Hands-On Math

Last week, I observed the most interesting “maths” lesson with my Year 1 and 2 class. The students are beginning to learn about multiplication and division, and this was an introductory lesson to division. 

The lesson began with the teacher taking out different selections of math counters, and the students worked as a whole group to decide how they could best count each set of counters (by 2s, 5s, 10s, or less uniform numbers). Instead of telling the students the answer, the teacher allowed the students to make their hypotheses and test them. For example, one student said it would be best to count by 11s. However, when he attempted to do so, he couldn’t skip-count past 11. It was in this way that the students were led to draw their own conclusions about skip-counting with different amounts of math counters. Then, the teacher took out a selection of “mini-beasts”, which is used here to refer to insects or bugs. The students then worked to share the mini-beasts into groups of different sizes. 

Cooperative groups are differentiated for
the two major subject areas. 

After this practice, the students divided into homogeneous, skill-level based groups to visit a series of math centers. The students work in color-coded groups for morning work, literacy, and maths; literacy and maths groups are based on the students’ skill levels. At each center, the students were presented with two word problems and a visual aid. They used plasticine (play-doh) at each center to model the problems and solve them. It was amazing to see how engaged the students were with the activity, and many students that typically struggle were able to excel and explain their reasoning to their peers. This is so important for these students’ self-esteem and also helps cement learning more fully. 


Students work together to solve problems. 

After each group visited each center, the class reconvened as a whole group on the rug to discuss their findings. Then, using their experience at the centers and earlier in the lesson, the class worked with the guidance of the teacher to develop the division algorithm. I was in awe by how effectively the lesson led the students to naturally develop the algorithm. In my classes back at home, we have learned that the best practice with math is to allow students to explore a math concept, then develop an algorithm using what they have learned. However, in actual practice, this typically doesn’t happen, which causes many students to struggle with foundational skills; that, in turn, can cause problems later when solving more complex, multi-step problems. 

Experimenting with solutions leads to stronger schemas. 


All in all, it was a fantastic lesson to observe and assist with. I definitely plan to utilize this hands-on, exploratory lesson structure in my own classroom. 

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