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A YouCubed Math Experience

In the beginning of the school year, all of my students created first semester goals. One student proudly told me that her goal was to work on math and solve problems. Later on she confessed to me that she wanted to work on math, but didn’t really like math. Many students see math as an subject where they are not allowed to make mistakes, a subject where there is only one right answer, also don’t work together, because that would be cheating. The beauty of YouCubed is that it throws all of those ideas out and replaces them with engaging activities where students are encouraged to work together, make mistakes, and discover multiple ways to solve a problem.

This past week, first and second graders have been exploring shapes. They have been making observations and using the Taxonomy toolkit to sort these shapes, name these shapes, and find connections between them. Students worked with Tangrams, created shape pictures on the Geoboard, and learned how to play Quirkle, a game that is centered around observation, critical thinking, and noticing patterns.

The YouCubed lesson that I introduced my students to last week was titled, “Sorting.” Students sorted emoji pictures in various ways, created their own picture collections to be sorted by another group, and finally, tackled two shape and color puzzles. For these puzzles, students were given a number of shape pieces (circle, square, rectangle, and triangle) in three colors (red, blue, and yellow). Their first challenge was to put these pieces in a line, starting with the blue triangle and ending with the red circle. Each time they put a piece down, it had to be either a different color or a different shape than the previous piece. Students worked in partners and found many different ways to complete this task.

The next morning, I gave the students the second puzzle, where the parameters were essentially the same, but with one change, they had to place the pieces in a specific pattern- first changing the color, then the shape, then the color, and so on. I had in my mind that this would take 15-20 minutes and used it as a warmup as students entered the classroom. However, they surprised me with their excitement about the task, their collaboration, and their drive to solve the puzzle. Students quickly realized that it wasn’t possible to use all the pieces and one child said, “We really need a red circle here. I wish we had one.” I answered, “Why don’t you make one?” Students began to grab paper and markers, and began creating their own shape pieces. In the end, three different groups had solved the puzzle in three different ways. Just when I was about to wrap it up, one student said, “Let’s draw our solution! Drawing it out is what mathematicians do, and we can still do it at the end!” I stood back and watched as my entire class ran to grab more paper to draw their solutions. Some students went around and drew multiple solutions, other students chose to label the pieces they had created for the puzzle on their drawings.

In the end, a 15 minute warm up turned into a 50 minute activity, lead by students who were engaged and excited about math. As a teacher, having the freedom and flexibility to let the students guide the lesson, and giving them the time to really work through challenge and go deeper is crucial. I know that had I asked the students to clean up 15 minutes in, I would have never witnessed the best part, that one child who said she didn’t like math jumping up and down with giant grin on her face.

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