Marilyn Burns: It's Almost My Birthday

Tap students' excitement with these number-sense
problems
.

Written by Rusty Bresser and Stephanie Sheffield Edited by Marilyn Burns

If we only had a quarter for each time an excited child talked about a birthday, we could solve any school district's budget crunch — and more. We don't, but we do capitalize on students' birthday enthusiasm by reading two delightful books — Only Six More Days by Marisabina Russo (Puffin, 1992) and On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier (Harcourt Brace, 1991). These books provide a context for engaging children in solving problems that involve counting, number sense, estimation, computation, and graphing.

Choose from:

Stephanie's Primary Lesson

In Only Six More Days, Ben eagerly counts the days until his fifth birthday. He crosses off each day on the calendar, eagerly anticipating his party. Ben's sister, Molly, however, does not share his enthusiasm for the upcoming birthday bonanza. To help Molly deal with her feelings of jealousy, her mother points out where Molly's birthday falls on the calendar so Molly also can count the days until her own birthday.

Step #1
Read the story and give children time to talk about their birthdays. Then find out if any students have a birthday that month and ask the class: How many days until _'s birthday? Invite students to work together to find the answer. (You may want to have some calendars on hand for reference.) Once students have completed their calculations, ask volunteers to share their answers and explain to classmates how they found them.

Step #2
Continue the discussion about birthdays by asking one child to write his or her name and age on the board or on chart paper. Ask other children who are the same age to write their names underneath. Then ask children whose ages are different to begin new columns and have classmates add their names underneath them.

Step #3
Once all children have recorded their names, ask students to find the total number of children who are each age and have them create statements about the results. Students may say something like: "There are more six-year-olds than any other" or "There are only six names on the seven-year-old list" or "Eighteen kids are six years old and six kids are seven." Record these statements on the board and ask children to explain how they used the data to make their statements. Finally, model mental addition by combining the number of children in each column to check that it equals the total number of students in class that day.

Step #4
Repeat this activity later in the year, varying the ways children record their ages. For example, one day list on the board the numbers that cover the ages of all of the students. Then have each child come up and make a tally mark next to the number that matches his or her age. (This lets you teach the children how to use a diagonal mark to indicate a group of five.) At another time, have each child write on a 3-by-3-inch stick-on note his or her name and age, then post it on the chalkboard. Ask for suggestions on how to organize the stick-on notes to show how many students are of each age.

Step #5
As a follow-up problem –– or to challenge interested students-pose this question: If Ben's birthday were today, when would Molly's birthday be?

Rusty's Intermediate Lesson

In the award-winning book On the Day You Were Born, the sun, ocean, trees, animals, and people warmly welcome a new child into the world. "On the day you were born the Moon pulled on the ocean below and, wave by wave, a rising tide washed the beaches clean for your footprints . . ." begins one page. The book invites children to think about science in the world around them and gives you the opportunity to ask: How many days have you been alive since your birth?

Step #1
After you read the story to students, reread the page that begins "On the day you were born the Earth turned, the Moon pulled, the Sun flared . . ." Ask students: How long do you think it takes for the Earth to make a complete turn on its axis? How long does it take the Earth to orbit the Sun? Some students will know the answers, but don't be surprised if others don't. Establish for the entire class that it takes the Earth one day to make a complete turn and 365 days –– one year –– to orbit the Sun.

Step #2
Ask: How many days do you think have passed since you were born? Have students record their estimates for future reference.

Step #3
Have students brainstorm what they need to know to figure out exactly how many days old they are. List on the board the information students suggest. If they don't suggest the number of days in a year and the number of days in each month, be sure to post them for students to refer to. You may want to discuss the issue of leap year and talk about how students remember the number of days in each month. (Have a school roster of birthdays on hand in case some students don't know the year they were born.)

Step #4
Ask students to share strategies they might use to figure out how many days old they are. A group discussion of ideas can help students clarify the problem and present getting-started approaches they hadn't considered. Then have students solve the problem. Having students work together gives them support for thinking about how they might calculate the answer, but direct students to individually record their solutions and explain them both with numbers and words.

Step #5
After students solve the problem, have them report their solutions, explaining to the class how they did it. Also have them compare their results with the estimates they made earlier. Students will be amazed when they realize that they've been alive for thousands of days!

Stephanie Sheffield (Math), a first-grade teacher in Houston, Texas, and Rusty Bresser (Math), a fifth/sixth-grade teacher in San Diego, California, are the authors of Math and Literature books, published by Math Solutions Publications from Marilyn Burns Education Associates. The books are available from Cuisenaire.

Marilyn Burns (Math), a household name to elementary teachers across the country, is the creator of Math Solutions, inservice workshops offered nationwide. She is also the author of numerous books and articles.