Synchronistic Teaching Moments

These moments can feel mystical. 

Yesterday my daughter (5) was playing a math game called “Shut the Box”. 

When she plays she will roll the two dice and then ask me a mathematical equation, “Mom, what’s five plus three”. I know, and she knows, (and she knows I know she knows 😉 ) what five plus three is. She is an excellent counter. For her, the game is fun when she asks me what the answer is. Whatever number is generated the matching number brick is knocked over inside the box. Once all of the numbers have been knocked down she slams the lid shut….”Shut the Box”. 

I don’t find it an educational disadvantage that I am answering her equations. One, because she is asking me equations and I want to encourage her math communication and two, because I know she is looking at the numbers and seeing patterns. She already knows how to add and subtract via counting. I want to see her remembering and understanding that five plus three is eight. Me answering her provides confirmation to her understanding as well as giving her an activity to focus on memorizing some quick math.  

However, I was faced with a dillema when she asked me what “three minus five” was. In the past I have shied away from giving her my real answer and instead had her turn the question around where the smaller number is being subtracted from the larger number. 

This last time she asked me however, I decided to see how she would react to my response on her genuine question, “What is three minus five?” 

“Negative two.”

Of course she noticed and proceeded to inquire about what “negative two” meant. And naturally I was pleased that she wanted to know. Still, despite my quick explanation she gave no confirmation to me that she cared anymore. 

Later, we were reading a book from the library titled, “The Boy Who Loved Math”. Low and behold, there was a page where young Paul Eros asked his mother what negative numbers were! I found this moment to be wonderful because suddenly, negative numbers had become something real in my daughter’s math world (rather than something strange her mother just said). It was a moment where I felt entirely validated as an educator.

It delights me so much when a new idea is reinforced so easily. I refain from saying “effortlessly” here, since I did put effort into aquiring both the game and the book to use as part of our math curriculum. But there is some sort of mysticism in my choice to divulge the answer to “three minus five” on the same day we picked up the math book to read. 

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