I Play with Design and Creation: #InnovatingPlay Through Math

One of the biggest questions I have received from teachers when I communicate about play is "How do you make time to play?" Teachers are worried about covering curriculum, standardized expectations, and having too much to accomplish to allow time to play. I think the answer to this comes through how we choose to approach our curriculum. If we see it as "making time to play" we tend to forget that play is a part of our learning. Play is a natural extension of our work. If we see our lessons as opportunities to guide learning through play, we open up possibilities for children to transfer their learning through play as well.

This week I would like to share a math lesson that was so full of joy, inspiration, and play that the children and I were bursting with excitement to share it with anyone who walked into the room! I am going to share the backstory on the lesson, and then a look ahead at where this might lead us in the future. I hope you are inspired to become a part of the journey.

The Back Story

The back story really has two parts. The first part began at a math workshop several years back in which the instructor impressed upon us the idea that teachers of young children need to have a firm understanding of higher level mathematics in order to communicate concepts accurately.

She had discovered that many mathematical misconceptions for advanced students stemmed from the schema they had developed as young children. She presented shapes to us and shared how many older children struggle with geometry because they only see shapes in one orientation - the way we typically introduce shapes to young children. For example, their perception is that a triangle is only a triangle if the point is facing up. They fail to see that a triangle with the point facing down is still a triangle. Similarly, we tend to always show children equations with the equal sign implying that the answer is next. Children understand 2 + 2 = 4. However, they often miss the idea that the equal symbol really represents balance of an equation. When they see 4 = 2 + 2 they become confused. The problem here is that when they reach algebra, it becomes hard to undo what was ingrained in them from an early age. Take away for teachers of young children: Our role as teachers of young math thinkers is critical for later development.

The second part of the story has to do with my love of design and art. As a person and a teacher I try to surround myself with people and resources that share the beautiful things happening in the world. Many of my lessons are not inspired by typical Kindergarten teacher resources, they are influenced by designers, creative thinkers, writers, and innovators who are out there doing the work itself. One of my favorite designers to follow is Tina Roth Eisenberg. Her blog is always filled with creative inspiration, and she would probably be surprised to know how many Kindergarten lessons she has helped to develop in our classroom. The lesson that I will share here was a direct result of her sharing an awesome website. It was here that I stumbled upon a video which opened up possibilities for exploring shapes through stop motion video. Please check out The Kids Should See This to learn about the incredible collection of inspiring videos for grown ups and kids!

The Learning Experience

The triangle lesson itself is a typical Kindergarten experience. We explore triangles, talk about the attributes of a triangle, search for triangles in our world, and use manipulatives to explore and solidify our understanding. This type of experience is something happening in Kindergarten classes across the world. However, after the traditional exploration, I shared this video with the children:

Suddenly, the triangle took on this new sense of mystery. It became magical and powerful as it transformed through space and time. The children were amazed by the changing orientation of the shape, and the ways in which triangles combined to make new shapes. What could have been a very typical lesson started to grow into a creative experience. By the end of the film, they were so excited, it was a perfect moment to invite the children to work as a group to create their own real triangle film!

We placed black paper in the middle of the rug and a collection of blue, yellow, and red triangles cut from paper. I introduced the Stop Motion app on our iPads (although this activity could easily be completed on Chromebooks as well), and invited children to come to the middle of the rug one at a time and either change the triangle by turning or moving it, or add another triangle to the paper. Each time they changed it, we snapped a quick photo of the paper. I had no idea how it would turn out, or if it would even work! Here is a first look at the rough draft of our film:

After creating our short film, children were invited to use paper triangle on black paper to make their own shape art. The discussion while they worked was great formative assessment of their understanding. They discovered the ways in which shapes combined to make new shapes, the way colors looked next to each other, the way negative space played a role in their work. (Yes, we learned about negative space during our exploration of letter formations in nature last week. You can read more about that here.)

I knew that this lesson would open up some awesome possibilities for learning transfer, so later that afternoon, I placed an invitation to play in the math center with pattern blocks and the Stop Motion app open on iPads. Without hesitation (or any further guidance from me), the children began collaborating and creating their own films during free play time in the classroom. I was thrilled when I sat down at the end of the day to review their process and saw that they had uploaded their videos to Seesaw to share with me all on their own. I used iMovie to create an overview of our Shapes and Stop Motion Film making exploration.

October #InnovatingPlay Invitation

This month, we would like to invite other children to play with Shapes and Stop Motion film creation alongside us! If you try it out at home or in the classroom, please post your film on Twitter using the hashtag #innovatingplay. We would love to create a collection of short films by children to inspire other children! The invitation is never limited to young children! Learners of all ages will benefit from the opportunity to manipulate shapes and create through this experience. Play is without limits.

Together, we can embrace play as part of our learning, growing, collaborating, and sharing.

Heart & Soul,


#innovatingplay #iMovie #Seesaw



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