Mystery Project recently involved identifying pet foods.  Each child was given a tri-folded sheet of paper and markers.  Each rectangle on the paper was labeled with a number that corresponded to an open, unlabeled pet food container.

The children used their senses of sight and smell to make a conjecture regarding the recipient of each type of food.  After much smelling, wrinkling of noses, silly guesses, and sound ideas, they drew a picture and wrote about their thoughts for each.

Finally, we revealed the actual types of pet foods we examined.  We had wet cat food, wet dog food that looked like beef stew, and fish food.  Look for their guesses in the students portfolios.  They had some mighty interesting ideas about each type.

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Mystery Project 101

Last week we began our first “Mystery Project”.  You might have noticed it penciled into the weekly specials schedule.  The basic premise of Mystery Project was inspired by TLC Lessons I used many years ago in Kindergarten.  This type of lesson is called a “directed art lesson”, but I would never call it an art project.  I would call it a “following directions math lesson”.  In my mind, an art project should be a creative expression of a person’s mood, thoughts, and ideas.  Instead, Mystery Projects have specific directions for completion and practice targeted skills.  I no longer use the designs and lessons created by the TLC group, but have integrated some of their ideas for introducing scissor and folding techniques in my plan.

The Mystery Project you see on the right was created using basic shapes.  Each child had a brown rectangle, a white rectangle, a large blue rectangle, and a black square.  The children had to listen carefully to see which piece to use and whether to hold it “like a window” (horizontally) or “like a door” (vertically).  We did talk about the correct mathematical terms, so if they start laying on the floor and talking about horizontal, don’t be too surprised.

The children also had to practice patience when learning how to cut the shapes.  When doing Mystery Projects, we often want our rectangles and squares to become ovals and circles.  For children who have had lots of experience cutting, their first plan is to begin trimming around and around and around the outside edge until they have a teeny, tiny ovoid.  I teach them a different method.  The first step is to use your scissors to cut off all of the corners.  Next, you take itty bitty bites with your scissors to cut off all of the pointy parts.  This gently rounds your shapes while remaining close to the original size of the rectangle/circle.  It is also important to address the fact that sometimes we accidentally cut off too much.  No Biggie! Just snip off the newly formed pointy parts.

A few days after our pictures were completed, we moved on to the manipulative portion of the mathematics activity.  This part of Mystery Project was inspired by my experiences with Problem Solving with Story Boxes.  In this instance, we are using our “math mat” to tell the story of some bears and their interactions with a cave and a child.  I begin the lesson by telling the children a story that they can “act out” on their mat.

Once upon a time there were three bears in the cave.  Then, four bears came and stood on top of the cave.  How many bears were there all together?

For this story, we used rocks to represent bears.  Mrs. Pless and I were looking at a few different skills as we watched how the children approached this problem.  We observed an understanding of positional words, comfort with one to one correspondence when counting, and an understanding of combining sets.  Most of these skills we do not expect to see fully developed at this time, but this gives us a chance to both differentiate for those who are ready and to support those who are at the beginning of their mathematical journey.

As a final practice, the children then join with a partner and play “My Turn, Your Turn”.  Each student invents a new math story for their friend to act out using their mat.  This gives us an even better concept of how well the children understood the activity.

Five Little Pumpkins

five little pumpkinsMystery Project this week turned out to be an illustration for one of the poems we’ve been learning for Halloween.  This particular type of activity happens many times a year.  Although it might look like an art project, I don’t really consider it one.  The purpose of these projects usually revolve around math concepts and visual-spatial skills.  Our five pumpkins sitting on a gate introduced the words horizontal and vertical.  We also practiced cutting circles from squares by cutting the corners off and then removing any “pointy parts”.  To make the gate posts and rails, we folded rectangles in half and cut along the folds.  This required the children to use both small motor skills and coordination to match up the opposing ends and create an even fold.

As you can see from this project, many little learning goals are accomplished in the activities we do each day.  If ever you are wondering what your child might have learned from a project, ask his or her teacher.  It can be surprising how much thought, planning, and skill go into what appears to be a simple task.  Even after years of teaching young children, I am still amazed at the workings of the young human brain.

For anyone who is interested, here is the ubiquitous pumpkin poem:

Five Little Pumpkins

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate
The first one says, “Oh my, it’s getting late!”
The second one says, “There are witches in the air!”
The third one says, “But we don’t care!”
The fourth one says, “Let’s run and run and run!”
The fifth one says, “I’m ready for some fun!”
So, Ooooooo went the wind
And out went the light
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.