Over the next few weeks, to celebrate the launch of our Math Mights 8-in-1 Flip Chart for Addition Strategies, we want to take some time to introduce you to our four main characters: D.C., Abracus, Value Pak, and T-Pops!
These characters represent the four major strategies for solving addition problems (3 ways, plus the traditional). In this series, we’ll tell you a little bit about each one, the strategy they represent, and give you sneak peeks of the upcoming resources and tutorial videos designed to support the Math Mights series that you anticipate being released very soon!
What are Math Mights, anyway?
Math Mights were born as a way to help students relate to different ways of solving problems. Many students can solve problems the traditional way, but they usually end up memorizing a procedure for a concept they don’t really understand and it becomes non-transferable, meaning students can’t apply it to any other type of problem or situation with different kinds of numbers. Students with non-transferable skills also tend to have poor communicative reasoning because they simply don’t understand what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.
We started with a life raft, the idea that you could be drowning in an ocean of math problems and the strategies could help you keep your head above water. However, when we started collaborating with our artist, John Lucas from Johnny Toons, we felt that we had to come up with characters that would live on land because, if you’re drowning in math, you wouldn’t want the strategies to be sharks or whales or anything that lived in the water.
The first character was Crabby the Crab, the predecessor of D.C. Crabby was going to have the same hard hat and mallet and want to go around on the beach and smash numbers into more friendly numbers to make them easier to compute. We had some other characters like a pelican, a starfish, but as we continued, it was hard to morph my ideas for strategies into characters that would have been real land animals. So, in order to provide the variety of the characterizations we were trying to develop, Johnny Toons came up with two other options for characters – some with a muppet-type look and some with a more monster-type look.
Thus the Math Mights were born, and Johnny created Mathville, which is on the cover of our flip chart, where all the Math Mights live. With the new look for the characters, we were able to develop D.C. into what we wanted him to be to represent the strategy and not necessarily be confined to follow a theme. The current cast of characters are our more senior characters, and we have plans to bring in more of junior characters like Dotson and the Counting Buddy or other numeracy characters in the future.
Each character in Mathville has a different approach when they encounter numbers. We felt that creating characters that students could relate to would help them remember that there were different strategies that they could use to solve problems in math.
When I’m introducing D.C. to a classroom, I start by asking, “Do you know anyone at your house who is perfectionist?” Perhaps it is one of their parents who lines them all all the shoes on the carpet by the door. Perhaps the pantry is really organized with like things grouped together. Perhaps it is their teacher? We can often look around the classroom and notice the areas where that teacher excels in organization because the profession of teaching often draws those with perfectionist tendencies.
Once students have a grasp of the concept of being a perfectionist, I introduce D.C. as a character that is also a perfectionist. He likes things a certain way. However, he also has temper tantrums, which is another aspect of the character that kids can relate to. I have them think about times when they didn’t get their way and maybe threw a fit. I could give the example of when “my brother had a temper tantrum in Target where he threw himself on the floor because Mom said he couldn’t have the candy.”
When D.C. is in Mathville and he encounters numbers that are not friendly or don’t make a 10, he has his hard hat on to protect him because he’s going to use the mallet to smash the number to make it be what he wants. For example when we see the 8 + 5 (one of the problems featured in the beginning strategies for D.C.), we know that he can hit that number 5 and decompose it into 2 and 3. He can take the 8 and 2 and put them together easily to make that friendly number of 10, and then all he has to do is add the 3 to get his answer.
We want kids to recognize when they encounter numbers that are close to a 10 or a decade, that they want to push it to the next decade or 10 so we can more easily get the answer by decomposing one number and composing the other. As we’ve been using the poster more in our classrooms, I will use the beginning side of D.C. with many of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students because many of them have not been exposed to a flexible math mindset yet. Students at any age can begin to develop the right kind of thinking by working with easier numbers as they learn to compute, for example, 27 + 15. They can figure out how to make that next decade out of one of the numbers. This skill is very transferrable to the advanced side of the poster.
On the advanced side of the poster, we’ve modeled the strategy with higher numbers, but you could also use fractions, decimals, and even measurement conversions. When dealing in measurement, D.C. might not be looking for a friendly 10, but he definitely wants to compose to the next measurement up. In a problem like 7 in + 8 in, we know that we want to get to the 12 inches which is the marker to get to 1 foot.
The same concept applies in fractions. If we have 5/8 + 6/8, we only need to get to the whole number, so D.C. is going to want to decompose a fraction to make one of the 8/8s. So it’s a lot easier to solve with ultimately less steps.
Kids can transfer this idea. They can start asking “What Would D.C. Do?” if he came into this addition problem? How would he relate this problem to that strategy? D.C. is continuously in the flip chart and the downloadable resources, because as they learn new strategies, i’s important for students to review old ones. Because of the way the flip chart is designed, you never have to go all the way back to refresh your memory on previous characters! D.C. appears on every page of the flip chart along with the other strategies to help students remember that he’s available as an alternative to solve whatever problem they’re working on.
As teachers are modeling this particular strategy of decomposing and composing, they have to be careful to pick numbers that have a friendly number nearby. You wouldn’t want to pick something that wasn’t compatible with the use of the strategy! In our Math Mights Download that we’re working on, we’ve given you some help! We’ve created a character page for each character that will help you learn about them and talk to your kids about the. In addition, we have two great features. First, we have a graphic organizer with four problems that you could pass out to kids to see how they do with solving beginning problems with D.C. (there’s also an advanced version), But the thing I’m most excited about is a blank template! Once you purchase the download, you can type your own problems right into the graphic organizer for kids to solve. You might choose a word problem or something relating to what you’re doing in your math series.
Our full tutorial videos will be available in May, but here’s a quick preview of how D.C. would encounter problems and solve them! Teachers could use the videos to share the strategies with students, but also to just observe the language and excitement that they can create around the Math Mights characters.
Why Math Mights?
The biggest thing we can do in schools today is to provide vertical change. Our goal was to create a poster that was useful in grades 1-5. Teachers can teach the strategy, name the strategy, give the characteristics of the character, and kids can understand that they can use the strategy to solve a problem. We wanted students to learn a strategy in 1st and 2nd grade, but then still be able to talk about him in 4th grade because they also know who D.C. is and what he does, just with different kinds of numbers. It also provides a common vocabulary so students can identify who they used to solve their problems.
From 1st grade to 4th grade that we don’t have a totally different language, that we all have a common language. Thinking of a child in 1st grade learning about D.C. but understanding that there’s also a way to decompose fractions and decompose decimals, and that it isn’t a whole new process to learn, will really help them to understand the concept.