It's lovely how something considered routine, boring, and a necessary evil can actually be turned into a jam-packed opportunity to build better thinking. What's more routine, boring, and a necessary evil than the lunch count, right? I've found a way to use it as a great learning tool. It really doesn't take but five minutes, and the fact that the kids do it every day means they're going to have more than a few opportunities to practice the skills they need. (And we all know some kids need more than a few opportunities.)
Every morning we spend a few minutes making sure that our hot lunch, cold lunch, and absent numbers equal the right sum. Here's how it goes down...
1. I write the equation on the board.
2. Kids spent a few seconds discussing their strategy for figuring out the answer with a neighbor.
3. I ask for volunteers to share their thinking while I draw it on the board. (Several kids are involved, because I like to ask a new kid to take over after each step is drawn.)
4. I always ask them to explain their reasoning. "Why do you want to do that?" "How do you know?"
5. Sometimes we have enough time to draw two or three different solutions.
Here's one such solution that the crew recently walked me through.
At this time of year, a few days a week, I ask them to take out their whiteboards and draw how they would solve the problem. I often see things like this.
Before erasing our work I've gotten into the habit of asking, "Is that the only strategy we could use to figure it out?" and they've gotten into the habit of emphatically responding, "Of course not!"