A chapter in Beyond Answers by Mike Flynn, is devoted to Math Practice 5: Use Appropriate Tools Strategically. In that chapter, Mike discusses five distinct categories of tools: supplies, manipulatives, representational tools, digital tools, and mathematical tools. As Mike explains, sometimes we have appropriate tools, but we lack real strategies and techniques to use them well.
Rekenreks are an available and often appropriate tool in classrooms, but a tool rarely chosen by students I am teaching in kindergarten and first grade.
I wanted to plan an explicit introduction to rekenreks that included using them to think flexibly about numbers. But how should that lesson be structured?
I started with a context. In the book Bunk Bed and Apple Boxes by Catherine Twomey Fosnot, the author connects the rekenreks two rows of beads to bunk beds. In The Sleepover, Aunt Kate invites friends for a sleepover. The guests arrange themselves on the two beds. When Aunt Kate brings treats for her guests, she places treat cups matching her guests’ arrangements on the bunk beds. But each time she leaves to rearrange the treats, the friends move around on the beds, making different arrangements and confusing Aunt Kate.
Rather than read The Sleepover aloud, each class acted out the story. Creating bunk beds with tape on the whole group carpet, six friends arranged, and later rearranged themselves on the beds, with some students sitting on the top bunk and some on the bottom. An additional student in the class played the part of Aunt Kate (or Uncle Charlie). Here is the lesson plan written for Pre-K.
Here’s Aunt Kate in one classroom coming back to the bunk beds and realizing the arrangement has changed!
Next, students used the rekenreks to retell the story!
Before putting the rekenreks into students’ hands, I introduced this “new to them” mathematical tool. Red and green stickers were positioned at the top. The red one showed students where beads would rest. To be ready to begin a math challenge, all the beads rested on the red side. The green sticker marked the go side. When showing math thinking, the beads slid to the green side. To help me (and their teachers) see their “good math thinking”, rekenreks rested on the rug in front of them as they worked.
After students retold the story with the rekenreks and teachers noticed and noted, we played Guess My Way. I secretly arranged my rekenrek into an arrangement of 6 beads. Students guessed my way.
Student: “I have 4 on the top and 2 on the bottom.”
Me: That makes 6! But that’s not my way…
At the end of our lessons, students have free time with the materials. During free time for this lesson, all the students, in each classroom, chose to play Guess My Way!
Pre-K students playing Guess My Way during free time!
- Cooperation among characters on the bunk beds (who should move from one bed to another)?
- Playing Guess My Way was amazing! When students were guessing what my way was, students found many many combinations. During free time following the lesson, all the students voluntarily broke into small groups and spontaneously continued playing the game!
- During that free time play, students asked each other, “What number do you want to play?” demonstrating an understanding of whole and parts.
- The notice and note post-its made from the lesson plan represented the different student responses during the lesson.
- This lesson provides an anchor chart for future problems: “Remember when we used rekenreks to show the people on the bunk beds?”