The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Multiplying Cheeseballs

The class today spent an incredibly awesome morning working on their spelling assignments, with students practicing spelling, creating word searches and crossword puzzles, and helping each other finish their assignments. I was a bit worried about how much they would be able to accomplish since they were not able to start the spelling assignments until Tuesday and this was already a shortened week, but, as they have on numerous occasions, my young charges rose to the challenge!

Fortunately, though, they will have considerably more time to work on their spelling assignments this coming week; I decided it would make more sense to distribute the assignment sheet this afternoon and give them a few extra days to work rather than waiting until Monday. While the students are under no specific obligation to work on spelling over the long weekend (we have our next teacher inservice development day tomorrow), I will not be at all surprised to have several bring in mostly-completed assignments on Monday.

The afternoon we did something different. Rather than our weekly Read, Write, Think! activities, we combined with the other fourth grade class for a special Thinks You Think math session. While not working on English/Language Arts nor reading Dr. Seuss books, we still focused on some very important thinks the boys and girls need to think. (Yes, we are getting into the habit of using “think” as a noun.)

The focus of the math session was mastering the basic principles of mathematics. My incredibly awesome, super smart grade level partner had the idea. I don’t know if she came up with it on her own or if she borrowed it from someone else, but it definitely worked. We divided the 55 students into groups of six or seven and gave each group several paper towels, some plastic cups, and a handful of cheeseballs. We had to emphasise that no one could eat the cheeseballs until after we were done.

To start, my GLP used the overhead project to show a basic multiplication sentence: 3 x 4 = 12. She then talked the students through what each number meant by using the cups and cheeseballs to model. The 3 represented the number of cheeseballs in each cup. The 4 was the number of cups. The 12 was the number of cheeseballs in all. While this seems basic, it is a hard concept to master when first learning. (And, to be totally honest, I frequently confuse the first two, thinking that the groups comes first, and number of items in each group comes next. But I’ve finally got them solidly set in my mind.) The students arranged the cups and cheeseballs to make a model of the equation.

Then we had them change their model to reflect 4 x 3 as three cups of four cheeseballs. Then my GLP asked how many cheeseballs there were in all and everyone said there were twelve. The highlight of my entire day was the response from one of my students to the question of how on earth 3 x 4 and 4 x 3 could have the same answer when they are clearly different problems. He said, “It doesn’t matter what order they are in because of the assoc… I mean, commutative property!” That was totally a fist-bump worthy moment, and he was super happy with himself for remembering such a difficult term!

After some more modeling with cheeseballs and cups, we had to leave to go to drama, but we will continue to use cheeseballs to practice multiplication (and later division), which is, to be totally honest, way more fun that using the boring textbook! That being said, the students will still have practice and homework assignments. But I am expecting the tasty manipulatives to help teach the concepts!


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