Talking Math with Braeden and Teachable Moments

artbc This past weekend, I took some much needed time to spend with my nephew before he started school today. I had a weekend of haircuts, projects and movies planned, our typical time together.

Our project was to include a family game dealing with twizzlers where we explore how many ways that we can evenly divide a chosen number of twizzlers with various family members. It’s a game of fractions that I played with my own children.

We barely made it into the game when Braeden stopped me to ask a “burning question”…his words. He wanted to know if the earth had an end. While this may sound like an odd question, the seriousness of his face when asking told me that this was something that we needed to discuss. He was full of pure wonder! (teachable moment)

As an avid reader of Talking Math With Your Kids, I channeled my inner Christopher Danielson and proceeded.

The Conversation

Me: Braeden what do you mean by does the earth have an end?

B: I’ve been meaning to ask you this question for a long time, at least 2 months. I’ve always wanted to know if the earth stops when you get around it.

Me: What shape do you think that the earth is?

B: I think that it’s a circle.

Me: Really, why a circle?

B: A circle is round.

Me: Hmm, interesting. So what shape is that basketball? (The nearby ball may have sparked Braeden’s thoughts)

B: It’s a circle.

Me: What about a pizza?

B: It’s a triangle (He’s thinking of one slice)

Me: I mean a whole pizza. What shape is a whole pizza?

B: It’s a circle

Me: Why do you think that a pizza is a circle?

B: It’s round and has a center. (We’ll discuss this later…not today)

Me: (I chose NOT to give him an official definition. Instead I prompted him to compare) Earlier you told me that a basketball is a circle and a pizza is a circle. Are they the same?

B: No, the pizza is flat. The basketball is round…like earth. The pizza does start and stop when you get all the way around but  the basketball can keep going around and around and around.

Me: What do you mean around and around and around?

B: If you had a really long string, you can go around the pizza one time but a basketball, you can keep wrapping the string forever. I know why. The basketball is a sphere. (I had no idea that he knew this word)

Me: What about earth?

B: I think that earth is a sphere too and I don’t think that you can go to every single place on earth. I bet that you can keep going around and around and around.

So What Did We Learn?

When kids ask questions, it’s important that we explore those questions as soon as we can. I chose to have Braeden compare the shapes in question in lieu of giving him definitions. He compared the attributes of what he noticed about a circle and a sphere and developed more of a “hypothesis” based on his thoughts.

Comparing and contrasting is a critical thinking skill that all kids need. By focusing on his thoughts as he sees it in lieu of my definitions, he developed his own ideas regarding the concepts. The drawing in this posting was created by him during this process using his drawing app.

In the classroom it’s easy to miss these moments because most attention is directed at lesson plans and standards. Even if the question is unrelated to the day’s learning, the questions is STILL important. Those questions are what stimulate “wonder” and are so critical to inspiring exploration. We cannot afford to miss out on teachable moments such as this.

What About the Classroom

My suggestion is that teachers create a “wonder wall” where students can record questions. This can be done with writing strips. As students have questions about things that they wonder, have them post it to the wall. Build a community of researchers by having students explore questions that interest them and “reply” to their peers. Why do you we need to wait for genius hour for kids to be interested in learning?

Find the time to show the value of learning by giving value to student questions. The time invested is worth it.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *