# What Does Equal Mean?

So often we provide students with mathematics instruction that “makes sense” to us and we wonder why they don’t develop understanding.  Often this is due to the fact that they have not been given an opportunity to MAKE sense of what we are teaching them; to discover it on their own.

An example of this is teaching an addition algorithm that asks students to complete a number sentence that uses two addends and a sum.  We tell students that “equal” means that they are the same on both sides.  Imagine yourself as a 6-year-old, you look at the equation 5 + 3 = 8.  There is nothing the same on both sides of the equal sign.  On the left side, there is a 5 and 3 and the right has an 8.  We must stop assuming that students make sense of their world in the way that we do now that we have had countless experiences that have shaped our perceptions;  We forget that we have access to a much larger schema.  We must allow them to “make sense” and not assume that what we teach “makes sense.”

One of the best sense-making tools for students to use to discover the meaning of the equal sign is to use a pan balance.  Put a post-it in the middle of the balance that has the equal sign on it and let students explore different number combinations that will balance the scale.

After they have time to discover and play (yes play is an essential learning opportunity), ask questions like, “if I have 5 cubes in this side, and I have 3 in the other, how many cubes will I need to add to make the sides balance (or make the cubes equal)?”

Here is an example of the pan-balance-sheets I made for students to record their thinking.  We start out with the mat, and place cubes on the mat to model the problem, then we use the recording sheet to write numbers that correspond to the problem we modeled.  Following this lesson, we can introduce the formal number sentence that students should know in first grade, but only after they have been allowed time to make sense of why the equation is set up that way.  This allows students to experience the task in a concrete, visual and abstract way.  Weighted numbers are a great way to connect this as well!

The other great thing about connecting the concept in this way is that missing addend problems are already embedded in the sense making and students see addition as interconnected.  The same goes for equations that are written with the sum first and the addends on the right side of the equation.

When we begin talking about subtraction, we again take out the pan balance and play with numbers.  This is a great way to connect the operations of addition and subtraction and show the reciprocity between the two.

# AVMR Topic Modules with Blendspace

I have been trying to find the perfect way to create self-paced content that my students can access based on their Math Add+Vantage Screener data.  I wanted a way to fill in some gaps in their math knowledge that would help them be successful in tasks that require these as prerequisites.  After reading about and listening to experts speak on current brain research about how students reason and make sense of mathematics, I knew that I needed to change my math instruction and provide more connected tasks in heterogeneous groups of students.  However, I knew I wanted to provide additional support during independent work on some of these fundamental tasks as personalized learning goals.

We use Canvas as our LMS in our district, and it is great for many things.  However in first grade, many of the assignments and quiz features are too difficult for early and non-readers to upload their work.  They can upload videos to Canvas, but there are issues with the mic in Canvas and after talking to my Blended Learning Specialist, I decided that I wanted to find a more accessible option for my first graders.

What I have decided, for now, is to embed Blendspace content modules into my Canvas Module and link to a quiz after they have accessed the topic page and practiced the skill.  Instead of having them upload their video to Canvas, we will just use our Seesaw recording station to upload a video via iPad to their personal Seesaw portfolio.  That way we can add their assessments to their portfolio.

This is still a little frustrating, as I cannot assign particular students a particular module in Canvas, so I have to still have them click on buttons I have made in the course so that they can access the module they need to start with.

I few of the Blendspace modules are ready and as I add more, I will update them on my blog here.  I am having trouble finding online games for several of these, so please feel free to send me a message with any great resources to add to the Blendspace modules.  You are welcome to use them in your own classroom!