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  • Writer's pictureAlex Box

What if... we start with (maths) play?

Two 6-year-old students build sticks out of unifix. They hold them up against each other to check for sameness and make the necessary adjustments of adding or subtracting blocks until both are equal in height. Then they each balance their stick on an index finger and strike them together. Upon impact each bar of blocks breaks apart and falls to the floor. The children laugh as they pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild.

At the other end of the room, a larger group of students are also experiencing unifix-related joy. They’ve spent much of the afternoon linking unifix together to build a creation that stretches from one end of the classroom to the other. Depending on who you speak to they are creating a giant snake, or the world’s longest train.

“It’s probably longer than you!” one boy exclaims to a supervising teacher.

Meanwhile two students are working collaboratively to build a palace out of pattern blocks. Unifix are used to create a perimeter around the royal building and its extensive grounds.

It was the second afternoon of what we refer to as thematic maths play and, as a visiting teacher and researcher, I am re-invigorated by the children’s creativity.

The girls who had been striking unifix sticks I quickly learn are conducting giant finger battles. Immediately I can see this extending to a novel investigation - building giant fingers of 'n' blocks in length. For instance: How many different ways can a unifix finger made of 7 blocks break into parts? How about 8-block fingers? What if... we listed possibilities for our chosen number and then engaged in a number of actual finger battles to explore which combinations come out…

What if... we started with play?

Read more about using thematic maths play here.

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