Multiage Math Congress: Graphing Names with Chrysanthemum

It’s sometimes hard to visualize how the multiage classroom actually works. While students are often separated into smaller groups, we do many subjects and activities as a whole. Spanish, science, yoga, music, and art are all taught whole-class, and we always have group read-a-louds and class meetings. Math is one area that is typically divided into groups according to ability, but once or twice each month we come together to work on a whole-class Math Congress with a big mathematical problem that all students are able to access at their own levels.

To start our semester, we read the students Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, since we had welcomed three new students and had new names to learn. In the story, Chrysanthemum the mouse is teased because of her long name. We used this as a launching point to work on counting and graphing with our own names. All students counted the letters in their own names and compared them to the 13 letters in Chrysanthemum’s name, using various materials and approaches, according to ability. Some students used unifix cubes to count and compare the two names. Others used mental math facts or number lines to help them solve the problem.

Then students worked at their own paces solving a range of extension activities. Our Kindergarteners made a bar graph of all the first names in our class to see whose was longest, practicing graph making and letter writing. Other students counted the total number of each letter in all of our names--some did just first names, some did first and last names--and then graphed their results to find the most frequently appearing letters. These extension activities continued for the week as students had further ideas for ways they could graph names or questions using the existing data.

While the activities varied, all students explored different ways to count, sort, and record data as well as how to compare and answer questions based on the graphs they created. And, by investigating the same general topic, younger students were exposed to more difficult concepts, although they used manipulatives to help solve problems. Likewise, more advanced students were able to reinforce core concepts or work on different strategies for solving and representing their solutions.