Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Can't Give Up!

I always enjoyed Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darndest Things, so I entitled my file of students' comments Students Say the Darndest Things. I decided to share some in my blog from time to time.

A first grader in the resource room wrote his spelling words on the whiteboard. I asked him to correct a letter he had written backwards. As he erased, he chanted, "You can't give up. You just have to keep trying."

He made my day!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Left Angles

I learned about left angles from a third grader. While identifying angles – acute, obtuse, and right – he was stumped by the picture of a right triangle. He said, "It isn't any of them." I asked him what it was and he replied, "It's a left angle." I looked back at all of the right triangles he had encountered in the lesson; their right angles were all on the right side. When faced with a right angle on the opposite side, he used his prior knowledge of opposites and decided it was a left angle. Because he could explain his thinking, I was able to clear up his confusion.

As I wrote this entry, I realized I had no idea why a 90 degree angle is called a right angle, so I googled it. According to Dr. Michel Smith, professor and chair of the Mathematics Department in Auburn University's College of Sciences and Mathematics, "The word "right" is used for this angle because the word has the meaning of "true" or "correct." When a carpenter is building a house and he positions a wall, he wants that wall to be correctly placed; to be "right" or "true." So when the wall is vertical then it is correctly placed or "true." A correctly placed "true" wall is perfectly vertical and so it makes a "right" angle with the ground. This is what a right angle or a 90 degree angle is."

I learned something new today! I think I will follow the advice in my prior post – teachers should be less helpful – by asking my students to find the origin of the term right angle for themselves.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Three Times Two - Three Two Times

Several years ago, I was talking with a student as we left an after-school mentoring program. He said, "I just can't get those times things." I asked him to explain those times things. He said, "Like 3 times 2." I asked if he knew what 3 two times was. He replied, "6." We went on - 5 three times - 15; 7 one time - 7; 1 nine times - 9, etc. He spouted answers all the way down the hall. He knew how to multiply; he just didn't know he knew because he didn't understand what 3 x 2, one number times another number, meant. The next week, he couldn't wait to tell me all the multiplication facts he knew. That day I discovered how important it is to find the root cause of a child's struggle to learn a concept. In this case, the cure was as simple as turning two words around. Now, I routinely turn those words around when talking about multiplication.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alphabet Letters - Fonts and Orientation

The idea for this blog entry came to me when my 4-year-old great niece identified an uppercase E as an M. I realized she was seeing an M turned on its side. I remembered reading that many children struggle with letter identification because some letters change their identity when rotated or flipped. A stapler is a stapler even when held upside down. A book is a book even when it is flipped over. However, a d is a b when it is flipped, and it is a p when it is rotated.

While thinking about how letters look to children, I remembered the group of 1st graders who helped me learn to make a k correctly last year. It was important to them that I learn how to make letters just right. My mind moved on to an letter identification assessment I had given using a page of handwritten letters. The kindergartner could not identify several letters and told me he had never seen them before. I finally saw the page through his eyes and discovered the troublesome ones had been written with more cursive curves. I decided to type the list using a grade school font. He didn't miss a single one.

I have often wondered if the font used in most children's books confuses children, especially the letters a and g. Until today, I thought that we should introduce children to both the letters we want them to write and the ones we want them to read. However, an idea in a blog caught my eye this morning. The recommendation was that teachers should be less helpful, meaning teachers should let kids do and discover more for themselves. Perhaps a great way for kids to discover fonts for themselves is by finding and sharing letters that look different.