I’ve been reading a phenomenal book about teaching math using a strengths-based approach. We often look at only what students can’t do, ignoring the strengths that they have. It reminded me of a great story about counting coins!
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Back when I was an instructional coach, a 2nd-grade teacher burst into my room to tell me what one of her amazing mathematicians had come up with all on his own. Sean was counting coins and doing exactly what he had been taught—he grouped like coins together and began by counting the quarters. The counting part just wasn’t working out for him, though. He was having a hard time switching from skip-counting by quarters to dimes to nickels, etc. Who could blame him? That’s a tough skill.
The teacher wandered off to help another student, and when she came back she was amazed and delighted by what she saw. Sean had pulled out his hundred chart and placed the first quarter on the number 25, the second quarter on the number 50, the first dime on 60, etc. until he had counted the collection of coins.
As he explained his strategy to her, another kiddo nearby, who was also having a hard time counting money, was listening in. Guess what? Sean’s strategy made sense to him, too!! Funny thing is, I had seen this strategy at a workshop, but Sean came up with it himself.
I wanted to hear the strategy from Sean, so I pulled him out in the hall and he walked me through it with all the confidence of an old pro. Like, “Duh, what part of this don’t you get?” You can see just a hint of it in the picture, but he is grinning from ear to ear. What a powerful experience for Sean!
It would be easy to think of what Sean couldn’t do. He couldn’t count coins in the traditional sense. And often, unfortunately, that’s all we’d see. But think of the math strengths Sean displayed. He used a familiar tool in a new and unexpected way. He showed perseverance. He was able to communicate his strategy so well that another student understood it. He demonstrated a positive disposition toward solving a problem. Those are all powerful strengths that we can build on!
Think your kiddos don’t have their own strategies? Think again! Give them the tools and the opportunity and you WILL be amazed by what they come up with.
Math fever…catch it!! 🙂
Interested in reading more about strengths-based teaching? Check out Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics by Beth McCord Kobett and Karen Karp.
I created a little monster-themed 100 chart for your kiddos who want to try out Sean’s strategy! Click here to grab yours.