Lab News

  • Starting with the Answer

    July 22, 2013

    Starting with the Answer
    By Matt B. Gomez

    Matt Gomez

    The hardest part about teaching young learners skills like grouping, adding, and decomposing numbers is giving them an opportunity to discover the "tricks" on their own. Since adults know and see how numbers go together, the instinct is to teach them what we know.  It is often difficult to step back and let the learning happen. One of my favorite ways to encourage this process is by starting with the answer.





    For our youngest learners, this can be done with simple storytelling. At the beginning of the year, my Kindergarten class often "starts with the answer," and I always try to incorporate a student's interest into the story.  For example, Tracy loves alpacas, so I tell the class the answer is 6 alpacas. I then ask the class, “What is the problem?” The kids use their fingers or manipulatives to work out the answer to my question. These problems encourage higher order thinking and, more importantly, allow for many different answers. The kids then share their answers and hear how other kids are thinking about math. Kids teaching kids is always powerful. 

    A free app I use frequently for this activity is Educreations, a virtual whiteboard that allows you to record both the whiteboard screen and audio as the kids work out the problem.  A low-tech option, called build that number, uses playing cards and a “magic number.”  PBS KIDS also has some great online math games that give kids practice building to an answer in addition. Curious George Train Station is for younger kids and Cyberchase Spaceship Power-Up gives older kids practice decomposing the number 10.


    Regardless of whether your child is just starting to learn about addition or is an addition expert, I hope "starting with the answer" will be a fun way to encourage higher order thinking and learning through discovery this summer.

  • This is What Math Learning Looks Like

    June 10, 2013

    This is What Math Learning Looks Like
    By Teacher Tom

    Tom Hobson

    As a preschool teacher, I know that there is no reason why math shouldn't be fun for kids.


    After all, math is a process of learning increasingly complex and wonderful ways to do things that we like. When we boil it down, math is basically -- patterning, classifying, and sorting -- which is ultimately the foundation of analytical thinking.

    We enter the world as mathematicians, exploring all the ways we can order our world and craving an understanding of the logic of things. We repeat our mathematical inquiries over and over. 


    Tom Hunter wrote a brilliant, simple song, which he later turned into a children's book, Build It Up and Knock It Down:

    Build it up
    And knock it down
    And build it up again.
    Knock it down
    And build it up
    And knock it down again.


    Subsequent verses echo the same circular, two-step pattern, so familiar to the natural play of young children. Turn it on and turn it off and turn it on again. Pick it up and put it down and pick it up again. Put it in and take it out and put it in again. It might drive us crazy as adults, it might seem to us like they're stuck, but really the children are simply testing their formula and practicing it until it's second nature: A-B-A-B-A-B . . .



    Young children in the course of their play, go on to discover increasingly complex patterns all around them. They use those discoveries to learn important things like how to take turns in a board game and engage in a meaningful process of many steps.

    Play itself is impossible without the ability to think logically. That's why we're driven to mathematical play. These are things we really must know in order to satisfy our curiosities. There is no greater motivator than the prospect of discovery.

    When we put blocks in a box or when we line things up, we are mathematicians discovering for ourselves the classifications and patterns of the world.









    Math is a process of discovery and should be fun for learners of all ages. 

    The opposite of play isn't work, it's rote. ~Edward Hallowell



  • Easy Activities That Teach Math Concepts

    May 20, 2013

    Easy Activities That Teach Math Concepts
    By Monica Olivera

    Monica Olivera

    More and more parents are taking an active role in preparing their young children for school. Chances are if you are reading this, you’re one of them. But many parents who focus on teaching pre-literacy skills sometimes forget that teaching basic math concepts are equally important for academic success. And as we discovered in the PBS KIDS survey, nearly 30 percent of parents reported anxiety about teaching their children math.

    Matt and Maria have already shared some great ideas for building early math skills with a digital camera or in everyday situations. So I’d like to share some fun activities using household items for children in preschool or younger.

    Count Out Beans

    Beans of Every Color
    So many teaching opportunities can be found in your own kitchen. I like beans because they can be used in so many different ways. If you have a variety of beans (lima beans, pinto beans, black beans, etc.), you can pour a cupful into the center section of a dip tray, then ask your child to sort them according to color or size. Sorting and categorizing is a valuable skill for young children to master before they learn to graph and analyze data in elementary school.

    Beans on a StickYou might also have your child create their own bean counters using lima beans, wood sticks (popsicle sticks), and glue. Have your child glue 10 beans on each stick and then allow them to dry. This is a fun way to teach your child how to count from 1 to 10 through repetition. Save the counters for future use when your child starts to learn how to count by tens, or to study place value. I have a complete tutorial on making bean counters on my website.

    As always, be sure to monitor your child when he/she plays with beans as they can be a choking hazard.

    Fruits & Veggies
    To teach your child to recognize colors and patterns, fruits and vegetables are handy tools. On your next trip to the grocery store, ask your child to find you a red/orange/green fruit or vegetable. Pick out several different fruits and veggies, and then when you get home, put them in a pile on your kitchen table and ask your child to sort them by color. You can also use this opportunity to talk about the differences between a fruit and a vegetable.

    Snack Foods
    Animal-shaped crackers, like goldfish and teddy bears, are great props for creating some, more stories to practice basic addition, or some, some went away stories to practice basic subtraction. For example, you can tell your child, three little fish went for a swim. One more came along. How many little fish are there now? Or you might say, five bears got on the bus, but at the next stop, two got off. How many were left?

    Ideas App
    If you haven’t downloaded the bilingual PBS Parents Play & Learn app, you can do so here. Inside you’ll find lots of ideas for developing early math skills for children up to five years old. It’s divided into 13 different categories of teachable moments, and each one has four activities that are age specific: one for baby, one for toddlers, and two for preschoolers. All the activities use everyday situations to teach math. Some require simple household items, while others use items found on a trip to the grocery store or restaurant.

  • Hands-on Activities to Build Early Math Skills

    May 06, 2013

    Hands-on Activities to Build Early Math Skills
    By Bernadette Grbic,

    Bernadette Grbic

    One of the best ways to teach children math concepts is through hands-on games and activities.  Learning occurs easily when children are being actively engaged and having fun. As a teacher and mother, I have found that while children may struggle with certain math concepts, when they have the opportunity to practice those skills through stress-free, active and engaging activities, that’s when genuine learning takes place.

    I’ve used items like ping-pong or golf balls to create fun, hands on activities to help strengthen children’s number recognition, counting and comparing skills and foster an awareness of data analysis. Below are a few ways these household items can be used to build key skills in young learners.


    Skill: Number Recognition and Counting:
    To try this at home or school, all you need is some ping-pong or golf balls, a muffin tin and salad tongs.

    Provide numbered balls face down in a container and ask children to grab one using the salad tongs (this also sneaks in some fine motor practice).  Once a child has a ball, ask the child to tell you what number is written on it. If the child does not know, say the number out loud - don't fret, it's a learning opportunity.  Once you have discussed the number, ask the child to place it in the appropriate section of the muffin tin by matching the number written on the bottom of the tin. Continue until there are no balls left in your container.  Now start at the beginning and count together, touching each ball as you say its number. Your child has just reviewed counting, number recognition, number order and had some fine motor exercise - all while playing a game!


    Skill: Comparing and Sequencing Numbers: 
    Comparing numbers is a skill that children often need more time to practice. Working with young children to build these skills early on helps build a solid foundation for later math skills, including place value and data analysis.

    An easy way to practice comparing numbers is to grab some ping-pong or golf balls, a medium sized container to hold them in and an empty egg carton. Invite your child to close his or her eyes, reach in to the container and grab two of the balls. Have your child identify the numbers chosen and determine which number is the smallest and which is the largest. Place the balls in the empty egg carton so that you have two rows - one for the smallest numbers and one for the largest numbers.

    Once you have gone through all the balls in the container, you can extend the activity by inviting your child to place the balls in numerical order to further practice counting and number sequencing.

    Skills: Data Analysis & Comparing Numbers:
    We analyze data on a daily basis, whether we are comparing the best value at the store or choosing the best lane on the highway to help us reach our destination in the fastest time. We are always making mathematical comparisons and this is an important math concept to foster in children.

    Even the youngest learners can analyze data and compare numbers in fun, engaging and informal ways. You can graph the favorite colors/food/games/etc. of family members and discuss the results. You can also grab your ping-pong or golf balls and play one final game that will help foster those skills.


    This active game can be played with one or more children.  To play you will also need a large bin or container, some paper and a writing tool.  Have two children each pick a numbered ball from the container. Have them identify the chosen numbers and write them down on a simple chart. Adults will need to assist younger children. Allow children to take turns throwing their balls into the large bin. The largest numbered ball to make it into the container wins the round.  Given that not all balls will make it into the container, children will also get invaluable practice comparing numbers to zero.

    These activities are just a few ways to get children playing and building early math skills. For even more math fun be sure to visit the PBS KIDS Lab and check out the PBS Parents Play & Learn app. It is designed specifically for parents and provides fun games that you can play with your kids to help build math and literacy skills through everyday experiences.

  • Mobile Learning Program provides free PBS KIDS apps to low-income communities

    April 24, 2013

    Mobile Learning Program provides free PBS KIDS apps to low-income communities

    The program, a component of the Ready To Learn Initiative, recently added Wild Kratts “Creature Math” and Dinosaur Train “Classic in the Jurassic Jr.” to the list of apps available

    Loading dinosaurs onto a train. Playing games with a talking dog. Building odd-shaped houses with outer space robots.

    These aren’t just scenarios that expand kids’ imaginations, and they’re not just games based on PBS KIDS shows. Apps from Martha Speaks, Dinosaur Train, and Cyberchase are now included in the Mobile Learning Program, part of the Ready To Learn Initiative that provides parents and educators in high-need communities with free gift codes for PBS KIDS iOS apps.

    The Mobile Learning Program began in March 2012 with two apps – “All Aboard the Dinosaur Train” and “Dinosaur Train Camera Catch.” Today, the program boasts seven apps; Dinosaur Train “Classic in the Jurassic Jr.” and Wild Kratts “Creature Math” are the most recent additions. “Creature Math” lets kids protect their own wildlife sanctuary by practicing addition and subtraction to gather resources for their creature pals. “Classic in the Jurassic Jr.” asks kids to use math skills – like counting, sorting, and using a pan balance – to help Gilbert prepare Troodon Town for the big event.

    David Lowenstein, the senior director of Ready To Learn at PBS, said the idea for the program took form as PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting discussed ways to work with partners in high-need communities to provide low-income parents and educators with free PBS KIDS mobile content.

    “We want parents and educators in underserved communities who have access to smartphones and tablet devices to be able to download a variety of PBS KIDS apps for free. Through the Mobile Learning Program, they can,” Lowenstein said. “It supports the efforts of PBS member stations, Head Start centers, and other outreach partners to help bridge the achievement gap and improve the learning outcomes of children in their communities through free, anytime, anywhere, evidence-based content. And it demonstrates that every technology can offer an opportunity for learning,” he added.

    Tracy Williams, the program coordinator for the Mobile Learning Program, makes calls every week to organizations that request these free app codes. They discuss plans to distribute the codes, answer each other’s questions, and share excitement.

    “I’m helping people in underserved communities gain access to children’s content that builds key math and literacy skills,” Williams said regarding why the program is significant. “I come from an underserved community, so I understand the importance.”

    Williams is originally from Harlem, New York, and distributed codes there last July.

    “I hope to see the program expand a lot and get codes to people who need them,” Williams said. “I also hope it increases the quality of life of kids who need educational opportunities when it comes to gaming.”