My best lesson last term made a big impress-ion on the children and me because it was the children who initiated it. With the term drawing to a close, the 16 four and five-year-olds in my reception class were busy at a variety of jobs while our child care assistant and I worked with individual children. I showed three children how to find sums by making two Unifix towers to match "number hats" and counting the cubes.
After a few minutes, I began to hear laughter turning to rowdiness. Rising to quell the anarchy, I saw that the children were joining the cubes together to make a snake. Their hilarity seemed to stem from their inability to curve the snake to keep it from falling off the table. I quickly cleared an activity off an adjacent table and pushed it over to support the lengthening snake. I was soon called on to provide a third table, and a fourth, at which point the children ran out of Unifix and had to go to the other reception class for more. By this time, they were breathless with the excitement of their mission.
Other children asked if they could join the fun, and the group grew, until eventually they were issuing shouted invitations: "Come on, the whole class is making a snake! Do you want to help us?" My role was only to jump up every few minutes to clear another table. Because the class was small last term, and the classroom large and long, it was possible for all the children to work together and for their project to take over the better part of the room. By the time they had used up all the cubes, the snake covered eight tables and measured seven and a half metres. I had never seen the children so involved in their work, nor so excited by it. I photographed them standing by the snake, and they all asked for photographs "to show our Mums".
Many tried to count the cubes (394), but this proved difficult with children counting out loud, and at various stages, with varying degrees of success. Some could count to 10 but were then stumped. One child asked, "What comes after 60?" and was answered, "90!" Some tried to count without touching each cube and would lose track and have to start again, sometimes repeatedly. Before the children went home, they all drew pictures of their snake, and we agreed we would leave it for parents to see.
At the end of the day I decided to make the most of the opportunity to do some more measuring work. I made a large sign reading: "How else can we measure the snake (besides using a tape measure)?" and set it beside the snake so that the children would see it when they arrived the next morning. Children, parents, and childminders were used to completing brief jobs together before register. The next day we discussed possible ways to measure the snake, and I wrote a list.
For the rest of the morning, we worked in groups measuring with oversized bricks, shoes, hand prints, the silhouette of a child, and arm spans. Before each new method of measuring we estimated, and estimations and actual measurements were recorded along with children's signatures. Preparations included setting out bricks and shoes (and borrowing shoes from another class), drawing and cutting out hand prints, and drawing around a child. Topics discussed included measuring straight and curved objects, estimating (many children said there were l00 cubes, while one guessed l00 million), counting in tens and twenties and adding up (one girl knew her ten times table), different and average heights of children in class, the difference between hand prints and hand spans, and measuring by laying bricks or shoes the length of the snake compared with marking our place and measuring the next stretch with hand prints or the silhouette.
Photographs show how the project developed, and together with the recording sheets, they will be made into a book which the children can enjoy in the book corner and take home to share with their families.
Kathryn Kohl is a reception teacher at Hallam Primary School in SheffieldIf you have a lesson that might interest other teachers, please contact Diane Hofkins, primary editor, at The TES, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY
For their maths activity, KATHRYN KOHL's pupils used
ALL THE UNIFIX CUBES THEY COULD FIND
A NUMBER OF TABLES
A TAPE MEASURE