We sing our Shape Song, including the part about squares. “Oooh!” I say, “Let’s sing that part again!” I say with a smile.
We sing the square verse again: “This is square, this is a square, how can you tell? How can you tell? It has 4 sides, all the same size—it’s a square. It’s a square.”
“Today, our math is all about squares! So how many sides does a square have?” I ask.
The students say, “4!”
“Okay, I’m thinking about our song we sing… What’s special about the sides? I will call on a friend,” I say.
I choose a student who says, “They’re the same size!”
“Oh yes! 4 sides, all the same size. That’s a square! Tell me again about our shape, friends!” I call out like a lunatic at a 2-dimensional shape pep rally.
The crowd of 29 beginning kindergartners cheer, “Squares!” (If a few say “circles,” I repeat my cheer again until virtually all of us are cheering something close to “squares!”
Let’s build some squares!” I say.
We move to our work groups at the tables, and using the document camera, I show the students how I can use 4 craft sticks—all the same size, like the song—to build an actual Craft Stick Square that I can take home & show my family. Since it’s the beginning of the year, we say our glue reminder, “Just a dot—not a lot—a little dab of glue will do!” over and over. We practice the glue reminder as I demonstrate how to glue the corners of my craft stick square together.
As the students begin their practice, I make sure to circulate quickly, being certain that students have written their names on their squares—and more importantly, that their squares have 90 degree angles at the corners. (They can easily become rhombuses when little hands glue them together!)
I am a huge fan of having tangible artifacts when working with all students, but particularly with young students. Why not build a square while we talk about squares? It just makes sense, and it seems to make things more concrete.
We move onto our All About Squares page that I created, which provides opportunity to trace the 4 sides---all the same size—of the square. (Gee, do I go over that enough?! Goodness!) Repetition just seems so helpful, and building familiarity early in the school year helps students individually and helps with classroom community building.
The real world example is most quite possibly my favorite part of this activity. For one thing, Common Core mentions shapes in the environment, not just shapes for the sake of knowing shapes, but more importantly, students get excited when they get to bring learning to life. So when a kiddo says, “This cracker is a square!” talking about a saltine cracker, there’s an enthusiasm and meaning that extends the qualities of a shape beyond a set of rules and makes the shape real.
We talk about some examples of squares in the real world, and I try very hard to accept or build upon any answer. For instance, if a student says a door is a square, I will say, “It has 4 sides—it sure does! Hmm… are they all the same size? Ooh! Right next to the door, do you see my ‘Home, Sweet Classroom’ sign? That has 4 sides too. Are they all the same size?” The student responds “Yes!” happily, and I say, “Way to find a square right next to the door!” It’s a crazy habit of mine to never let a beginning learner realize he or she is wrong… unless it’s a private realization that will somehow enhance his or her learning.
We count and write the sides of the square. Since so many of my students are beginning, beginning(!) learners, I use my trusty yellow marker or highlighter when a student needs support forming a 4 so early in the year. It saves me time (as opposed to making little dotted lines which can be super tedious), and it provides students support so we can all get on with our learning.
When we get to talking about the corners of the square, I actually talk about corners, as we are truly a language limited class. Those concepts that we tend to take for granted can still be pretty undeveloped for many of my students, so we take a moment to talk about corners. It’s always fun to see some of the students who needed a yellow 4 on for the 4 sides attempt to write an independent 4 so quickly. It may not be perfect, but learning is about taking risks and going for it!
The bottom portion of the paper, coloring the squares, can be done independently. This allows you to see how much a student knows about squares, and it frees you up to work with students who may need some extra support.
I encourage students to take their time and really color the squares only—not every shape—and also, not big scribbles that make every shape get colored, even if that wasn’t our plan. “We’re in the big school now,” I remind them.
To be effective, the closing of the lesson really needs to be all about the kids. I ask students to share different real world examples, encouraging students who drew different examples of square-shaped objects to come up and share their papers on “the big screen.” This accomplishes a couple things: the kids feel like the stars of their learning, which they are. The students see each other’s work and even so early in the year, realize that they can and will learn from each other. There’s a kid’s square included with beautiful coloring—perhaps not so much for the object itself, but for the example of quality workmanship. Finally, my devious plan is to encourage original thinking, so I choose squares that are unique. This beginning of the year stuff is so much more than basic skills. It sets the tone for the year.
Back in our pep rally mode, I ask to wrap up, “What did we build today?!” with a bit more enthusiasm than I’d like to admit to adults, (but it helps to keep them excited about learning!)
“Squares!” students cheer.
I call on individuals—not usually students with their hands raised, and I rapid-fire (or as rapid as I can get on the second week of kindergarten!)—“What’s the shape we made?” to one student, then having the whole group repeat “square,” followed by, “How many sides does a square have?” quickly to another student who answers, “4!” which I again make everyone repeat. I continue this questioning about corners and the number of sides, randomly choosing students and then insisting that everyone be part of our wrap up. It keeps the students focused and engaged.