Building solid a understanding of mathematical concepts is at the heart of KG
When I was at school, I hated maths. I remember even from as young as 5, thinking I was useless at it. I just couldn’t remember all of the times tables, I would forget the rules for addition and quite frankly, I didn’t care about them. So why, as a teacher today is it my favourite subject of all?
By Oliver Allport, classroom teacher KG Green
It wasn’t until years later, when I was at university, that maths was presented differently, and a connection was made between all of those years of learning by rote and the reality of what numbers are composed of. All of a sudden, my fear of maths vanished and a deep interest and love for it was born.
Exploring the meaning of number
Conceptual understanding is the foundation for building a love for maths. In kindergarten, our math lessons are all about the concepts. Through play-based inquiry, the children are exploring the meaning of number in concrete, tactile form. In KG Green, some of the children have been exploring larger numbers using the Numicon. Numicon are a system of flat plastic shapes with holes in. Each shape representing a number from one to 10 and each number has its own colour.
By allowing children to explore these numbers themselves in such a visual way, allows them to physically see what those numbers are made of and how they can be broken down. Some great observation statements came from the children in this activity. For example, when we ran out of tens, one child said ‘Look, we can make more tens by just using two fives together’. This kind of unforced, natural statement coming from the children directly, is exactly what we are looking for in our inquiry into number and the concept that numbers can be partitioned is being solidified in the mind.
Representation and Problem Solving
Part of understanding concepts well is being able to explain and represent the problem in different ways. These reasoning skills take time to hone and that’s why, in KG, we try to incorporate as many different physical resources into the learning as possible. Children have fantastic imaginations and they are surprisingly creative in their ways of representing problems. When the children go onto more complex problems, they already have this foundation of understanding the concepts and the skills to represent the problems in various ways.
In the example below, 2 children used shells and pegs to create seagulls in order to count how many wings they would have altogether. You can also see that this particular child has moved on to representing it using a picture and then finally, I exposed him to the traditional written calculation.
Building a solid understanding of mathematical concepts paves the way for a more positive attitude to an often feared subject. Much maths anxiety comes from the idea that maths problems are usually right or wrong, black or white. By allowing children to discover and explore concepts thoroughly, we build confidence. When they are right, they know why they are right and they have the ability to explain why they’re right and this takes away the anxiety.
Draw, represent and explain
Children don’t have to remember what half of 30 is (one I could never remember at school) because they know what half means. They know how to draw it, represent it and explain it. Of course, at some point having knowledge and facts in maths can be useful, but this doesn’t replace understanding and shouldn’t be the bedrock of learning.