I tried this with my current Year 6 group of 24 children to disappointing results. The children break the stick of 18 Multilink cubes, describe what they have done and put something on the sheet of paper that will show what their actions to the rest of the group.
They were sat in two circles of 12 each with a large sheet of flip chart paper in the middle, three pens to record their work and a stick of 18 multilink cubes. I chose 18 for its number of factors: 1, 2, 3, 6, 9 and 18. This gives many possibilities for different sums being created. 12 is also a good number (with factors of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12), as demonstrated in the taught session. Of course outcomes could be expressed as aspects of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, proportions, ratio and percentages (there may be others, arrays could be used for example too).
I wanted them to keep discussion to a minimum and they worked silently for the most part. I had to keep reminding them to be mathematical as the activity progressed, but that was all I said. I didn’t say that anything they had written was right or wrong, remaining neutral and fairly detached throughout. I also made a point of not mentioning any potential things they could record and stated that if the stick had been around the circle once to carry on – especially after seeing the responses… this was in the hope that they might actually use some mathematical ways of recording!
One group in particular, took this as an opportunity to create a silly theme. Their recordings were written sentences of what they had done, such as, “I dropped it on the ground and 9 fell off. 9/18 = half ½” or “I dropped it and 14 came off” and even “I headbutted it and 13 came off.” Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly happy with that group as their work showed little thought or care for the maths they were doing nor did they relate this task to the fractions work we had done previously.
The other group’s responses were more considered. Although the first four responses were variations of the sum 18-5=13: “-13 = 5 left” and “5=13left” being two of their recordings. The rest of their responses try to take the form of ratio statements, which is a great piece of thinking from them – although they don’t quite get it right as they write “6:18 [which is followed by] Took off 6 cubes which makes 12 cubes” or “8:18”.
In all, this tells me that my class need a little more guidance and structure when it comes to tasks. Although I had a feeling that this may not be a useful activity with these children, having taught them for a year and a half now and knowing how they can be, I didn’t expect the outcome to be this far removed from my expectations. I suppose it shows that not all good activities work with all classes.