Thursday, May 12, 2016

Orca Beans and Math

Bobble, our classroom "pet" (a rabbit in a hat puppet!) had a little surprise for us this morning: a small cup filled to the brim with beautiful black and white beans.

We've been knee-deep in seeds and planting so the children guessed right away that they were seeds. I gave them the hint that the beans were named after a black and white animal. A zebra bean? A skunk bean? A cow bean? A panda bean?

I asked them if they had ever heard of an orca. A few students knew that this was a name for what is more commonly known as the Killer Whale. I explained that these beans were called orca beans because of their shine and their black and white pattern. 

Our sensory table has been filled with a variety of dried beans and seeds for a few weeks. The children sort the beans into cups, use their construction vehicles to scoop and dump, explore capacity, and just enjoy the sensory experience of running their fingers through the beans.

Today I offered them the provocation of finding 25 orca beans in the sensory table! I showed them the 10 frame tracking sheet that would be nearby and we talked about how we'd know we had found all the beans. I was surprised at how hard it was to spot the orca beans among the black beans, navy beans, yellow and green split peas, and kidney beans!

We started with a huge group of children surrounding the table but as the interest wore off there was a core group left. I loved seeing how they worked together and hearing their conversations about how many more they needed to find (by counting the blank squares on the 10 frames). Their approach shifted from carefully sifting to scooping up handfuls and letting the beans drift slowly as they watched for the orca beans. 

This exploration was a popular centre all day long. Sometimes the same children would find all of the beans only to pour them back in again and start all over! 

When we weave math instruction into play we see students who are usually less engaged (during formal instruction) diving in, asking questions, sharing their ideas, and growing their understanding. They choose to think mathematically and learn as they play. 

This is the beauty of play-based learning!

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