Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Graders and Fractions

My most recent poem challenge comes from my friend Kathleen, a fabulous first grade teacher who loves her students and spends ample time and money on her class prep.  Her challenge to me was:

"Fractions!  Must include 1/4, 1/2, 1/3, and 1 whole and be appropriate for 1st graders!" 

I was excited by the idea of fractions. My first thought was to go abstract and write stuff like "the sky is 1/2 of your soul, which is one whole biscuit," or something of the sort of nonsense I enjoy, but I remembered the spirit of the challenge -- to educate the youth about fractions. Not to confuse them. Interestingly, this was difficult to do without resorting to a narrative about how Adam's friend wants to share an apple with him, so he has to divide it into two, then three, then four slices.

Actually, that would have been an interesting Biblical allusion. But again, my goal was to educate...about fractions...not confuse the kids theologically. 

So here is what I came up with:


Look outside -
do you see the ants
walking in the scoop of ice cream
you dropped on the sidewalk?

Guess how many ants are there,
stomping around in chocolate chips.

Let's say there are 100 ants.
Do you think they might like an apple?
If you put an apple slice
beside the scoop of ice cream
and half the ants move
to the crisp fruit,
how many ants would move?
Yes. 50.
1/2 of 100 is 50.

What if you knew ants
like to swim in soda,
and you poured a soda river
in a crack in the sidewalk
beside the ice cream and the apple?
What if you also knew some ants
like chicken nuggets,
and you put one
(with ketchup)
on the ground beside the ice cream,
the apple, the soda river?

Then the hundred ants might have a meeting,
and the queen might say,
"We need to divide and eat!
1/4 of us will eat fruit,
1/4 of us will eat ice cream,
1/4 of us will eat soda,
1/4 of us will eat the nugget!"

Then how many ants would go hiking
on the solid apple?
How many ants would ski
in the ice cream?
How many ants would dive
into the soda river?
How many ants would go climbing
the chicken nugget?

You're right - the answer to all is 25.
1/4 of 100 is 25.
But what if you took back
the nugget, and forced the ants to live
with just three snacks?
How many ants would live on each
if the ants divided evenly?
33 and 1/3 ants would live in apple.
33 and 1/3 ants would live in soda.
33 and 1/3 ants would live in ice cream.
1/3 of 100 is 33 and 1/3.

And you are one whole kid,
and you can eat more
than a hundred hungry ants.
Kathleen's characteristically encouraging review:
"Your poem is amazing! I love it! Such a clear visual!"