We started in first grade math with an investigation into how mathematicians use tools and what kind of thinking they do. Next, we worked through a guided discovery of two more tools: unifix cubes and multilink cubes. On the surface these look very similar (basically they are just plastic squares in all different colors), but if you dig a little deeper you can find many different ways to use them. And that was the job first graders were given, by asking the questions “What can you do with these math tools? What can they help you better understand?”
Kiddos were given some time to explore with each kind of cube, in two small groups. Most kiddos made long sticks or tall towers, comparing how tall they were in relation to other towers or to kiddos. The ones playing with the multilink cubes, which have circles on all sides of the cubes and can therefore connect in a variety of ways.
After each kiddo had a chance to spend time with each manipulative, we debriefed on what we had discovered. We figured out that the cubes could be used for many of the same purposes: measuring, counting and making patterns. BUT–the multi-link cubes could also be used to build 3D things or models.
For now, these are just for fun, but very soon mathematicians will be using these tools for very important work! Stay tuned to see more about it! 🙂