Do you remember learning about Robin Hood? He stole from the rich to give to the poor. In Robin Hood’s world the monarchy wanted more money and more treasure. Prince John sent out the Sheriff of Nottingham and his lackeys to collect exorbitant taxes from the poor working folks. Sometimes he asked the people for more than they had to give. Robin Hood took to living in the forest with his band of merry men, and did what he could to help the poor people of Nottingham. Whether you agree with his methods or not, the story can be a helpful learning tool for teaching math concepts.

Some children are naturally hands-on oriented in their learning. For struggling learners, offering some tactile input can be a vital part of helping them understand the concepts being taught. To promote generalization of newly acquired knowledge, children need to make connections between what they already know and the new material being presented. Like links on a chain, their knowledge base grows as each new bit of information is connected to prior experience.

My children liked to watch the Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood. So when they were having some difficulty with the math concept of “borrowing” along with place value, I had one of those inspired homeschool Mom moments. I lined them up by age, so that my youngest child could represent the “ones”. My middle child was assigned the “tens”, and my oldest child was to stand for the “hundreds”. Then I got out the Cuisenaire blocks and gave some of the single blocks, 10 rods, and hundred blocks to each child according to their assigned place value.

My first two children were working on the math concepts, but even younger children could be included with a little extra support. I didn’t expect my preschooler to understand the actual math concepts being taught to her older siblings, but she could work at her own level as she practiced counting the ones cubes. She loved being a part of things and having a supportive role in her big brother and big sisters’ learning. Because she was standing up, actively included, and moving around with manipulatives in her hands she remained engaged in the whole process.

I became the Sheriff of Nottingham complete with my assumed sheriff voice which made my kids laugh. The children were the beleaguered citizens facing constant harassment from the greedy tax collectors. I approached my youngest child and informed her I was there to collect her taxes and held out my hand to demand ten blocks. She counted what I had given her and discovered that she had fewer than ten in her possession. I told her that she would have to borrow from her “neighbor” in the tens column.

As she turned to her sister AKA the tens column, I explained that she would have to borrow ten at a time. Now in addition to acting out the process of borrowing from her neighbor, I illustrated the math problem on a dry erase board. I moved on in my role as the Nottingham sheriff and approached the child representing the tens. When the “sheriff” demanded a hundred in taxes this child found that she, too, was short of the amount being required. She had to borrow from her neighbor, the hundreds.

I used a different color of dry erase marker for each step, so the children could visualize each individual step while still seeing the whole picture. After going through several examples with the Sheriff of Nottingham insisting on payment of taxes requiring them to borrow, the written problems seemed to make more sense to the kids. At that point, I started to fade some of my cues and instead of talking them through each step I began to ask them what should happen next. As they gained confidence, I had the children mix things up and change places so they could each have the experience of enacting the place value roles of the ones, tens, and hundreds.

Initially I was illustrating the math problems on the dry erase board, but as their understanding grew I had the children write down the section of the math problem that represented their roles with each child using a different color. When they seemed to grasp the concept and were able to demonstrate it consistently, I ended the lesson by allowing each child to have a turn being the Sheriff of Nottingham.

My children loved the drama of acting out math problems in the roles of Robin Hood characters. They had blocks in their hands, different colors in the written work, and the creativity of portraying characters from a movie they knew well. It helped them to have that experience of acting out the math problem as characters from Robin Hood because they could think back to that activity to help them recall how to complete the math procedure. Whoever would have guessed that learning math would be so memorable and fun simply by utilizing the merriness of Robin Hood? I want to encourage all who read this to feel free to BORROW this idea to teach your own students the concept of borrowing in math!

Great idea! I will be trying this.