The new semester is off to an exciting start! Our reading groups are already back in session and we’ve begun discussing folktales from around the world to dive deeper into social studies. But these days, we’re most excited about the introduction of a new practice in our classroom: the Math Lab. Inspired by a variety of research indicating that children’s math skills develop most fully when they are allowed to experiment and reason collaboratively through provocations, we’ve introduced this format to give our students a space in which they can practice math and actively manipulate it.
The first week of the semester featured a theme of quadrilateral shapes. Some students reviewed their existing knowledge of four-sided shapes, while others learned the names and characteristics of these shapes for the first time. After expanding upon their knowledge of basic squares and rectangles to include trapezoids, rhombuses, and parallelograms, the students (while working in the Math Lab) independently anticipated the existence of complex quadrilaterals (those with sides that cross over each other).
Our exploration of quadrilaterals further developed through an art project and through various classroom games. It also developed within the Math Lab into a broader discussion of polygons. Students used various tools (such as Geoboards and rubber bands) to create shapes with more than four sides. To track the progress, the children created a wall chart to write the names of new shapes they learned.
The conversation expanded as one student raised the crucial question by asking “How many sides does a circle have?” Their theorizing certainly held our interest! One student argued “the number of sides a circle has depends on its size,” meaning that any given circle has as many sides as will fit against it’s circumference. Another was not convinced because he remembered learning about semi-circles in art class and used his knowledge of this shape to argue that a circle, composed of two semi-circles, has only two sides. Another student still was convinced that the circumference of a circle divides into quadrants and drew various figures to show us how this is the case in any circle. Finally, a student spoke up and mentioned that her classmates were all mistaken because clearly a circle has no lines, as it is a round shape.
In the Reggio Emilia philosophy, the environment as a “third teacher” is an important component to the approach. Since we have a strong belief that children learn through interaction with others, including parents, staff, and peers, our goal is to make the environment a friendly and collaborative space and to have an atmosphere of playfulness and joy. This served as the inspiration for the designated Math Lab area. As you can tell from the photos and text above, the Math Lab is a wonderful place for the children to collaborate, discuss, learn, and undertake extended exploration and problem solving!