This week, I’m writing based on a special request. My dear friend and co-worker and Lower School Assistant here at BWX, Nathan, asked me to write a bit about math workshop.

Math workshopis intentional time dedicated to math skills development. Kids at this early elementary age are very literal thinkers. So, it’s important for us to approach math literally first, and then abstract from there. This means we approach topics in math workshop, then apply them to our arc based work. What’s more, it’s important for us to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

Math workshop consists of 3 basic components: skill introduction, skill practice, and strategies seminar.

Skills are introduced at the beginning of math workshop, or sometimes in the morning message. For example for the past few weeks, we have been talking about subtraction and counting. The conceptual jump from addition to subtraction is a big one for kids of this age, and it’s one that we approach using logic. One Tuesday morning, the kiddos arrived to school with the following problem in the morning message: “Last night I went to the library to pick up 17 books I had put on hold. When I got there, the librarian let me know that 8 of the books I had requested were not ready for me to pick up. On a stickie, write an equation to show how many books I was able to check out.” This problem asks kiddos to consider if I checked our more or less than 17 books, and then translate that into a mathematical sentence, or equation; how will you show taking away from 17 in an equation? Sometimes, we’ll warm our brains up by acting out what is happening in the problem–which also guarantees to be fun and silly!

The next component of math workshop is skills practice. First, kiddos do some practice of the skill we’re working on, usually individually, and sometimes with a partner. For addition and subtraction, kiddos have been imagining story problems to match equations. They write or draw their story problem, then show their thinking to solve the problem. This means metacognition of the steps it takes to solve a problem, then synthesizing these steps in such a way that they can be illustrated. This could mean drawing your hands to show how you counted on your fingers, drawing a number line and showing which direction you moved to find your answer, or drawing the items described in your story and showing them being removed (crossed out) or added to. Then, kiddos can move into games choices. Each workshop, I’ll choose a few games for kiddos to play as they finish their individual work. Some of these games give kiddos a chance to practice arithmetic to build fluency, others are more oriented to sequential thinking, logic, and spatial reasoning.

I think the metacognition of HOW they solved a problem is the most important part! So often a kiddo will respond that they just knew the answer. As we move toward problems they will not be able to solve quickly with mental math, kiddos must be equipped with strategies to solve problems. Much more than repetitive practice, kids showing their work emphasizes problem solving strategies, and asks kids to think about the relationships between numbers and what is actually happening when they are counting.

But wait, there’s another most important part: the seminar! Seminar usually happens at the end of math workshop, but sometimes we’ll seminar together at the beginning of workshop to remind kiddos of strategies they can use to solve problems when they are working independently. At strategies seminar, kiddos explain to the group how they solved their problem. To get us started, I translate kiddos strategies and draw what they describe on a piece of chart paper. Moving forward, kiddos will start to illustrate and explain for the group.

This part is so important because it integrates many skills into one practice: not only are they remembering and sequencing their process for solving a problem, they are presenting it to others. They must find a way to explain it in a way that others can understand, and that can be drawn on a piece of paper. Plus, kiddos practice listening to others, and asking for respect from their peers. More than anything else, I’ve seen that kids learn to show each other respect and attention in these moments when they must practice the give and take back to back: when they can immediately see that their friends will show them respect in exchange for their respect.

That’s all there is to it! The order of the parts can be me moved around, broken up, and we don’t necessarily do all 3 parts at every math workshop. The games we play include some dice and card games that practice arithmetic, to build fluency with some basic math facts, some board games that emphasize spatial reasoning and logic, and even some coding for sequential thinking.

We did so much other awesome stuff this week beside math–check out our Instagram feed to see proof!