“Girls and boys”, I say with enthusiasm, “The spinners are back!” We let out a “Woo Hoo!” cheer. (I remember how much the kiddos loved the spinners back before Winter Break.) We are sitting in a giant circle in our “meeting spot.”
I show the spinners with a green insert with numbers to 10, and I continue, “We will be using our spinners to show us how to spin and build numbers. Then we will record our number—and our partner’s number—with big kid colored pencils on the paper.”
“Okay, where’s my helper for the day?” I ask, and my buddy comes over with a big smile. While I’m thrilled that my buddy is excited to help, I have to realize that my buddy is a super bright kid, and his progress won’t necessarily reflect the understanding of most kiddos in class. I will have to gauge student understanding based on the kids watching… not necessarily my buddy, which can be tricky. (There’s also that classic kindergarten phenomenon to contend with, when asked, my kindergartners almost always seem to respond that things are “Great” and “Yes,” they understand everything! Ah, kindergartners!)
I make a spot right next to me for my buddy, and I get us each a row of 10 same-colored Unifix cubes. We get matching colored pencils, as well. He picks green and I take blue, and I make a point to say that I don’t need to have my favorite color to do math. I put our recording sheets on white boards for a flat surface, since we’re playing on the rug. (Since I don’t explain this, it will later be cause for confusion for my buddies. Some of them will go to tables and then try to get a white board to write on underneath their papers! Oh boy!)
The kids are excitedly watching our demonstration, as I realize that our “procedure” is identical to how we introduce new math work stations, which explains the excitement level. They can’t wait to see this activity! (We do math work stations after our math lessons a couple days a week, and the kiddos think they’re playing but they’re actually practicing math. I’m so sneaky!)
I let my buddy spin the spinner and tell me his number, 10. He is pleased, as he’s already figured out that 10 is the biggest number he can get. Next, he builds his number with his cubes. Then he colors his recording sheet with his colored pencil to show his tower. I’m narrating the steps as he works.
Now—this is where it gets tricky. I need to record his tower on my page as “My partner’s” and I slowly talk through this step, really working to keep the kiddos engaged to hopefully help when they get to practice. I show everyone that I need to mark the “My Partner” side, making a big deal about how we can read the word, “My.” “We use what we know, and our great reading helps us!” I exclaim. “So what do we look for?” I ask again, just checking for understanding.
“You look for ‘My!’” students answer.
“Yes,” I continue, stressing, “For my partner. I am going to mark my partner’s number right here.” I demonstrate writing a 10 in the box on the right, and I ask my buddy if I can use his colored pencil to color in 10. He’s happy to share his colored pencil.
Next, I spin, and I get a 7. I count 7 cubes and pull the last 3 off my tower and hold up 7 cubes. I demonstrate and narrate how to write the numeral and record the quantity, while my buddy records my information under the “My partner” side.
Now, it’s time to compare. “Who’s number is bigger?” I ask. My buddy, joined by our class, says that his number is bigger. For concrete learners, I hold up my cube tower next to my buddy’s to exemplify that his is, in fact, bigger. We demonstrate how to draw a line under the larger number.
I also make a point about how I react when my number isn’t the larger number. It’s important to model sportsmanship and to reiterate that “You win some; you lose some.”
We repeat the process again, and I notice that my buddies are getting restless. Is it possible they could understand this concept so well? I am hopeful, and I am personally so excited to get the kiddos doing this activity that I’m willing to take a chance and send them off to practice.
I get my free partner picking cards that I have stacked in pairs, and I carefully pass them out to students, trying my best to build pairs that will work well together and have success. At first it’s easy to pair a student who is academically strong and a partner who has strong social skills. As I am passing out my cards, I remember that one of my students got picked up early for a dentist appointment, and I realize that I need to take a partner
I choose a buddy who needs a strong partner, but I realize that I will need to focus a lot of attention on my buddy, and I will be limited in my ability to circulate and support other students.
Materials are distributed and partners are working, but I notice quickly that students are confused. They’re having a fabulous time spinning, building, and writing, but I realize I needed to make a stipulation for when the second partner spins the same number as the first partner.
We stop and discuss the “spin to be sure to get different numbers” addition to the rules, but before I can really see how students are doing, I am helping my buddy and the other groups at my table. We are breaking down the process step-by-step at this one table, but I am aware that, in general, we jumped off to practice too quickly.
After a 2-minute warning, we gather up materials and wrap up this lesson. I ask how the lesson went, and as only kindergartners can do, they answer with a sea of “Good!” “Good!” “Great!” replies, and I restrain myself from laughing. This lesson was “good” like my 5’2” self is tall! I ask about comparing numbers--the whole point of the lesson--and they immediately go into who got more of the bigger numbers. So competitive, so young! Stubborn as a mule, I get us back on track, saying, "Yes, but I wanted you to compare numbers. Did you all compare numbers?" to a chorus of "Yes" responses. "Then you are all winners!" I say with exuberance.
I ask what they liked about the lesson, and they--not surprisingly--note that they liked the spinners and building towers and getting the bigger number.
I press on, asking what was tricky about the lesson, and some kids admit that they weren’t exactly sure where to put the numbers. One student says he’s not sure what to do when they both have the same number, and I get that ever so-grateful feeling of, “I’m glad they listen closely to me!” Admittedly, several students were having so much fun playing that they missed the little note about the same-number re-spin.
I tell the students that this was tricky—that we needed more practice—but we will get that practice together and try this again. The students cheer at the thought of playing our spin, build and compare game again. I smile wearily, knowing that we will do this again, and we will get this! (I just wish it all could’ve happened today!)