Our math curriculum had us sorting recently. For those of you who aren’t preschool teachers, sorting is part of learning math when you are four — you need to be able to figure out how to organize things into sets based on one or more attributes. Or, as I tell my class, “put the things that are the same into groups.”
The above picture shows that the child working with these bears figured out how to put them into groups by color. However, this was after we had been working on sorting for a while.
I’ve never had such a tough time teaching sorting before. This class, as wonderful and smart as they are, was really stumped by sorting. It took us a week of sorting people (“girls over here, and boys over here” or “red shirts/not-red shirts”) and sorting our shoes and me modeling sorting over and over before it started to sink in. Miss Slinger would laugh at me when the morning was done because I was practically pulling my hair out.
For example, I had the class sit in a circle, and then everyone who wanted to took off a shoe and put it in the middle in a pile. Then I sorted the shoes different ways, talking out loud as I did it, with the children’s help.
We sorted the shoes by color, by type (shoelaces here, velcros here, boots over here), and by size (my shoe in one pile, all the others in the other pile). Then I sorted the shoes according to a sorting rule that they had to guess. The shoes were in two piles, and any observant kindergartner would have noticed that all the shoes in one pile had pink on them. “Okay, guys, there is something the same about all these shoes, ” I said, pointing to the pink shoe pile. “Can you figure out what it is? What is my sorting rule?”
Chutney said, “it’s big and small.”
I showed her that in one pile, there was my big shoe next to Pumpkin’s small shoe, and that in the other pile, there were shoes both big and small together. “It can’t be big and small, can it, if there are big ones and small ones in the SAME pile, right?” Chutney looked at me, uncomprehending.
“Is it big, big, small, small?” she asked.
“No, honey, that sounds like a pattern. Patterns are cool, but we’re not doing them right now. Look again at these shoes over here. Do you see something that is the same about all of them?”
Nope. I ended up having to explain my sorting rule — pink and not-pink.
After a few more days, they started to get it, so we did sorting stations. I had four kids at each table, each with a work tray (they used to be airline food trays!), and a different manipulative at each table.
This child sorted attribute blocks into two piles: thick and thin.
This child sorted them by shape — and was able to ignore the size and color while he was at it.
And this child sorted teddy bears by size, although it is a little difficult to tell from the picture.
By the end of the sorting theme, I was exhausted. Also a little curious — with a class this bright, why was it so difficult?