I tell the students that today we will be taste-testing scientist/mathematicians while we do our math. “This is BIG KID STUFF,” I say.
“We will be tasting some foods that we’ve tasted before, and at least one thing that you’ve never tasted,” I explain. “”Now don’t worry—you know me—I’m not going to make you eat something yucky,” I continue, “But you will have to try everything & keep an open mind. You’re scientists and mathematicians—you have an important job!”
We go over our scientific protocol, and we talk about how in math and in science, we need to have order and be precise. The ground rules are established:
Items are passed out and tasted one at a time, and I elicit descriptive words from the kiddos as they taste the items. The kids only need small amounts of each food—enough for 1-3 bites. The logistics of getting everything passed out to a large class can be challenging, and of course things like seating the more spirited scientists at different tables makes a big difference.
We taste 7 “apple” foods- fresh apple slices, apple juice, applesauce, apple butter (on Ritz crackers), dehydrated apple chips, Apple Jacks cereal, and apple pie. I explain that Apple Jacks have apple juice and dehydrated apples in them, but they’re not the healthiest—or the “apple-iest” apple food. I “talk up” the apple butter quite a bit, because it looks different and brown. In spite of my efforts, there’s at least one turkey who blurts, “Eww…” or “I’m not trying that! “ to which a “mom look” is shot in the child’s direction with a quick “Remember, friends, we have important scientist/mathematician work to do here, and we must take our job very seriously.”
We taste all of the items, and while I encourage the students to describe the flavors, I discourage comments like “This one’s the best!” I tell them that they can re-taste their favorites to select their very favorite, and I model thinking out loud while I re-taste less familiar items like apple chips and apple butter. We have a whole chat about how doing our serious big kid job means choosing the best taste for ourselves and not copying our friends.
I explain that we are each going to get an apple cut-out that will represent our favorite “apple food.” We each only get one apple shape, so our hard work picking just one favorite “apple food” is important. (I use Ellison die cut apples in apple colors-red, light green, and yellow-for our apples. I have the students remind us that the color of their apples do not matter at all in this sort.)
I show the giant apple-shaped sorting mats. I’m a sucker for cute stuff! Circles on butcher paper or even-off torn squares of butcher paper would work fine, but I have included an apple "tracer" to make giant apple mats like these. I just projected the image on my document camera & traced large apple shapes on butcher paper to make my apple sorting mats.
I ask the students why we have our mats, reinforcing responses until we arrive on something along the lines of, “The mats help us keep our groups separate. They provide structure.” (It’s good to throw in math terms, so I keep them coming, with lots of explanations as we go.)
We label each one with a different “apple food” name. “In math and in science, it is important to label our work carefully and be precise, or very specific, in our work,” I explain.
The scientist/mathematicians each bring their apple to set on an apple sorting mat. A bit of a bandwagon effect happens, in spite of my best efforts. When a child with a strong personality places his apple on the apple juice mat, a flood of apples end up on the mat. I try to counter this by picking another student who clearly really loves apple pie, but an odd sort of unspoken peer pressure is present.
After all apples are placed on the sorting mats, we glue them down with glue sticks, and I select one student from each apple to write a large number to show the quantity on the leaf of each mat. While the student writes on the leaf, the rest of us use our “magic writing fingers” to write on our “magic whiteboards in the sky,” reciting number-writing poems like, “Down-across-and down some more. That’s the way to make a four!” so that everyone is actively engaged.
We repeat this process for each apple sorting mat, being careful to point out the number labels on each sorted group. (In the past, when we sorted, the number value didn’t get my attention so explicitly, but with Common Core and the emphasis of “counting the number of objects in each category,” I am having fun assigning numbers to the groups.) Besides—it’s an extra chance to practice our numbers!
After the apples are all glued down, the fun begins. I hang the giant apple sorting mats in the hallway, and the quiet scientist/mathematicians come out to look at our work. “How did we sort?”
The students respond, “By favorite tastes!” and variations of the idea.
“Oh, I see,” I continue, always remembering that in kindergarten, sometimes you have to beat the proverbial dead horse. “So, it’s okay that the little apples on each mat are different colors, right?”
“Yes! The color doesn’t matter!” the little scientist/mathematicians announce, possibly a little too loudly in the hallway, but this is exciting stuff!
I continue asking “How many” questions for each group—being quick to ask any student whose attention might possibly be waning. (It’s so funny that the kids will continue raising their hands even when I don’t consistently call on raised hands, but calling on kids without raised hands is one of my way of keeping everyone engaged.)
We move into the fun questions about comparative words, like “Which type of apple food did most of us like?” “Which was the least selected apple food?” On the “least” one, I tend to gush a little about the student who made her own choice, even though her friends were all picking other things. In the sort we have today, there are not categories with the “same” amounts, but I would definitely ask about “same” groups if we lucked out and had that situation.