One Way to Differentiate and Spiral Several Math Concepts

It’s rare Seattle reaches 65 degrees in November, and on this beautiful fall day, the children went and harvested beans from a nearby garden. They worked in teams of 4 and 5, had different jobs and had to agree upon them before we left.

When they returned they did some estimating (how many beans in the pod), and began to measure the length of each bean. And some groups began to graph the length of their beans. Reviewing how to use a ruler, asking what is the difference between cm and inches and how do you know, creating a graph, as well as what a key tells us on a graph were some of the objectives laid out for them.

Tomorrow, they will continue by finishing their graphs and begin to weigh the beans they harvested. Again, they will get an opportunity to graph these beans by their weight. They will also use their graphs to generate word problems. Some will need templates, other children will be able to come up with very sophisticated problems that I probably would have never thought of myself. That’s the fun thing about open ended math activities.

Furthermore, we will tie it in with the story of the bean farmer and how the Pike Place Market started in 1907. We will also take the pods and compost them in our school garden’s compost that we started this year. If time permits, a story about Jack and Beanstalk should be included too, as the 2nd graders work on fractured fairy tales later in the year. Fairy tales are hard to fracture if you’ve never heard the original.

Next week the beans will be cooked and the children will follow a recipe (a little more measurement here too) to make bean dip, learn a little bit about nutrition, trying something delicious, and have a fun time doing it.

These are the kinds of lessons that are so important in elementary school so that math, language arts, social studies, science, etc. is not taught in a vacuum. Yes, they will need foundational skills to measure length and weight, and some may need more direct instruction for some at remembering how to create a bar graph. Whatever the skill, it’s important to assess how the kids are doing by getting right in there and using that assessment to guide your teaching so that, like the beans, the children can grow.

Some people think of spiraling as 10 questions at the bottom of a work page that asks questions that may include items one needs to review. The activity above has that all built in, but there are more places to differentiate in an activity like the one above.

Here are some examples how one can differentiate just through questioning:

How long was your longest bean? Use your graph.

If you put all the beans your team harvested end to end, what would the total length be?

If your team managed to harvest 3 times the amount you did, how many bean pods would you have?

Make up your own question using the words total, weight, and graph.