Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Show And Tell - A Springboard For Math And Science Education

Before I started teaching, I imagined Show and Tell would consist of an interested group of young children listening politely to each other and passing items around with care. This assumption fell apart fairly quickly during my first year as a teacher. Although there were times that things ran smoothly, the problems with Show and Tell were many and I found myself avoiding the experience. Even four and five year old children competed about who brought the coolest things. The event became even less appealing as students wanted to have a turn playing with toys, bored children fidgeted, squirmed and lost interest or upset children disrupted the class routines as they tried to keep their items a secret. Show and Tell often became a weekly advertisement for the latest toy or fast food restaurant freebie.

Parents also complained of the stress of trying to remember Show and Tell days, of trying to help their child choose items to show or of dealing with indecisive children who wanted to bring something that would impress their classmates. Other parents took over the task completely, selecting objects and sending them with detailed notes to be read to the class or with instructions that no one was to touch the item nor was it to get broken. There had to be a better way.

In an effort to make Show and Tell work for the students, for me, and for busy parents, I picked one day a week for the activity and scheduled it as part of my math and science time. Everyone in the class was asked to bring the same item each week. I usually brought a few extras for the few who forgot. Instead of using show and tell times to give children practice in public speaking, I scheduled different days for them to speak in front of the class about something they had recorded in their math and science journals.

Parents received a letter explaining that the purpose of show and tell would be to extend the math, science and literacy programs by building vocabulary and practicing classification and comparative skills. The children were to have the responsibility of choosing the items, but from much narrower criteria.

The rules were: do not bring...

  • anything valuable, anything that could not be touched by all, or anything that would upset the student greatly if it got broken
  • anything alive, as students often have pet allergies and bugs in bottles are too often neglected
  • items too large - ask - can they fit in a brown paper lunch bag? (exceptions here - books, and occasionally other items)
  • toys - as they caused too many problems as mentioned previously

The parents were to remind their son or daughter to choose an item from the list, but not to interfere with their child's choice as long as it fit with the weekly list.

I also sent home a Show and Tell list for the whole year. This had a short note that suggested that the parents post the list on the fridge at their child's eye level, that they encourage the child to cross off each item weekly and to start looking for the next item, and that they remind the child to pack the item in their backpack the night before.

Classroom Show and Tell rules were: students were to bring the items into the class at the beginning of the day, label them with name tags (children have printed name tags in their take home boxes; tape is in most centers) and put them on the Show and Tell display table. The children were always very excited on Show and Tell mornings and I scheduled some free time for them to look at the items on the table and to tell a few classmates about their items.

Sample Show and Tell list

When creating a yearly Show and Tell list, put the date first, then the item to bring, illustrated with a simple drawing and finally a brief description of what the class activity will be. Keep the font large. Here is a sample from my list.

  • An apple (not for snack) - sorting, classifying and measurement
  • Something round - math vocabulary such as edges, face, circle, circular, classifying items by a variety of criteria such as size, color, material
  • A leaf - sorting shapes, colors, counting points, graphing similar types, tracing leaf shapes on papers and creating charts of similar and different leaves
  • Something shiny - comparison, vocabulary - reflection, reflect, testing (with a flashlight) how each item reflects light
  • Something that can be recycled - knowledge of recycling, classifying items, counting, more, fewer
  • An old greeting card - measurement with blocks. How many blocks long is your card? How many one inch squares cover your card? Graphing holiday images
  • A shell - classify and sort by size, color, shape, observation drawings
  • Something about Canada (map, flag, book, trinket) - awareness of Canadian symbols, shape of country, shapes of provinces, counting provinces, graphing occurrences of similar symbols

I generally chose objects that complemented monthly themes.

Sample Show and Tell Lesson with a Rock

The children place their Show and Tell rocks on the center of the carpet, and then sit down in a circle around them. I start with observation type questions. "What do you notice about the rocks? How are they the same? How are they different?

Let's sort the rocks by size. Which rock looks the largest? Which rock is the smallest? Let's make a long line." Everybody takes a turn placing his or her rock with student or teacher suggestions to rearrange the rocks when necessary.

"Now let's sort the rocks by darker colors and lighter colors. We can put the darker rocks on this plastic mat and the lighter ones on the other mat and the striped or speckled rocks in the middle." When this activity is finished and depending on the group attention span you can further investigations. Examples, "Are there more dark rocks or more light rocks? Are there fewer dull rocks or fewer shiny ones? Let's sort the rocks by which ones wobble and which ones do not wobble. "

Counting items, graphing, extending math vocabulary or practicing other math concepts are easy to integrate into the lesson when there is a large quantity of the same object. Gear the lesson to the attention span of the whole group. Children who want to continue comparing their rocks, for instance with a balance scale, can do so at center time.

Next I model an observation drawing on chart paper. Draw with a marker and talk out loud to describe your thinking. "I noticed that there are more wobbly rocks and fewer rocks that do not wobble. I am going to draw that for my observation drawing. I will draw a line down my paper and put more wobbly rocks on one side and fewer rocks that don't wobble on the other. The rocks are mainly round shapes so I will make circles. I will add dots to some to make them look speckled. I am putting little lines beside the rocks on this side to make them look like they are moving. Now I will color in with crayons so I don't cover up my drawing lines. I will color some light grey and some dark grey. Now I need to print the word, wobbly under my wobbly rocks. What sound do I hear first and what letter do I use? What is the next sound and letter?" Do the same with the words not wobbly. Finish with a drawing of individual rocks. "I am going to draw the rock I brought to show on the other page. It is black and has white stripes." Stamp the drawing with the date stamp.

The children then sit at tables and record one or more of their observations about the lesson in their science and math journals. This is an open-ended activity and results will depend on the developmental level of each child. The children take turns stamping the date on their page.

This method worked well for the children, their parents and for me. All the children had an opportunity to be involved during each Show and Tell day and reviewing old, or learning new, science, math, and literacy concepts were a part of each Show and Tell experience.

Check out these pages for more information about teaching preschool and kindergarten science with Show and Tell.

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