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Math Vocabluary and The T-Shirt Project

by Early Math Counts

I’m out visiting students at their practicum sites again.  At the beginning of the semester, I visit each student and spend an hour or so observing them work in their classrooms with the children and the other staff.  I never know what I am going to see; sometimes I am on the playground, and other times I am observing circle time.  It doesn’t really matter since every part of the day is important and equally valid when observing adult-child interactions

Yesterday my student set up an activity at one of the tables that children could work on during free choice time.  She had cut out paper t-shirts in 3 colors and in 3 sizes.  There were markers and glue with a variety of things that could be glued to the t-shirts.  As the children were sitting down, she asked them if they wanted a little t-shirt or a big t-shirt and if they wanted yellow, blue, or green.  At first, each of the children simply asked for a “big, yellow t-shirt, or a small, green t-shirt.”  The last child asked for a “big, blue t-shirt” so my student took out a big, blue t-shirt and handed it to him.  He said, “No, I want a big one.”  She responded with, “This is a big blue t-shirt.”  This went back and forth a couple more times until he pointed to one of the other children and said, “Like his.”

Lo and behold, there were 3 sizes of t-shirts: small, medium and large.  Since he didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what he wanted, he used the vocabulary that was given to him: Big and Small.  However, these choices didn’t work because he wanted “the biggest” t-shirt which only works if there are varying sizes available.  Big and small leaves out a whole category – medium.  When we discussed this after my observation, my student knew that she was only using the two adjectives, but thought it was preferable since the children already know Big and Small and she was confident that they could describe their preferences with these two categories.

We talked about how children build knowledge based on what they already know.  If the children already have cognitive structures in place for Big and Small then it makes sense to introduce another concept that builds on those.  I suggested that she could use Small, Smaller, and Smallest to describe the variations, or Big, Bigger, and Biggest which would also work.  She could go back to the original idea and use Small, Medium, and Large since those would be the accurate terms for sizes of clothing.  It doesn’t really matter as long as the relationship between the sizes is emphasized.

This is a good example of how opportunities arise at all times of the day to support early math concepts.  I am so glad I was there to see it.

One Reply to “Math Vocabluary and The T-Shirt Project”

  1. Jen:

    You are so fortunate to witness those in which everyone in the class is learning ! Teachers are thinking about their thinking as they guide the thinking of the class – and the children are processing and making connections –

    Last night in CD 101 we were talking about cognitive theory and information- processing and why we are taught to fear \”math\” – most students who fear math did not go to schools who had teachers who saw math as language and that math is science and science is math and we use them everyday – in fun ways such as selecting a T-shirt 🙂

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