Benjamin LOVES M&Ms. It was one of his very first words and was what we have used throughout a lot of his life as a motivator to help him achieve skills. So, naturally, when I tell him we are doing M&M math, he gets super excited. Here was the lesson:
- Make a mouth out of the greater than/less than sign. Instead of saying it is an alligator mouth or pacman, I decided to tell Benjamin that it was HIS mouth. After all, Benjamin is going to be eating the M&Ms... might as well make it meaningful and memorable.
- Use two bowls as your "comparison" bowls and one full of M&Ms to pull from. Start off with a really easy comparison. I did 15 and 2 to start. Obviously, the Benjamin mouth would rather eat the bowl with 15 in them, not 2. I did a couple of example problems like that, showing different amounts of M&Ms with obvious comparisons. Benjamin didn't get to eat the M&Ms unless he got the answer correct and did it by himself. He then got to eat the larger number that the Benjamin mouth wanted to eat.
- We next moved onto problems with numbers that were much closer together. I pulled out our handy dandy Uno cards to start to move him from the concrete (M&Ms) to the abstract (numbers). I have found that it is much more meaningful for him if there is a combination of the two together to begin with. I started by counting out the number of M&Ms on the card in front of him and then having him tell me which bowl had more, placing the Benjamin mouth card between them facing the correct direction. He always got to eat the larger number if he got the answer correct. It works well with him to get positive reinforcement at first for every correct answer.
- Benjamin then had to do the problem completely on his own. He had to count out the M&Ms on the cards that I picked out, figure out which group was more, and place the Benjamin mouth card.
- After practicing for a while with the combination of concrete and abstract, I decided to start phasing out the concrete. I started by counting the M&Ms in the bowls in front of him and then quickly hiding them behind my back, leaving only the numbers to be seen in front of him. He still got the M&Ms if he got the answers correct... which at this point he did every single time.
- I then counted the M&Ms out without him being able to see them. He still got them if the answer was correct, but he did not get clues as to which number was bigger.
- I then had him do two or three problems without getting the reward of the M&Ms.
- Last, but not least, we completed a greater than/less than worksheet together. He would tell me which one was bigger and then face the Benjamin mouth the correct direction. I did the writing for him to decrease his anxiety. Out of 10, he only missed one! He still seems to have a little trouble with bigger numbers that are close together (like 15 and 16), but overall, his understanding is much better.
If you have a child who is struggling with a certain math concept, try and remember the following. These tips work with all children, including those with special needs.
- Break the concept down to its earliest parts and work from there. They will never understand how to do the harder concepts if they don't understand the easier ones.
- Use manipulatives!! I have found that the more motivating the manipulatives, the better. You can use blocks, legos, goldfish crackers, jelly beans, plastic animals, or yes, M&Ms. The concepts are a lot easier to understand if they are tangible.
- Slowly take away the manipulatives and helpers. Sometimes, you can take them away after one or two problems, other times you will need them for a long time.
- If it is math, and they struggle with writing, take out the writing for them. Use stamps, cards, cut and paste, you writing for them, etc. Writing has its place and we work on it a lot here, but Ben's anxiety goes way up if I try to make him write on every assignment. I want to know if he knows how to do the math, not if he knows how to write the number 3.
- Remember: it is all about motivation. One of my boys' preschool teachers put it best: would you go to work if you didn't get paid? The answer for most of us would be no. So, why is it we expect children to do their work without any reward? There are times when they should just do it, but they will probably lack the motivation to do it and the outcome will be completely different than if there is a reward involved. My approach today vs. my "do it" approach the other day when working on the exact same math concept is a perfect example of how motivation can completely change the outcome of the situation.
- If a step is too difficult, go back and work on the step before. Stay there until the child is ready to make the next jump.