We walk in from lunch, and I show the students a straight, horizontal line projected on the document camera. “What’s this?!” I ask.
“A line!” students say.
Next, I show a line of numbers, and I ask this time, “What’s this?!”
“Numbers!” students proclaim.
I get my “too excited for words” enthusiasm, and I announce as if I’m letting them in a big, exciting secret, “Girls and boys, we are going to put the line and the numbers together to make a ‘big kid’ math tool: a number line! Soon, we will use the number line to help us add!”
“Before we use the number line to add numbers,” I continue, “We need some practice finding numbers on the line, first.”
Number lines are passed out to every student. Next, students get 2 seconds to choose a bead—1 bead—from small containers that are on each table. (I pick up the containers after the beads are selected, so no one is tempted to either play with the remaining beads or keep switching their bead.) The bead will mark their spot on a number line.
Now, this is a pretty basic lesson. I start out very slow with my group of learners, because most students in my class have very limited early academic backgrounds, and I find again and again, every time I assume the kids know some basic skill, I have to go back and re-teach. Starting slow and paving a solid foundation is much preferred to that all too familiar moment when I realize, “Oops. We need to go back and re-teach some steps.”
I point out the big horizontal line, and we talk about how the line goes left to right. We repeat the phrase, “Left to right,” as we gesture left to right, sliding our fingers along the number line.
Next, I point out the small lines that mark each number along the number line. I mention that the exact place where the little line crosses the longer line is the place or point on the number line for each actual number.
“Let’s practice finding the number 3!” I announce. I talk out my thinking process so the students can see and hear: “I get my bead, go left to right along the number line, and I slide my bead (or my finger) until I get to the place where the little line over the number 3 crosses the big line. That exact spot is 3 on the number line! Now you show me 3!”
I circulate around the room, clearly stating, “Yes, you found 3!” or “Yep, that’s 3!” when students have their bead properly positioned on the line.
I take a second and show students the intersection of the smaller line on the number line and I point with my finger and get them to move their beads exactly to 3. “Now that’s 3!” I exclaim, enthusiastically.
To help us practice other numbers, I get my laptop and connect it to the Promethean Board to use a free virtual dice program. ( Here's a link to a free online virtual dice roller. There are a bunch of free virtual dice programs; the only thing that really matters is the option to limit your dice to a single die—we only practice numbers 1 to 6.) We start out slow, I tell ya!
Now, it’s a kindergarten thing, and my kids in general come from pretty low-tech backgrounds, but they actually gasp as the virtual die is rolled. (Seriously—I am not kidding! This is one of the reasons why I love kindergarten!)
Each time the virtual die is “rolled,” the die is projected on the big screen, and students move their beads. I move quickly, checking their accuracy.
Soon, kiddos are called to “roll” the virtual die, and we continue our group practice. Each time we “roll,” I circulate, and I realize that I need fewer and fewer “slow down” stops to clarify details for students. “We are getting it,” I think to myself.
When it seems like we’ve really “got this” concept, I bust out my “Find it on the Number Line” practice page. We do the first couple (or several, or the first side, based on student needs) together, recording the dots on the die (I think of dice as “number cubes”—I can’t help it!), writing the number, and, most important, marking it on the number line. Now we have proof of learning, which is so exciting!
A few kiddos want to mark the numbers below the line, and I show them that exact spot where they should be marking. Some kids don’t quite get that specific intersection between the big line and the smaller line is the exact spot where the number gets marked, but we go slow and practice.
Rather than tell a struggling, beginning learner that he or she is “wrong,” I like to help the struggling student, but also be very specific with my praise around the student. I say stuff like, “You marked that 5 exactly in the perfect spot! Fantastic!” (We all learn from each other, so let’s celebrate successes and provide helpful support, I say!)
As we wrap up our lesson, some students announce, “This was easy!” Indeed, in the overflowing vault of kindergarten math lessons, this is definitely a basic one, but I have found it is necessary.
“I’m glad to hear that! Tell me more about what made it easy,” I nudge. (If I could just let things be… at least once in awhile!)
“All you had to do was move your bead,” a student replies.
“And make a dot,” another student interjects.
“Have you ever had to make a dot like that before?” I ask.
“At my old school,” one of my Grade A turkeys responds, referring to the Head Start next door.
“No you didn’t!” a sassy girl corrects. “I was in your class and we din’t have no number line thingies and all you did was play with trucks!” (I try not to giggle as I listen.)
“Well, this was a first,” I say, uncharacteristically subdued. “And we started off simple--100% success, which is how I like it! It will get trickier, though, I promise. Now tell me about your favorite part of this easy lesson.”
Again, I think to myself, “I love this job!” as I hear student responses, like, “I like that my bead was purple. It’s my favorite color.” Or, “I like the dice thing on the big screen. I knew I would roll a 4.” A personal favorite: “I like the rolling sound,” [from the virtual dice program.] Ah, the things that make an impression in kindergarten!