“Hey, friends!” I say, lacking my usual certainty but trying to make today’s math into a fun, meaningful activity, “We are going to use some fun Christmas cereal to practice graphing!”
“It’s been awhile since we did much with graphing,” I continue. “Remember we can graph items to show information. Graphing is very useful for all kinds of things, and if you look, you will see graphs in newspapers, magazines, on TV, in all kinds of places!”
“Can we eat the cereal?” one of my turkeys asks.
“Well, possibly, probably, you know how that goes,” I say, “We need to use our supplies for math before we eat them!” I say with a smile.
“So, this is what we will do,” I begin. “You will get a graph page like this,” I say, as I project the graphing page from Teachers Pay Teachers on the “big screen.”
“Your shapes are kind of hard to really see,” I say. “The one that looks kind of like a triangle is…”
“A Christmas tree!” students say.
“The other ones aren’t quite as easy to tell…” I say with uncommon hesitation. “The snowman is the skinniest.”
“The star and the Santa hat are harder to tell apart,” I caution. “All the shapes are different colors, so you can’t say for sure that the green ones are trees or the red ones are hats. Here’s what I suggest: once you decide a shape is something, put it in that spot on your graph, and keep it there.”
“Let’s build this graph together.”
I get a small handful of cereal, and I let kiddos, one at a time, take turns placing the cereal into a square on the graph that’s still being projected. We go over graphing basics: start on the left and go left to right, put a cereal in every spot without leaving spaces open in between. Altogether, the group seems to be doing really well. This seems to be “clicking,” although the cereal shapes are confusing.
We make jokes as we put shapes in spots. “That’s a star with a broken leg!” I joke.
One of the turkeys says, “Santa’s hat turned purple!”
Through the confusion and the jokes, we decide on a place for each item, and we leave it there.
After the items are placed in the spots, I go over how we move the items slightly and put a small mark to remember where the items were for our graph. “You only mark where a piece of cereal was,” I state with emphasis.
“Once you have a mark in every spot that a cereal occupied, you can scoot all of your cereal from that row off of the graph and color it in,” I say and show.
I mark the star row, but I have a student mark the Santa hat row. Then, to be really tricky, I get one of my super-fast, kind of sloppy students to color in the squares.
I remind her, “Now remember, graphs show data or information. We have to color them very carefully—no scribbling or leaving lots of white space. A solid bar of color is a great thing in a graph!”
Maybe it’s standing in front of the class or it’s having her work shown up on “the big screen,” but she does some of the nicest coloring I have ever seen! I acknowledge her great work to the whole class, “Now that is how you color a bar for a graph! Beautifully colored!”
We continue to work on my sample graph together, laughing about the impossible to recognize objects, and doing our best to color the graph clearly. It’s a false hope, I soon find out, but I have just enough confidence in our abilities that I send the kids to work independently.
So, the moment of truth comes as I send the kiddos out to practice on their own graphs, and well, the truth hurts. It’s easy to “decide” on a shape when the whole class is goofing off and practicing on a shared graph that belongs to the teacher or… no one. But when these little kiddos get their own graphs, all of a sudden, perfect blob placement becomes a legitimate challenge!
Whereas I usually walk around, carefully focused on opportunities for specific reinforcement, today I am in my, “Aw, just say it’s a hat!” mode to get the turkeys to place the objects somewhere on their graphs.
Then, once cereal is on the graph, we get all confused about what went where! Ay, carumba! It gets to a point where we are just trying to get something—anything—graphed, and I start to realize that while graphs are meant to show information, if the information isn’t clear, it’s hard to do too much with a graph.
Somehow, we get our graphs complete. Not surprisingly at all, the students who are confident and capable in general, complete their Christmas Crunch graphs with minimal stress. I can ask about rows that have more, which row has most, and which has fewer or the least, as well as any rows that are the same.
The students who get confused and bewildered more frequently are nearly overwhelmed by this activity. When I look at their graphs and attempt to see if the graph represents the cereal, it’s impossible to determine what the student was attempting to graph! If I can ask about which has more, most or least, and we tend to have more 1:1 mini teaching sessions than quick question & answer talk.
On our way back to our meeting spot, I tell students they can eat their Crunch pieces as their reward for hard work and hanging in there. (Now, some kiddos want to save them, and I give only 2 choices: eat them now, or put them in the back of your cubby. I don’t have a bunch of extra baggies to distribute at the end of a hectic lesson, and the kiddos’ backpacks get messy enough, so I make them put them in their cubbies, which I know are fairly clean. I do not want them to go in pockets so students snack all afternoon and drop cereal everywhere, and students know that pockets are not an option!)
We make it over to our meeting spot, and I am honestly just grateful to have this activity done. Every so often, things go this way. The good news is that we practiced placing and marking items on a graph.
I actually end up talking about how, like I said in the beginning of the lesson, graphs are used to show information. When the information isn’t clear… our graphs don’t make sense.
“We talked about some great math words, though,” I say. “We talked about rows that had more, the row that had most, the rows that had least or fewer, and rows that had the same amount. Even CRAZY graphs made out of blobs of cereal can be good for practicing our math words!
“Your thoughts are so important,” I continue. “Tell me what you liked about this lesson,” I encourage.
“I liked the cereal!” more than one kid shares. Oh boy. I think to myself, I’m glad someone liked this cereal!
“Let’s talk honestly about the tricky parts of this lesson,” I continue.
“It was hard to know what was what,” a kiddo begins.
“Yeah!” another student continues, “They were blobs!”
“Oh yes,” I reaffirm. “I am betting you are the only kindergartners at Killip School who will do this graph! You lucky kids!” I add sarcastically but with a smile. (The kids nod—they really feel lucky! How funny!)
I guess a spoonful (or more) of sugar really does make things better!