This may be a surprise, but my first memory of learning about an array is from when I learned to code when I was in university. As a mathematics major, we had to take two coding classes, but I ended up with a minor in computer science (as well as English) so I guess I liked it!
You would think that I would remember learning about arrays through math, but I actually don’t remember the term used in the math sense at all though I know now that I learned about and used many arrays from an early age. And today, as a math enthusiast, arrays are one of my favourite concepts to talk about with children.
An array is an arrangement of items in rows and columns. Arrays can be found naturally all around us (as is true for many math concepts). I think it is natural to display things in arrays because the arrangement makes it easier for our minds to count the number of items. Items in an array can be counted using repeated addition, or multiplication, because of the equal number of items in each row (or in each column).
But the most interesting conversations about arrays stem from missing entries. I like to remove items from an array, leaving spaces or holes, and frame questions for mathematical thinking around those items remaining in the array or those items removed from the array. These examples of “holey arrays” can be found on my Instagram (@everyonecanlearnmath) and other socials.
Here are some questions to get your mathematical discourse flowing with the littles in your life:
- What do you notice?
- What do you wonder?
- How many *items* were there in total? How do you know?
- How many *items* are left? How did you count them?
- How many *items* have been eaten? How do you know?
- How many rows?
- How many columns?
- What position would you say each *remaining item* is in? Explain how you came up with that.
This last question about positioning in the array leads into coding language.
Try creating your own “holey arrays” around your home and see what discussions the children come up with. I promise the math talk will be worth the cringe of the items not being in a neat order (am I the only one??).
Keep spreading the math love <3