Sunday, January 13, 2013

M&Ms = Math Fun!

A friend said her daughter was having some difficulty in math. I suggested that she use manipulatives to help her visualize, if mental math seemed to be the issue. She said focus might be the biggest problem. My thought was that something fun like M&Ms and the prospect of eating them! might distract her enough to let her learn. :D

M&M’s are great for sorting and skip-counting, as well as visualizing groups of objects which is an important ability in math. Visualization can help the child develop mental math skills. Plus, they’re vibrant and tasty!

Now, I’m not advocating unhealthy eating habits, but as Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!” M&M’s are chocolate, and while they aren’t as healthy as Dove Dark, they can help the child develop math abilities.

Other manipulatives, objects that can be touched and picked up for closer inspection, include blocks (there are special blocks like Cuisenaire Rods and Unifix cubes), straws for bundling, the abacus, Daleks…Just about anything can be quantified.

For the moment, we’re looking at M&M activities:

1. Have your child sort all of the M&M’s by color, first one-by-one. Mix them up, then have her sort by 2’s, then by 5’s. Ask her which way was fastest/easiest.

2. Have her sort the sorted M&M’s into groups of 10, again, first by 2’s, then by 5’s.

3. If after she has formed groups of 10, there are leftovers, allow them to be eaten, BUT! Have her *guess* how many of each color are leftover just by looking. If the child seems to be struggling and can’t answer right away, ask her to close her eyes and tell you how many she sees.

We know these leftovers as remainder, but first things first.

4. Have the child skip-count the groups of 10, to find out how many there are, total. Ask how many she thinks were there before she ate them!

5. Now, have her eat some of the colors about half of each color by groupings of 2. She can’t leave less than 5 of a color.  Other colors, she can eat half by groupings of 5. Ask her the remainder of each. Tell her she can remove the extra M&M from the groups of 6 to make 5 of all the colors left.

6. Now, she can eat the rest!

You can vary this procedure for the other multiples. For 7, use groups of 3 and 4, for instance. If you want to include groups of 3 in the above activity, that is fine, also.

Most of all, have fun!

I was reading this over again, and after fixing my typos (rolling my eyes), I had another idea.

When you start, tell your child that when you're doing math, the candies are called "units" now. One M&M is a unit. This is a good time to get the child thinking about what a unit is. It's a whole item. It's One. Don't make a big deal of it, just get the vocabulary in there and emphasize that it's One. Tell her that's she's a scientist or mathematician when she's doing math and she must pretend to be doing the work when she's doing this activity, and so she needs to speak like a scientist or mathematician. She can even do an M&M countdown when she's on her last 10 and the last M&M must blast off, right into her mouth!

Naturally, you'll want to adjust your play to the child's age, especially if you're remediating. Speak in a more sophisticated tone while you're instructing her, like you're playing too. Older kids like to try accents and sound like someone they've seen on TV.

Please, also let me know how this works out for you! I'm always curious to know if I've offered something that works!


No comments: