Sunday, December 16, 2012

Small, medium, or large

My wife, son and I went on a walk this morning. Destination: Bruegger's Bagels. There's a park between our house and the bagels. We frequently use this park since it has a play structure, monkey bars, slides, and swings (one of our favorites). Our two-and-a-half year old son (the olive-gobbler) loves to request that Dad (me) use the swing adjacent the swing he's on. Still a kid at heart, I frequently will jump off the swing in midair and my son has come to expect it. Of course, he requests, "Dad'll do a big big jump!" There were other kids around and I didn't want to be a horrible example and/or jump off and hurt one of them. As I explained this to him, he responds, "Dad'll do a medium jump."

I jump off the swing without hurting anyone, myself included. I turn to my wife and say, "I'm going to test something out when we get bagels." We walk over to the bagel establishment, place our order, and I grab a couple of straws. Enter this picture:
I took the straw wrapper and ripped it into three different sizes and ask him to identify the large one. He puts his finger on the piece on the right. I then ask him, "Which one is the medium one?" He places his finger on the piece in the middle. Lastly, I ask, "Which one is the small one?" and he places his finger on the left. Let's be clear here. I am not claiming my son is a genius or that my next magic trick is that he knows his multiplication facts. I was simply assessing if he really understood the difference between small, medium, and large. He does. I don't have another two-and-a-half year old kid to compare him to so I'm not sure if this is fair. What I do know is that he's making a one-to-one association and comparing sizes. I find this fascinating. As a family, we've been using the Your Baby Can Read series and have found it wonderful. I highly recommend it. The following is in one of his books.
Find the biggest comb.
This series has many wonderful ways of communicating language with children. My wife, an elementary teacher, would probably do a better job writing this post as she would be able to explain it all better than me. Knowing that he has a pretty good understanding comparing, let's see if he can order them if I mix them up a little.
Me: Okay, let's order them from least to greatest.
He looks at me blankly as he chews on his bagel. I didn't expect him to understand what I had just said. That's okay. I'm still going to use this language. I follow it up with this.
Me: Let's put them in order starting with the smallest.
Son: Hmph.
Me: Where is the small piece?
He points to the small piece.
Me: Okay, let's put that first (as I place it on is left). Where is the medium?
He points to the medium size piece.
Me: Let's put that next to the small piece.
Son: Hmph.
Me: Here, let's move it next to the small piece. What piece is left?
Son: The large! (saying it like he's just won the lottery).
Again, I'm not claiming my son is the next Einstein. I need to keep him honest and humble at the same time so here's how I proceed.  I take the largest straw wrapper and rip off a tiny piece so that it's smaller than what we previously agreed was the "small one". I temporarily hide the piece previously known as the "large one".
Me: Now which piece is the small?
He points to the new tiny piece.
Me: and the medium?
Son: This one (pointing to the piece formally known as 'small')
Me: and the large?
Son: This one (pointing to the piece formally known as 'medium')
I hope you're following me. If not, here's a picture to compare to the first one.
Previous small, medium, & large
New small, medium, & large
Let's see what this kid is made of. I reveal the piece I ripped the tiny piece from, formally known as "large one."
Me: What size is this?
Son: Hmph.
Me: This is the small, medium, and large (as I point at the new small, medium, and large) so what size is this piece (pointing at the piece formally known as "large")?
Son: Hmph.
I give him a few seconds to contemplate, mull it over, and possibly share his own name. Nope, nothing. He's perplexed. He's staring at it. He wants to call it something. He wants to have a name for it and compare it to the other three, but is looking for some direction here. I can see he's just about to take another bite of his bagel and be done with his dad's straw wrapper experiment. I jump in and say, "It's EXTRA large!" If this conversation was happening six months from now, I'd ask if the newly named piece would be "extra large" or stay known as "large." Likewise, would the tiny piece now known as "small" be correct or be known as the "extra small" piece? You decide.
Do you have these conversations with your students? If I was having it with my students, I'd hold out longer and force them to come up with a way to classify all four pieces using their own language. The teacher in me does not take a vacation nor do I take time off during the weekends. I love these conversations and I am now seeing them naturally occurring with my son. I cherish these opportunities and love seeing how his brain is working.

Lastly, a wonderful 3 Act opportunity made an appearance at the end of our bagel extravaganza today. I'll be posting it on Dan Meyer's so let me know the first question that comes to mind right here. It might be winter, but math is not in hibernation. It's still out there in the wild. Be ready to capture it any chance you get.

Small, medium, or large,


  1. I love this reflection/exploration. I hope you consider posting the link on Math Monday:

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for adding your post. It's an excellent read!