Sunday, April 1, 2012

Play learning with Math - Right Start Math!

Having a conceptual learner and an active child, I have learnt to be very creative with my teaching methods. Here's what I mean.

As part of the Smurfs activity we did (which I created a free activity pack so head on there to download if you are keen), I extended our session to using a Geo Board to create a maze for critical thinking skills development. We also added the villians by pasting them on popsicle sticks at the wrong turns and adding Papa Smurf at the ending point. Ha ha

What prompted me to start on a curriculum with Dumpling was that she began grasping the concept of simple addition and subtraction using her fingers some time back and I was getting sick of number lines.

We first started with the series "Math Start" which uses stories to teach Math. My Playschool created some printables which were certainly very helpful but I did not have enough time to create the printables to match the rest of the books. (I did create some and I will upload in a future post to share).

I was introduced to Right Start Math by a friend who used the set with her children and wanted to sell it off and thought that it would be suitable for Dumpling and I. After reading and researching a bit, I decided to buy over the set.

Dumpling and I have been using for more than a month or so but we do not have a fixed structure of working on a said items / activities daily. We also do not use this daily as it depends on how much time we have and how her attention span was that evening. We have been working on the "later" sessions somewhat very slowly because I wanted to ensure that Dumpling has a firm grasp of the Math basics and I really wanted to lay out the foundation properly before moving onto another lesson. This is especially so as the lessons do get progressively harder.

Right Start Math is a hands-on method of counting and teaching concepts through visualising, grouping, using cards and the abacus. Because of Dumpling's learning style, this system works very well for her.

From the start, it uses a grouping method for the child to add up to 10 using a group of 5 as the "base". This is done through a song-based approach and what the curriculum calls "tally sticks".

What works for us so far are basically three things: Dumpling's learning style (visual/audio learner), that it includes some manipulatives (which I personally feel that this is important for young learners in keeping them engaged and ensuring that they understand) and lastly, that I make it into a game at every chance.

For someone as young as Dumpling, I am very mindful of making it fun and enjoyable. So even with this curriculum, I will add on my own ideas. 

Below is an illustration of one of the cards included in the series which I turn it into a game with Dumpling (we use it for memory games or she and I will take turn to flip over a card where the first person who is able to "count" how many beads there are on the card gets a point, etc.) The beads on the cards below also coincide with the beads on the abacus so with repeated "exposure", it helps the child to process and "subitize" a group of 5 for faster and easier calculation.

I also felt that the program lays the steps slowly as the book consists of daily lesson plans. Each session slowly leads up to the next. Hence, I did not feel rushed and I felt comfortable as the program was well structured. The author also advises for the parent to spend as much time as possible on each lesson till the child understands before progressing further and this was exactly what we did.

For e.g. when the child first starts on this, the approach was just using a song to teach how 5 + X = Y. Though the singer did it almost in a soprano style (lol), Dumpling caught on quickly. Even when the child was taught that with a song, the sessions did not immediately skip to that but instead, lets the child work her way up with tally sticks and fingers adding up to 5 slowly.

After being taught how to represent 1 - 5, the child then works up to 10 using "5" as the base. For e.g. in the song, the first 2 lines are "Yellow is the Sun, 6 is 5 and 1". So as the child sings this, the tally sticks / fingers are used to coincide with the lyrics. This is done all the way up to 10.

Below, you can see an extension exercise I used with Dumpling to let her explore on her own to derive at how 5 units + 1 ended up being of the same length 6 with a montessori set that I have.

The curriculum also does not shy away from introducing terms / shapes such as "quadrilaterals" / "parallel" early on. I thought that Dumpling would not understand but it turns out that she did. Here she was introduced to an Isosceles triangle which she built on her own after I have explained to her what that was. 

So far, the curriculum seems to be working out well for us as we both enjoy the game cards and approach. If for that evening she does not want to try anything new, I usually let her create maze / shapes with the Geo board too - from the free play she learnt how to make various types of triangles and shapes in various sizes on her own.  

Recently, I dug out some card games I kept from in the storeroom and Dumpling was able to tell immediately which card had 4 and which, 5. From the addition song, she was then able to tell me that the nuts added up to 9 within a few seconds.

I then upped the stakes and added a row of 10 to 5 (removed 4 away). I had Dumpling show me how that looks on the abacus and then I drew out the blocks and had her write the number equation. These were done with very minimal assistance from me. 

So on the whole, Right Start Math seems to work for Dumpling as she is a very conceptual learner. Once she understands that 5 + 4 =  9, when I swop the numbers around to 4 + 5, she gets that it is the same thing. I do feel that the manipulatives and song based approach play a big part here.

Like I shared earlier, we are still very early into the curriculum. I am not sure how the rest of the lessons pan out but if the rest were to scaffold properly and slowly and there are more games to come, I'd say "Bring it on!" :)

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