We walk in after lunch recess on an early release Friday, and I present the students with a choice. They can use white boards—easy to erase and familiar—or iPads—less familiar and fun—to show all the different ways to make the number 7.
Before the kids can yell “iPads!” unanimously, I show them my iPad on “the big screen.” I show them the app—Kid Slate, which we have used before—and I show them how I choose a color for my writing. Then I deliberately make an equal sign with the parallel lines a little too close. They immediately become a skinny “z” with a weird diagonal line connecting them. I explain that if I try to erase that one line, I end up erasing everything! If I even try to write over it in a different color, everything gets erased then, too!
“Do we want to deal with this?” I ask, seriously. “Now, I am fine with a few ‘z-like’ equal signs, but this could really bother you. Now is your time to let me know that this is your choice.”
I look around—particularly at my perfectionistic buddies, but I don’t hear an objection from anyone, so I proceed.
“Like before when we start with the answer, I want you to show me the different combinations to make 7. UNLIKE before, though, we can use our newest mathematical operation…”
“Subtraction!” a student announces.
I affirm the answer, but I remind everyone, just to be clear: “Remember, you must alwavs have equals 7. Whatever you put together, the numbers must always equal 7 at the end.”
We begin working on iPads, and some kids are getting busy right away. A couple students announce, “But Ms. Novelli, I don’t know what goes to make 7!”
I insist, “Oh, sure you do! What if you have a pile of stuff, and you add 1 thing to get to 7? What would you need to add to 1 to get 7?” I watch students play with fingers to count 1 back from 7, and I quietly smile. It’s really important that, to the greatest extent possible, I take myself out of this part of the activity.
As I walk around, I am quietly stunned and hopeful. A couple students write 7 + 0 = 7 and 7 – 0 = 7. Wow! There’s nothing like seeing the Identity Property of Addition within 5 minutes of this activity in kindergarten! Show me a worksheet that can get a student to discover that!
Even more exciting, one little girl writes, “5 + 2 = 7,” and then immediately writes “2 + 5 = 7.” Hello, Commutative Property!
I circulate around our little iPad work area, watching the kiddos work. Some kids are zooming through their equations, and other kids are less successful. As much as I want to swoop in and provide scaffolds so everyone can be instantly successful, but I intentionally take myself out of the work session. I am solely an observer at this point.
As students begin to exhaust their options, I announce a “30 seconds more” countdown to allow all students an opportunity to finish their work.
I tell everyone to press the X and erase the iPads. Some kids are happy to oblige, but other kids—with iPads full of equations—are reluctant to clear all their work. I understand, and I affirm their hard work with an explanation that I will be asking them to remember the great work they did on their iPads so they can help us as we work together.
I call on students selectively, all but ignoring raised hands. I want maximum participation, and I know that some students only wrote a few equations correctly. I try to ask those students to share their correct moments so they can experience success.
When we get to the girl who wrote the commutative property, I ask her to share both of her equations. “Girls and boys—that is algebra! I announce with excitement. We talk about how it’s a sort of flip-flop: and I use 3 X 5” index cards that I wrote a 2 and a 5 on. I hold them up in one order: 2 + 5 = 7. The students combine the numbers with me.
Then, I flip my arms, still holding the numbers 2 & 5. This time we say “5 + 2 = 7. Wait!” I interject; “You mean, 2 + 5 = 7 and 5 + 2 = 7. They both equal 7?” We talk about how we flip flop the numbers around get the same answers. A student explains the commutative property in kindergarten terms. Very cool!
We discuss other combinations to make 7, as well. This time, we are sure to highlight subtraction combinations to equal 7, although it seems like we are celebrating everything, but it’s not every day that kindergartners have to figure things out almost entirely! (MP.2)
Soon, my iPad is full, and student iPads are filled with equations, too.
We talk about our equations, and we talk about our very full iPads. I stress that there are many ways to make 7, and we all had success! I ask them about the hardest part of the lesson, and one of my perfectionist friends immediately shares that he didn’t like the equal signs that turned into skinny “z”s, and I agree. I add that I also don’t like they we didn’t have an eraser for "little fixes.”
When we talk about our favorite parts, students love writing on the iPads! The things we complained about were the same things we loved working with! Only in kindergarten!