Week 3: Kindergarten

This Week of Inspirational Math is dedicated to Maryam Mirzakhani

It is with both pleasure and sadness that I dedicate this year’s “Week of Inspirational Mathematics” to the life and work of my friend and colleague who tragically died recently – the mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani. A few months ago we held a workshop for middle school girls at Stanford, I discussed the workshop with Maryam before-hand and we agreed that I would share her photos and ideas – many of the girls came up to me afterwards and said that learning about Maryam changed everything for them.


Click here for the full text of Jo Boaler’s dedication, a radio show and video about Maryam, and a topology task honoring her work

Day 1
Sorting (Kindergarten)

Noticing similarities and differences in shapes and designs is an important part of being mathematical. It is valuable for students to see that shapes and designs have many different characteristics and can be sorted in a variety of ways. In this task students are asked to describe why something is or is not a pattern and students have an opportunity to make up their own pattern. They then see if they can figure out what is missing from each other’s pattern when part of it is covered. This task is great for language development, being descriptive, paying attention to detail and being specific. These are all mathematical skills that are valuable to develop. This activity is a series of sorting activities: sorting emojis, sorting shapes, and shape patterns. You can split it into a series of 2 or 3 days of lessons depending on the amount of time you have for math in your class.

Content: Describing, comparing and contrasting, organizing

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Day 2
Count on Me (Kindergarten)

We all use our fingers to count sometimes but do we all use them the same way? This activity gives students an opportunity to use their fingers for counting and explore the multiple ways of using fingers to count the same number. Research tells us that it is very important for students to develop ‘finger discrimination’ that is, for students to know individual fingers really well. In this Atlantic article we share the importance of using fingers for the brain’s development of numbers. Evidence from both behavioral and neuroscience studies shows that when people receive training on ways to perceive and represent their own fingers, they develop better representations of their fingers, which leads to higher mathematics achievement.

Content: Counting, finger discrimination

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Day 3
Framing Rectangles (Kindergarten)

In this activity students get creative with making rectangles out of square tiles. This activity makes space for our young mathematicians to count, describe shapes, explore ideas, build with square tiles, investigate conjectures, organize findings, add and takeaway square tiles, and record ideas with visuals.

Content: Counting, making rectangles, making borders

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Day 4
Building Shapes (Kindergarten)

This is one of our favorite team building activities. Students work together using a rope to create 2-D shapes. The teacher plays the role of the skeptic and asks students to justify how they know their shape satisfies its defined characteristics. You can ask students to work in small groups to build the shapes or you can use a big rope and have the class work together to build the shapes.

Content: Describing and making 2-D shapes, making convincing arguments, critiquing other people's arguments

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Day 5
Game of Totals (Kindergarten)

This activity is a fun way to develop an understanding of quantity and ways to make a total of 10. In this activity students will have an opportunity to count, add, keep track of totals, and use visuals to see the sum. They will consider what quantities they will need to reach a total of 10 and will also create a strategy for reaching a total before their partner.

Content: Counting, visualizing quantity

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Three Block Towers (Kindergarten)

This activity has students exploring shapes and colors. In this activity students investigate the combinations of ways they can make a tower with three different colored blocks. They then see how many different towers they can make with four different colored blocks. The many combinations of colored towers provides an authentic reason for students to find a way to keep track of and organize the ideas they collect. This task also helps students develop hand eye coordination and allows them to explore with cubes.

Content: Creating lists, counting, organizing

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