Tubbing's Not A Bath - It's Math

Posted: March 07, 1990

Extending a medium-sized beaker over a mountain of rice, Academy Street School kindergarten teacher Gail Clark invites four children to guess whether Joshua Monier, 5, has a picked a container that will be "too much, too little or just right" to fill the one in her hand.

Joshua, who has chosen the largest beaker, scoops up the rice and waves his container high in the air. He giggles happily as he rains down the grain in a noisy cascade.

"It'll be too much - watch," warns classmate Nakia Burt, 6. Sure enough, Joshua quickly overfills Clark's smaller beaker, and Nakia jumps up and down, crowing in triumph.

"Told you! Told you! We was right because it's going to be too much," she shouts. Clark is pleased, for Nakia has just demonstrated that she has mastered the concept of "conservation," which in educator-ese means knowing how to estimate quantities without actually measuring or counting.

Conservation is an idea most children do not master until well into first or second grade, but Nakia, Joshua and all the kindergarteners in Glassboro School District's five elementary schools are using a unique, manipulative learning process that fosters thoughtful problem-solving.

"Tubbing," as it is called by Glassboro kindergarten teachers, lets children learn how numbers work through tasks in which they handle household items many ways.

Before they write numbers and do calculations, these Glassboro children set about counting and arranging toothpicks, acorns, beans, beads and blocks into patterns. Then teachers show them how to use their arrangements to do other more complicated things.

Tubbing is actually part of a program for primary grades titled "Math Their Way," which Glassboro schools have been using in kindergarten classes since last fall. The district's first grade teachers voted Feb. 15 to use it next year. Families tested the approach at a recent district "Math for Parents" night.

In tubbing, said Mary Wurst, basic skills kindergarten teacher at Academy Street School, during the first four months, the students explore tubs full of beans, beads and other small objects. "The first thing they all do with objects is counting," she said.

The children's next step was making patterns, which she said helped them learn to sort and classify and also to read. "When they make a pattern, they're learning visual perception skills, and you find they're preparing for perceiving letters," Wurst said.

By February, the kindergartners had begun making drawings of their designs and recording their observations on charts.

"Some even already understand the meaning of addition as grouping sets together or taking them apart," Wurst said.

The advantage of tubbing for teachers is they can observe how children learn. "You're physically providing the experience, and you can see them working it out, whereas with worksheets you have no idea what the children are thinking," Wurst said.

Interest in tubbing began when the Glassboro District was revising its curriculum. Diana Gross, a J. Harvey Rodgers kindergarten teacher, had heard how much children at Moorestown Friends School liked the program.

Dottie Wriggins, district basic skills coordinator, said the program covered all the district-mandated objectives in the same amount of time as the old program. Children of all ability levels use it.

She and Wurst are most excited, however, about how Glassboro kindergarteners are using manipulative math experiences to think.

"Children are solving problems, which was something we thought they'd do much later," Wurst said.

"These kids can't wait to do their tasks," Wurst said. "It just shows you have to create a situation where math becomes fun. They love it; they absolutely love it. I can't remember a time in all my 17 years of teaching when I saw them not want to stop - that's a first."

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