If you walked into a fourth-grade classroom, you might not realize math lessons were in full swing. Pairs of students might be building an elaborate structure from cardboard boxes, cylinders, and spheres, then writing and presenting a story about their invention. (Calculating the aggregate volume of the various shapes is real-world geometry, and storytelling helps the learning stick.)
Fourth graders’ participate in many hands-on projects that transform math from conceptual to concrete. In the process, students are constructing an understanding that math is not just a set of rules but a set of connected ideas and patterns. At every turn, teachers are emphasizing larger lessons about learning and life: There are many ways to solve a problem. Mistakes are a powerful learning tool. And teamwork often leads to a better product than you can create on your own.