Playdoh Math

Fractions with playdoh!
Fractions with playdoh!

Everyone knows that kids LOVE when they get to create something, mold something, touch something, etc. I decided to spend more time “diving” into the concept of fractions. What is a fraction? Can the students draw it? Can they represent the value/meaning in a different way, other then simply writing the numbers (which is essentially a symbol to communicate a certain amount/value)?

I keep 3 miniature cans of playdoh in each tub of supplies at every group. When they work with the playdoh, they always work with their strategically assigned shoulder parters. (I haven’t spent the money yet to have each kid have their own playdoh.) In this first lesson, I simply wanted them to show me 1/4. I explained that inside each playdoh can was one whole “unit” of playdoh. I wanted them to show me 1/4 of that whole. Some of the kids got it right away and took that whole amount of playdoh, flattened it into a workable shape i.e. square, rectangle, circle, and divided it equally into four parts. Awesome!

Some other students did not do it correctly at first, which I LOVE because it creates a perfect teaching opportunity for me and lends itself to an authentic discussion. One strategy I witnessed was students that ripped some playdoh off the “whole” and then divided that chunk into 4 parts. What I had to explain to them was that they just divided a part of a whole into fourths (basically ripped off 1/2 the playdoh, and then divided that 1/2 into 1/4 which was not accurate). Another strategy I saw was students did not divide the whole into equal parts, which is a crucial concept to master about fractions.

Showing fractions with playdoh
Showing fractions with playdoh
Fractions with playdoh.  Led nicely  into equivalent fraction discussion.
Fractions with playdoh. Led nicely into equivalent fraction discussion.

The second playdoh math lesson was a little different. I wanted the students to be able to show me in pictures (playdoh molds) what an equation represented. I thought this would be super easy because I began with an addition sentence: 7 + 3 = 10. The directions were to show me this equation, this value using your playdoh. I didn’t want them to use any numbers (symbols). Only a few students laid out 7 units of playdoh and 3 other units of playdoh on their desk to show 10 units in all.

Showing math relationships with playdoh....very interesting.
Showing math relationships with playdoh….very interesting.
Using playdoh to demonstrate relationships between the operations.
Using playdoh to demonstrate relationships between the operations.
Show what you know....with playdoh.
Show what you know….with playdoh.

The other students did some things that I found so interesting! As you can see from the picture, this group laid out the units of playdoh, but then molded an addition and equal sign and added the 10 units also. When I asked the students to count the units or pieces of playdoh on their desks, they counted the 7 + 3 + 10 for a total of 20. They realized their error.

So interesting what the kids struggled with...
So interesting what the kids struggled with…

This last picture shows a struggle that MANY of my students had! I walked over and couldn’t help, but laugh. I told these students that they weren’t showing me what this addition sentence meant in pictures. They simply just molded the symbols, or numbers! The students asked me repeatedly if they could just mold the numbers because they couldn’t see it any other way. I had to prompt multiple times to finally get them to orally explain the sentence using a story as an example, and then they figured out how to “show” what the addition sentence meant.

It was very eye opening for me and, I can’t lie, really fun!

These kids could NOT understand how to show this equation with the playdoh!  They could not see this pictorially.
These kids could NOT understand how to show this equation with the playdoh! They could not see this pictorially.

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