, not algorithms, is what gives math learners confidence as they explore new ideas. It allows students to recognize errors or misconceptions in their understanding. Just like a new reader can recognize the word “green” starts with a “g” and makes a guh sound, a math learner can recognize at a basic level that addition creates a larger number and subtraction a smaller number. All adults I have met have good number sense which they use every day, even the ones who think they aren’t good at math. Don’t be afraid, share your number sense and remember: Have a mathtacular day!!