Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rekenrek: State of the Art Instruction at SMC

I was observing one of my student teachers in a kindergarten class today during math time and ended up having my first experience with Rekenrek math. This is one of the wonderful things about supervising student teachers; I get to work with incredible teachers in public schools using state of the art instructional materials. I have known about this incredible approach to teaching young children about number but this is the first time I have seen it in action in a Vermont classroom. Developed in the Netherlands it is now promoted by many math organizations as well as the Math Learning Center, publisher of the Bridges Math program used in many of the elementary school in Vermont.

Looking a bit like a simple abacus, the math behind the simple beaded counting frame is just incredibly good math.  There are many different activities that can be done with this simple device but the one I watched this morning went like this. Two students each  draw a card from a pile of cards with numbers 1 - 19 written on them. They then make that number using the beads; but in a very specific way. If they draw 8, they move 8 beads on the top line to the right with "one finger push". This simple little command makes the student subitize as opposed to counting one by one. This helps students develop the idea of numeracy, the essential element of quantitative literacy. If students are allowed to push each individual bead across they will develop an over-reliance on counting and not develop good numeracy skills, the idea, for example of "eightness". If 17 was the number drawn, the top 10 beads would be moved to the right  and then 7 from the second row for a total of 17.

Once the number of beads has been slid across the frame  students take turns to roll a die with the words 'more' or 'less' on each face. If "less" comes up the student with the smaller number takes both number cards. This simple activity develops the difficult comparative concept of more and less. They then continue until all the cards have been used and a winner is declared. Jen Canfield, whose class I was observing in this morning uses the game aspect of the activity as an opportunity to teach children how to be good winners and losers. At the end of each game the two students look each other in the eye, shake hands, and the loser congratulates the winner. Isn't that cool. 

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