Thursday, May 17, 2012

Challenging our children's Mathematical Minds

Montessori did not present math as a terrible or boring lesson, but use the concrete materials and let children have their own step to build their knowledge. Montessori specially designed her apparatus for teaching mathematical concepts so that the gap from concrete to abstract is made smaller. For example, the Number Rods are not as abstract as a spoken or written number. And yet, they are not as real as an everyday item, for example buttons, pencils. Therefore, when the child uses the Number Rod, he is, in fact, moving towards the abstract – the Number Rods represent an abstract idea of number.
This is why I love the Montessori method so much! And I wish it was used to teach maths in primary schools too.. Anyhow, I thought I would share with you so of the exercises the children were working on today in the classroom to illustrate my point.

The purpose of the following exercise is to teach the child to count from 11-99 and to recognise numbers too. The child doing the exercise was already able to recognise 10, 20, 30 to 90. She got the jist of the exercise very quickly and really enjoyed it. I simply inserted a wooden number card on top of a decimal number: for instance, pointing at 60, I asked her what number it would make if I placed 3 over the zero. She gave me the correct answer and I asked her to make up the number using our bead materials. This is what we call the golden ten bead bars (10 beads on  bar) and 9 golden bead units (called short bead stairs). The short bead stairs  is built in a triangle and provide the child with the correct number of beads in the right order from 1-9 so that the quantities can be built without error.

1 ten bead bar

As the little girl I was working with was quite at ease with bigger number, she understood very quickly that to make 20 for instance, she needed 2 ten bead bars etc.. I placed the wooden number cards randomly in the slots of the board as seen below, making up number such as 63, 77, 86 etc.. I asked her to figure out the number and to use the golden bead materials to represent the number. For instance,  for 63, she would need 6 ten bead bars and the pink bead bar from the short bead stairs (representing 3). This was a walk in the park for this little lady!!! But she enjyed this new activity so much!

This second exercise reinforce the child's knowledge of numbers from 0-10. This is similar to Montessori' spinde box. I ask the child to choose a wooden bar randomly and read the number written on it. If the child struggles with the number, I ask him/her to count the slots on the bar. Then the child must retrieve the corresponding number of wooden counters from the container. The counters are placed at first under the wooden bar. I then ask the child to place the counters into the slots. If the child has made a mistake in counting the counters, he/she will be left with empty slots on the bar or left with too many counters! Brilliant game!

Some children go faster at maths than others. And it is very important to be aware of the child’s natural inclinations toward mathematics. No need to push too har, no need to hold back! The Montessori materials enhance  children’s natural need for exploration and development within the mathematical mind. During the sensitive period for numbers, the specialized didactic materials created by Montessori or based on the Montessori method of education allow the children to form concrete impressions of the world of mathematics.  This in turn, allows them to experience mathematics with positive associations while constructing self-knowledge in the subject matter.  The learning, therefore, is truly the child’s own and cultivates the spirit of a life-long love of learning.... (what a conclusion!!!!!!!)