Math at BNS or What is “base spoon”?

Dear Families:

At BNS, it seems as if we are often swimming in a topic. We study places and people, nearby and far away; current news and things that happened thousands of years ago. Amongst the far and wide, we also study concepts and big ideas that relate to numbers, mathematical operations and measurement. Math can be a complex topic to unpack and explore, with children, adults and staff members because we all bring our own experiences of number to this work and that experience differs for each of us. As adults, many of us have categorized math into a schoolwork part of our brains, struggling to apply things we learned in Algebra I and Pre-Calculus to ou

r daily lives. Our work here at BNS is to support students in the development of a solid foundation in the language and study of mathematics so that math can be just a much a part of their daily lives as reading, writing, and researching.

One of our school-wide goals this year relates to the study and ownership of mathematics. As a staff, we have undertaken the project of learning a new number system called “Base Spoon,” an adventure that mirrors the students’ work to learn our American “Base 10” system. In professional development sessions, teachers and paras learned Base Spoon vocabulary. Here’s how we count in Base Spoon: “A, B, C, D,

E, Spoon.” When counting large quantities, we know that once we have multiple spoons, we move our count into the “Spoon column,” resulting in numbers such as “A*” (“A sp

oon”) and “BA” (“B spoon A”). Spoon spoons is a quantity equal to the number we would call 36, and that is called a “fork.” This puzzling, challenging, difficult work allows all of us to reflect on the many facets of learning a number system, something that is hard to consider when supporting our youngest students. As students learning a new number system, we felt just as they feel when they cannot make sense of the idea that the word “two” and the symbol “2” represent what we’ve come to know as two items.

Empathy, a deeper understanding of the complexities of confusion, and a new toolbox of approaches to helping students understand the system we use are the takeaways from this work. We’ve only just begun. There is still more to do as we study under the guidance of our fearless math coaching and intervention team, Shirley and Beth.

The staff and School Leadership Team have often discussed how to bring the mathematics work we are doing to families, as it may be quite a different learning experience

than the one most parents had in school. Last Friday morning, our third grade team attempted a grade-wide math share for families called “The Math Olympics.” Shirley launched the day with a mini-lesson in the hallway for parents where she explained the flow of the day, and some of the strategies parents could expect to see. Families traveled from room to room, participating in a series of mathematical activities and challenges, structured to review weights and measures and build upon addition and subtraction strategy work.

Teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, grandparents, siblings and other staff members stood in as thought partners with students as they jumped the farthest distance and measured it, compared heights, estimated and weighed quantities, played addition and subtraction games and compared liquid measurements. Teachers guided parents to ask thoughtful questions to push students to their own next level of thinking, as parents got to try out that “teacher language” for the morning. For example, as Caleb worked to compare two liquids, he placed a graduated cylinder next to a cup, and estimated that the quantities of liquid were the same, given the height of each in their respective containers. Steve whispered to Caleb’s mom, “Try asking him if the containers are the same, and see where that takes him.” These subtle shifts in the ways we push on kids’ thinking open them up to new levels of understanding.

There was so much to behold, to explore and document. Check out some action shots from each room:

In Nancy and Alex’s room, Beth walked throughout the space, quietly giving a two minute warning before the groups needed to travel to the next space. From Steve and Katherine’s room, we could hear the echo of the gong as the chime rang out in another third grade room. Reminders were given about preparing the space for the next group (“Please put the yellow tiles into the blue basket and put the measuring sticks behind you. Bring your pencil and gather with Malika at the front door.”) In the hall, Sally and Laura’s class of students and families began their transition to the next classroom, and the hard work continued.

As you work with your children, be mindful of their growing sense of numbers, their comfort with the language of math, and their wonderings as their minds work to figure things out. As educators, we are always pulled back and forth within the tension of instilling a deep understanding of mathematical concepts while providing opportunities for skills practice as students develop their math fact fluency. Home is a great place to build their counting skills, their comfort with skip-counting, and their math life-skills. Telling time and using money are two daily math routines that can be incorporated into your conversations with your children. At school, we will continue to explore these big ideas while we carefully consider the work we do each and every day.

All for now,

Anna and Diane

Quote of the Week:

Third Grader Emaricka Valencin saw her teachers Steve and Katherine preparing the Handwriting Without Tears cursive books, to begin that work. She said, “Finally! We are starting scriptive! The only fun thing we get to do at school.

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