“Hey, friends!” I begin, as I hold up a box of Lucky Charms cereal. “Has anyone had this cereal at their house?”
I smile as I watch hands shoot up in affirmation, knowing full well that kindergartners have a funny proclivity to answer every question with an exuberant “Yes!” whether or not “Yes” is applicable. In the land of kindergartners, we have all “been there—done that” with everything. (Did I get the kindergartners excited about math today, though? You bet!)
“Well,” I continue, with a true-life story—they just love hearing about my life--it’s hilarious! “When I was little, my mom almost always got us healthy cereal. Once in awhile, she would get us cereal like this, and my brother and I would get so very excited. When we got Lucky Charms, my brother would wake up early and eat all of the marshmallows!”
The kids audibly gasp in horror. They’re so sympathetic!
“To begin our math today, I want you to be like my crazy brother, and separate your marshmallows from the plain cereal pieces!”
I continue on to make sure the students are very clear about what they will be doing. “So, when you get your cereal, you will…”
“Sort the plain cereal and the marshmallows!” kids finish.
[A note about prepping this activity: I kind of “pre sort” the Lucky Charms, so that every kiddo has one type of marshmallow with 0, and one type of marshmallow that’s more than the others. I don’t take too much time as I do this, but it helps students with interpreting their graphs and eventually adding the marshmallows.]
As graphs and Lucky Charms are passed out, I quickly “check in” with students as I make my way around, having them tell me about their sorting. Students provide answers like, “I’m sorting out the marshmallows.”
“In front of you, you have a paper with all these lines all over it… We are going to use it to show the different kinds of marshmallows that each one of has…” I mention. (MP.5)
Hands shoot up, enthusiastically, and I call on a student who announces with confidence, “It’s a graph!”
“Ah, yes! It is a graph!” I reaffirm. “Why do we have graphs, again?”
Blank stares. I can almost hear a protracted, “Uhh…” Then one of my little turkeys who just absorbs information like a bone-dry sponge announces, “Graphs show information!”
“Exactly!” I almost exclaim out of sheer relief. “But we need more than one friend to know, so, girls and boys, mathematicians: Why do we have graphs?!”
Collectively, the kiddos declare, “To show information!”
We go through a quick refresher on how to set items on graphs, and my helper of the day actually demonstrates how to set out all of the rainbows in the first column—bottom to top, with one marshmallow in each space. I make the students watch with their hands up on their heads, which keeps them from trying to jump ahead and start without seeing the model. We start slow so the kids can work more efficiently later.)
The students are set loose to sort their marshmallows on their graphs (MP.5), and I remind them that everybody’s graph will be different, so they are discouraged from attempting to copy their neighbors.
When it looks like most of the students have most of their marshmallows graphed, I tease them by suggesting I get out glue to finish our graphs.
“I thought we get to eat them!” a student protests, with several nodding, concerned friends.
“But how will we show what’s on our graphs?” I ask, with feigned confusion.
A little future teacher raises her hand, indignantly, “Um, we could color them.”
Upsetting the turkeys is so much fun, but honestly, it leads them to see the purpose of replacing our concrete objects with representations. (MP.2)
“Oh yes, we can color them—great idea!” I reiterate. “As we color them in, we need to be very precise. Let’s remember what “precise” means—we talk about it a lot in math and science. Precise means ‘very careful’ or ‘exact.’”
We go over the procedure for coloring in the graph, including assigning a color for each type of marshmallow, so our graphs will really represent the different types of marshmallows effectively. (The kiddos remind me that we have graphs to show information.)
We also go over the importance of being precise as we color in our graphs.
“Yes, to be precise, I need to make little marks on the exact squares where I have cereal. I can’t color in just any old square, and I definitely can’t just scribble,” I caution.
I check that hands are up to ensure kids are watching, and I demonstrate sliding cereal pieces off and making small black marks in place of the rainbow marshmallows. Then I talk through only coloring—carefully, precisely—up to the last box that has a mark in it.
The students see exactly what they will be doing, and we are ready to begin practice! (MP.6)
I set the kiddos loose to begin coloring their graphs, and I circulate the classroom, asking questions and reinforcing student choices.
When students begin to finish, I make it over as soon as I can. This is one of the big differences post Common Core: in the past, building graphs for the sake of building graphs is kind of what we did in kindergarten. It’s okay—I did it, too!
Now, making a graph is a great way to attend to precision. Honestly, though, the graph isn’t the main focus, but how we use the graph to interpret data is the emphasis, which is wonderful!
Before, I enjoyed asking which row had most and which had least—now, in terms of comparing numbers, I know I basically must ask the kiddos about the quantities their graphs represent. It is so much fun getting around to the students and interacting with them as they compare quantities on their graphs! (MP.2, MP.5) Every kiddo is asked at least 2 of the following questions: “How many of ________marshmallows do you have? How many of ________marshmallows do you have? Which is more? Do you have any rows of marshmallow that are the same? How are the _________ marshmallows and the _________ different?”
Some of the turkeys are just so strong with their graphing skills and number comparing that they cruise through the first section of our activity with ease. It seems like they’re done—accurately and with precision, even! —in 2.3 seconds! I make them compare their personal graph to another student’s graph, but I know they need more. So, lucky for all of us, I made “more” for them to do after graphing! (It’s good to over-plan, I say…)
On a second, rudimentary page that I made from blowing up icons from the graph page and adding “+” and “=” signs, I have an addition extension page. This is where the zero quantity comes in handy. Well, to be honest, more than a few of my turkeys were confused with the zero quantity when interpreting their graphs—I think I’ve said a half dozen times, “Wait—zero is more than 1???” for students to self-correct when they mistakenly say that a marshmallow shape with 1 is the “least.” Oh, so tricky!
That’s just the beginning of my trickiness: I make sure the turkeys have to add 0 to at least one of their addition practice problems, as so many beginning addition students get confused when adding 0! It’s a great opportunity to clear up a common misconception.
One thing I notice: the kiddos who finish first can add without actually using their marshmallows as concrete manipulatives. The group that struggles a little with the graphing—also really tends to benefit from having concrete marshmallow counters for addition. In this case, students can actually set out marshmallows—including 0 marshmallows when necessary—and then slide the marshmallows to show that “altogether” sum, visually seeing that adding 0 to a group does not make the sum 0.
In my plan, I have students holding up their graphs to share with the class and discussing precise coloring or marshmallows with “most,” “least,” and “same” amounts. Today, though, we are late to recess, so we have a quick group summary and try not to be too obviously late for recess.
The students’ big question, and there is only one, is: “Can we eat the marshmallows?”
“For sure!” I answer, “Later!” I make sure the kiddos keep their cereal in their cubbies until the end of the day, but they do get to take their cereal with them!