Math for Kids of all Abilities

I visited a first grade class this morning at McNair Elementary school in Herndon. I am often amazed at the range of abilities I see in classrooms. Today was no different. The group of mostly 6-year-olds were learning about place value by playing with little plastic or foam cubes. To represent the number 26, for example, they made two "towers of 10" or built two stacks of 10 cubes, and then added six individual cubes.

Early in the lesson, the students sat cross-legged on the floor and were asked to explain math terms like "less than" or "greater than." One girl said she thought that less than meant "lots, like 100." Another could clearly articulate that 35 was less than 60 because "six comes after three when you are counting."

Finally they filled out worksheets asking them to explain with pictures how they knew that one number was greater than or less than another. One girl drew a seesaw showing the bigger number on top. Some students had trouble copying the numbers down in the right order. One worksheet was written incomprehensibly.

A math resource teacher worked with the classroom teacher, so they were able to break up the room by ability level for a spell - and they are always looking for clues to figure out who needs more help and who needs enrichment, but it must be tough.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  October 23, 2008; 4:07 PM ET  | Category:  Other Math Classrooms
Previous: Where's the Algebra? (cont.) And a Quiz | Next: Rethinking Eighth Grade Algebra


You will probably not be surprised to hear that this problem only gets worse as kids get older, Michael. A middle school teacher in my local district wrote a letter to the editor saying he had kids who could not figure out 3x4 in less than 30 seconds or add 33+22 without a calculator!

The problem largely stems from the fact that we promote kids from grade to grade regardless of actual achievement level. It does not take the children very long to figure out that the adults running the show are not serious about results, and many of the students behave accordingly.

Posted by: BradJolly | October 23, 2008 11:57 PM | Report abuse

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