Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thursday: Fun with Tangrams

The New Searles Elementary School PTO gave some money to buy supplies for the school I would be working at in Kenya. With no teacher store in the area, I went on to Amazon and ordered a bunch of school supplies: pencils, erasers, scissors. colored pens and markers, flash cards, and other things that I thought would be very needed in a Kenyan school. I made good choices as the teachers were thrilled seeing all these supplies (as well as all the donated supplies and posters) from teachers. There were smiles and tears and gratitude. I found no evidence of any materials like this in the classrooms and schools. The next two days of teaching were the most fun as a couple of inspired purchases made for two wonderful days of classroom teaching.

Most of the supplies that I brought to the Bondeni School were placed in a small closet/workroom. I went over the supplies, posters, and other educational items with a few teachers to make sure they knew what they were and how to use them. I was leaving it up to the school to distribute amongst the various classes and teachers, but I saved a few items for the fifth grade classes that I worked with. First off, I had bought 3 hand pointers figuring that in Kenyan schools there would be a lot of board-work and I thought it would be fun for the teachers and kids to point with these.

Little did I know that I would be working in three fifth grade classrooms and that the classes were the red class, the blue class, and the green class. How perfect was that to give each class a pointer in the class color? The teachers and kids were giggling at the funny pointers.

I also figured that there were not many math manipulatives in the classrooms and I was 100% right. I didn't see any evidence of any manipulatives of any type anywhere. I had bought a box of 30 Tangram sets and on Thursday, class became Tangram puzzle day. The students had a ball. I was unsure how I would teach them and the night before I was talking with the teachers on our team and when I mentioned the Tangrams, one teacher said there was a story book that someone donated about Tangrams. It was called "Three Pigs, One Wolf,and Seven Magic Shapes."

It was perfect. I read the story, loosely based on "The Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf" -a story I had to explain, to each class. I got the feeling that they had few books read to them aloud. They were hanging onto every word. In the books magic Tangrams are made into 10 different shapes. When we were done reading, I introduced the Tangrams and talked about how they related to math: the names of the shapes (parallelogram was new to them, congruent shapes, size, fractions, and other things) with the class. Because each class had up to 30 students, no one had to share the Tangrams. At first it was hard for them to manipulate the shapes by flipping, turning, or rotating but after awhile they became very quick at figuring out the puzzles from the book. Some could get them on their own. Others learned once I copied the answers on the board (which was still a hard task to match the shapes up). It was quite a wonderful lesson and smiles were abundant. I kept telling the teachers to take these out and let the students use them during breaks or unstructured time when kids just sat at their desks. For example, one day their lunches were over a half hour late and the kids just sat waiting. I also left some Tangram cards of all sorts of puzzles for the kids to try later.

It was an amazing day of teaching and learning. I couldn't have asked for more, but it got better. That afternoon when I returned to the Area 2 School, where some members of our team had been performing fairy tales throughout the week, I heard that they had just did the story of The Three Little Pigs to a resounding success. Of course, they were invited to perform the presentation on Friday at Bondeni School. What a treat for my school and for my students who were now familiar with the story!.

Here is a part of the presentation from Friday:

In the schools we work at, appreciation is often shown by something called a "WOW". You can see the children give a WOW to the team actors, but then they teach the kids a new version of the WOW, a pig WOW. I don't think the Mathare Valley will ever be the same again as this proved to be quite a popular new WOW!

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