First Graders Cook, Question, and Count

By Julie Kim, First Grade Associate teacher

In the real world, we confront daily math problems through a process of noticing and wondering. After our mind has determined a question about a scenario, whether it is counting how many more blocks you need to walk or how many servings to cook for dinner, we proceed to the next step: plan, search, and gather. We plan for what steps we are going to take in order to answer the question. We search for the separate variables and pieces of information that we need in order to solve the question. We gather these pieces of information then puzzle them up in a way that will help us solve the problem. Will we, as mathematicians, get the answer we are looking for the first time around? Not always. Will we get an answer immediately? Not guaranteed. Will we persevere and try over and over again until we do? We should. Through real world work, first graders develop stamina and perseverance as they attack the challenges and questions that they are eager to solve. This is where the real work happens.

Over the course of three segments, first graders engaged in this exact real life math process. I played them the following video of myself putting dumplings in the pot. As you can see, it is unclear how many dumplings I put in the pot. The video was paused at the part right before the inner pot was revealed.

As first graders watched this video, they were asked, “What do you notice?” Hands quickly rose as students share ideas. Of these, they noticed that I was putting dumplings in the pot.

Then, students watched the video again. This time, they were asked, “Now, what do you wonder?” One of the most important parts of confronting a real-life math problem is defining the big question. After a long period of thinking and wondering, we concluded that our big question that we want to figure out was “How many dumplings are in the pot?”

First graders persevered together to tackle this question that came from them. After defining the question, mathematicians must search for and collect the pieces of information that they need to find an answer. In this case, first graders used persistent teamwork and strong collaboration to figure out the information that they needed: (1) How many dumplings were on the tray before you cooked some? (2) How many dumplings were left on the tray after you cooked some?

Along the way, we noticed and embraced first graders’ deep compassion and empathy which were highlighted through their questions:
-We need to make sure that it is fair and that everybody got a dumpling.
-We need to know if teachers also got to eat a dumpling too!

After being recognized for their fairness for others, mathematicians were told that the information pertains to the dumplings in the video. As I took on the role as an information holder, students were motivated and eager to gather the necessary pieces of information. As they asked for a piece of information that they might need, I responded with either, “I don’t know. I don’t have that information,” or “I can tell you that. I have that information.” As a student asked, “How many dumplings are on the tray before you cooked some?,” I revealed this picture of the tray before I cooked some:

When a student asked, “How many dumplings were on the tray after you cooked some?,” I revealed the following picture:

With these picture resources, some students approached counting in ways that are appropriate for their learning. Some students counted each dumpling one by one while some students counted by groups of 3 in rows. Then, students were given a handout and a print out of the “after” picture of the dumplings in order to solve “How many dumplings are in the pot?”

Student Work:

Some students used the provided picture as a tool to find the answer.

Some students drew how many dumplings there were then crossed out X amount of dumplings until there were 9 left. This brought them to the conclusion of 6 dumplings being in the pot. Some students drew fingers to find the answer then proceeded to double check by drawing the problems.

Through the video segment, first graders identified their own math question that they wanted to solve as a group. Then, they figured out what additional information they needed to collect before they can solve the problem. After gathering the information, this math experience allowed for each mathematician to approach the problem in their own way. First graders engage in meaningful math experiences such as this to not only create a context, but also to apply their math practices in an authentic way.