Sunday, June 12, 2011

Adding to 10

Here is a game I use to help students with adding to 10.

I introduced this game to Jonothon, who I knew was a weaker student with some underdeveloped math skills.

The moment I said that I had a math game for him to play, his face turned white and I could see his anxiety level immediately skyrocket. Math for Jonothon is not something he would associate with a game.

But with some encouragement, he agreed to give it a go.

However, once he saw the game had a timed element to it, panic struck again. So I calmed him down and said that winning or losing the game meant nothing, and that I had lost this game more times than I had ever won. He took great comfort in my failure but was still hesitant.

With some further encouragement, he decided to give it a try; however, I could quickly see why he was likely so hesitant - adding to ten was not something Jonothon was very comfortable doing. So after watching him randomly shoot numbered balls all over the place, I got him to stop playing and grabbed a piece of paper. Together, we wrote down all the combinations for adding to 10:

1 + 9 = 10

2 + 8 = 10

3 + 7 = 10

We got this far when he stopped me in disgust, "No, no. I don't want to write it this way."

"Why?" I asked.

"I don't like how the numbers count down from 9 to 8 to 7. I want them to count up."

So he wrote:

9 + 1 =10

8 + 2 = 10

7 + 3 = 10

He got this far when he stopped and said, "Hey, wait a minute - these all add up to 10."

If someone could have taken a picture right then and there, you would have seen a giant lightbulb over Jonothon's head and a smile from ear-to-ear on my face.

Jonothon then went back to the adding to 10 game, where I watched him check his piece of paper (that he created) before ever shooting a ball.

But then something happened.

All of a sudden I watched him take a 2-ball and shoot it at an 8-ball without looking at his paper. Both balls disappeared. He turned to me, smiled and said, "Did you see that?"

I smiled back and said, "yes, yes I did."

I didn't need to praise him - my presence was enough. I didn't need to marinate him in "good jobs", he just wanted to know that I was watching, and I was.

It is precisely these kinds of observations - these aha moments - that teachers make while the children are still learning that are so important, because to be honest, there is no substitute for actually being there for these moments. This is the most authentic and direct kind of assessment educators do everyday.

What's really kind of weird is that more we try and quantify these kinds of aha moments, the more we squash them.

Lunch time came, and Jonothan was disappointed that he had to stop playing. Before charging his laptop to scamper off for lunch, he turned and asked, "Can I play more math games after lunch?"

To which I gave the only appropriate reply, "yes, of course."


  1. Wow! I am not surprised Jonothon learned more about addition in a few minutes of playing a game than he did while completing the numerous addition w_rksh__ts he has probably had thrust upon him in his lifetime. I had the privilege of being present for an almost identical aha moment when a 3rd grader discovered for the first time that several combinations of two numbers add up to the same number. Thanks for the link to the game. After I enjoyed playing it for awhile, I added it to my diigo math links for kids.

  2. This is awesome...will play this at home with my kids too!

  3. I love this game! Thanks for sharing this story. Aren't we in an awesome job when we have the opportunity to experience such AHA moments?!

  4. This was a great post!! I love it!!! One big reason that I want to become an educator is these aha moments. I can only imagine how it would feel to teach a young person who struggles with a particular skill and be there with them when it finally clicks.
    It is also very neat that you used a computer game to help this child learn math. I know growing up my teachers always just wanted us to write it down with pencil and paper. I think things would've been a lot more interesting if we would have had games like this to play in assisting our learning.


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