Learning Mathematics is Fun, Interactive, and Open-ended!

I love being able to share engaging and effective teaching strategies that I come across–especially those that involve mathematics.  The activity described here is one that my sister used in her grade one classroom today and it effectively integrates cooperative learning, social interaction, critical thinking, open-ended questioning, and student-centred learning.  That is no small feat!

Learning outcomes for the activity:

Students will collaboratively compose and decompose a number in a variety of ways. Students will demonstrate learning skills such as cooperation and team building.


Students were each given a card with a number less than 20 on one side of it and a different number (<20) on the back.  They were also given a card with  an + (addition) sign or a – (subtraction) sign (this was later modified).


photo 1 photo 2 floor group

Students all stood up while the teacher called out a number. They were asked to group themselves to make a sentence that represented that number.

(Groups could be of any size the students wanted to try out). A group of 3 students could represent 4 + 1; another group 7 – 2; …

For students who were unable to find groups, the teacher facilitated other students helping to find combinations that made 5.

(In this case, the students placed their cards  down on the floor to see if anyone could find more 5s with them).

After the first round they discussed using more people in the group.  Would it be possible to have a group of 4? Why or why not? How would you use 5 people?…

After another round with a number other than 5, the teacher asked if there were any changes they could make to the game.  The students suggested having more pluses and minuses and so they put a plus side on one side of the card and a minus sign on the other side.

Students enjoyed the activity a great deal.  They asked to play the game again in the next math block.

I believe this activity was effective in developing the understanding that a number can be composed or decomposed in many ways.  The activity involved open-ended questioning that elicited engagement, team building, as well as understanding.  The teacher empowered them by involving them in designing the game and valuing their input.  This goes a long way in developing an authentic ‘community of learners’.  Way to go Nancy! Your students are very fortunate.

‘Community of learners’ and social interaction are emphasized in The Early Math Strategy: The Report of the Expert Panel on Early Math in Ontario (MOE, 2003), which clearly outlines the important role a primary teacher has in nurturing positive attitudes towards mathematics as well as mathematical skills.  Part of this role is to build a “community of mathematics learners”  by including many opportunities for social interaction.

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