Summer Break: A Time for Reflection

Summertime… a time to relax, a time to learn, a time to catch up, a time to dream and to plan and to prepare for next year. It’s a beautiful thing that every school year is a fresh start with a brand-new group of students. And summertime gives us a chance to reflect on what went right in the past year as we anticipate the upcoming one.

I recently received a profound reflection from a teacher about her experience using manipulatives to help her students understand grouping and ungrouping.

Although I had been using Ten-Frame Tiles in my classroom, a colleague suggested I just teach my students the robotic mechanics of regrouping, teaching them to “go next door to the tens, knock on the door, and ask to ‘borrow’ a ten.” He mentioned that teaching them the concept just got too complicated and mucked up the mechanics of the automatic actions the kids were supposed to go through every time they needed to “borrow.”

This went against my better judgment, though, because in the 80’s I had previously taught my kids to regroup using flip cards, beans, straws, and bundles of tens that they would unbundle, and cards they would flip to represent each step of ungrouping and regrouping. Teaching the concepts this way had made sense to my kids then, and they had learned how to ungroup and regroup with a firm understanding. That day, after he advised me to jump in and teach the kids to “go next door and knock on the door and ‘borrow’ a ten,” I did just that, and we had a fun lesson knocking and asking and laughing about all of it.

But, the next day, I gave the kids more problems that required them to ungroup and regroup, and, sure enough, not only could they not do the problems, there was a strong air of unrest and dissatisfaction in the room. The kids acted like the world was not a friendly place for them to be in, and they were disgruntled and downright grumpy. I didn’t know this tension was coming from their place of confusion with the math. I brought out the tiles again the next day, and we spent the whole morning learning grouping and ungrouping with the tiles.

Time really did fly by. After two hours had passed, and the kids were back in a place of true understanding, one of the kids saw the clock and said, “Wow, we have been doing math for two hours.” Not one of the students had complained or asked about the time during our lesson or even noticed how much time had passed.

But after that two hours, I had happy kids again, and not only was there an air of true satisfaction in the room, but the kids were clearly happy—peaceful, content and what seemed to me with a sense of being one with their world again. They acted as if I had turned on the lights or opened a door to a better place for them.

I asked them, “Now, is this a planet you want to live on?” (I had mentioned earlier that a planet where everyone keeps losing ten dollar bills was not a place I wanted to live!) and they immediately agreed, “Yes!” It was a place they knew they wanted to be, and it was a place that finally made sense! They have been on this planet happily ever since!

While I had known that this teacher was enthusiastic about Ten-Frame Tiles, what struck me about her reflection was her understanding of the KIND of difference these manipulatives make. To her, her students’ use of the tiles contributed directly to their emotional well-being, a perspective not typically taken into consideration or perhaps even recognized.

This reflection reminds us that children want to make sense of the math they are learning. When they do, they find a world of satisfaction, and, when they don’t, the results may have implications far more significant than low test scores. And both outcomes can have life-long implications!

We would love to hear from you! As you reflect on your work last year, what one or two things went well and are worth saying out loud? Please let us celebrate with you by leaving your thoughts in the comments box below.


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  • Nancy Davidson :

    I really loved reading this blog. As an early childhood educator, I sometimes feel if I take too much of a break in summer, I lose time to ‘make things’ for my classroom. Seeing this break as a valuable time to reflect can only make my practice stronger.
    I also have been learning more about the emotional aspects of learning. I am planning to incorporate more play into my instruction, and knowing that using tiles is a good fit for a more responsive classroom is a huge part of this planning for me.
    Thank you, Kim, for reminding me. I am looking forward to reading more of your wisdom to guide me on my journey.

    • Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D :

      Great point, Nancy. As educators, we tend to get caught up in task completion and forget to take time to process and reflect. I’m excited to hear more about how you plan to incorporate play…and so pleased to know that the KP Ten-Frame Tiles fit into your plan.

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