Friday, January 11, 2013

(Re-)Introducing Multiplication Using Cuisenaire Rods

Since the girls are still working on memorizing how to skip count through all the numbers to ten, they're also still doing pre-multiplication activities for their hands-on math time. A couple of years ago, when Willow was briefly very interested in multiplication and division, she and I did some hands-on multiplication using Cuisenaire rods, and she really liked the activity.

She STILL likes it!

This time, I added centimeter-squared graph paper to the activity (I LOVE this graph paper, because it's correctly sized for both Cuisenaire rods and Base Ten blocks, both of which we use very often). The girls picked a rod, then figured out all the one-color trains that could be lined up to perfectly equal that rod. They copied their results onto graph paper, and I helped them translate those results into multiplication facts:

They each repeated the activity, until they had found the factors and created multiplication facts for the numbers 1-10.

As they worked, Will noticed that the only one-color train that would work with some numbers is the one centimeter rod; my baby discovered prime numbers! That was a good discussion, there.

Something changed about Willow's attitude towards math during this activity, and I was privileged to watch it happen. I've long been telling Willow that she's a clever child--of course, I often tell both of my children this, but Will is particularly quick to pick up on academic subjects, quick to discern patterns, quick to memorize. It's forever frustrated me, then, that Will has, for a while, claimed to dislike math, because she's clever at math, and things that you're clever at are actually the things that you could really enjoy, because you could immerse yourself in them using your high level of understanding to pave your way.

Anyway, Will was working away at finding factors using her Cuisenaire rods (and working quite happily, I noted), when she began to name factors without having to use the Cuisenaire rods. I don't quite know how she was doing it, since we haven't even begun to memorize the multiplication table, and we've barely begun to memorize skip counting--repeat addition done mentally, perhaps? Visualization of the rods? Perhaps, as with reading, she unlocked the pattern subconsciously?--but there they were, all correct. I said to her (and yes, I've read enough parenting books to know that many of you are going to be horrified at my positive reinforcement), "Clever girl!" and it was as if a roller shade rolled up behind her little eyes, and suddenly I could hear her thinking, "Why, I AM a clever girl at math!"

The next school day was the much-dreaded Worksheet Thursday, for which I handed Willow two pages of review problems on multi-digit addition (Drill! Drill! Drill!). Before I really knew that she'd even begun, because, of course, I hadn't been required to tell her multiple times to begin and reprimand her multiple times for not beginning, she was handing me the first page of completed problems with, for the love of all that is good and holy, a SMILE!!! on her face! They were all correct, and I complimented her on having a completed page with zero errors, because she's never done that before, and sent her off to complete the next page.

Several minutes later, she handed the second page over to me, just as happy, and again the problems were all correct. I said, "Willow, this is your best math ever!", then told her to go put it on my desk.

Later that night, as I was collecting the day's work to date stamp and file away, I found her page of problems--written across the sheet, in the distinctive hand of my little lefty, were the words "Willow's Best Math Ever."

And that's how my kid loves math! (at least this week...)

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