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Making Math Meaningful for Young ELLs Through Thematic Units

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Sarah Forbes

on 19 October 2016

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Transcript of Making Math Meaningful for Young ELLs Through Thematic Units

Making Math Meaningful
for Young English Language Learners
Through Thematic Units
Sarah Forbes, K-1 ELL Teacher
Courtney Bryan, Kindergarten Teacher
Winooski School District, VT
Math & ELLS
"English language learners need to learn the content of their mathematics courses. But learning is mediated through language-in our case, the English language. Every part of learning is language dependent, from the arousal of a curiosity, to the teacher’s explanation of a concept, to the formation of an understanding of that concept, to the verbalization or written expression of that understanding.(p.1)"

"The more connections we can make to students’ experiences and interests, the more relevance math is likely to assume in students’ minds and lives. (p.8)"

- Supporting English Language Learners in Math Class, Grades K-2, (2008) Rusty Bresser
Getting started with Math Themes
Use Common Core Standards
Get inspired by classroom, school, or community projects and events
Utilize concrete/hands-on tools and available context to bridge to more abstract and complex mathematical concepts and language
Create flexible groupings that allow for integration, modeling, and explicit language and content instruction
Include consistent features such as letters to students or exploration stations
Tie to other content and language instruction
GEOMETRY: "What Does the Shape Say?"
Letters from confused shapes pleading with students to help them sort out their shape names.
A school, classroom and playground "shapes hunt"
Critical examination of shapes at a shape tape party
Shapes hide & seek
Photographs of shapes students find in our public records
Human shapes
Posing problems via letters
Each unit, and several lessons within each unit, are marked by the arrival of a letter from a fictional character. For example:
"Pete the scarecrow" for a fall unit on counting and cardinality
"The Giant" from
Jack and the Beanstalk
for a unit on measurement
"Zach the zookeeper" for operations and algebraic thinking.
These letters pose challenges and problems that encourage critical analysis of mathematical concepts and give rise to rich discussion on problem-solving strategies.

What if real people from your school/community also wrote letters and posed mathematical questions?
Jack and the Beanstalk
Measure the giant's food prints
Talk about what grows from seeds, measure, graph, and compare different fruits and vegetables
Cut egg cartons into 10's frames and do counting with seeds.
Use different kinds of seeds to sort, order, compare.
Bridging to the abstract
After students buy into math, and build some background knowledge in the concepts, they are more able to access abstract mathematical symbols, representations, and reasoning.

zoo unit
is a great way to use classroom literature and the theme of animals to introduce and practice addition and subtraction. At first pictures can be used in equations until students learn the symbols, then those pictures are replaced by numbers, and students begin to use numbers more flexibly.
Using Themes in Your Classroom
Choose a Common Core mathematical standard at a familiar grade level on operations and algebraic thinking

Think about a project or a theme at that grade level that you could use to build a related mathematical unit. What does it look like? How could you differentiate for different students within the unit? What are some problems or challenges you could pose to students in the unit?
Closing Video
Full transcript