Tears. Disruption. Lack of engagement. Arguing. Defiance. Does this sound like your class? Students, just like adults, experience a myriad of emotions each day. Unlike adults, however, they’re not equipped to identify and work through the emotions they encounter. As educators, we need to find ways to help students build social and emotional intelligence.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence developed an approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) called RULER. As its use becomes more widespread, one of its core tools, the Mood Meter, has become widely known. The Mood Meter is a four-quadrant grid that helps students answer the question, how are you feeling?
If you’re new to the Mood Meter, watching Yale’s short introduction to the tool can be extremely helpful. One unique way to use the Mood Meter is to connect it to mathematics. The Mood Meter can be used during graphing lessons for first through fifth grade.
In first grade, students learn about bar graphs. Integrate the Mood Meter activity into graphing lessons by using the four quadrants of the Mood Meter as the x-axis categories: angry, sad, happy, and calm. Use sticky notes in four colors to represent the four emotions. Each student places a colored sticky note that represents their current emotion on the chart. The benefit of this is twofold: Students learn about bar graphs as they think about their current feelings. The class can count and compare the number of students in each category.
Helpful hint: Make sure to define and give examples of the emotions in the four quadrants before plotting class data so that students understand what each emotional state represents.
In second grade, students continue with using bar graphs, but they can become more independent by making individual graphs. Give students a standard template with boxes that they can color in—one box for how they feel each day for two weeks. They can then see which emotions they felt most often or least often.
Helpful hint: The time of day that you choose to do this activity will impact the results. For example, if you complete the activity before gym class each day, students who are excited about gym may have different graphs than those who are anxious about gym.
By third grade, mathematics skills in graphing switch to focusing on line plots. The horizontal axis of the line plot can contain the same emotions of happy, calm, sad, and angry as with prior grades. The difference is that line plots use an X to represent a single student.
To add to mathematical thinking, the class can create multiple line plots and notice trends or patterns in data. Third-grade students are more in tune with how emotions can change throughout the day, and feeling happy at the beginning of the day doesn’t mean they’ll still be happy after lunch. Because of this, they should re-create the line plot three times per day. This can lead to deeper discussions about trends in emotions, depending on the time of day and how different events can lead us to feel different emotions.
Helpful hint: Third-grade students are able to understand more specific emotions than just the four primary happy, angry, calm, and sad emotions. Adding other common emotions like “content” and “frustrated” could allow students to be more precise about how they’re feeling.
Fourth-grade students work with more complex graphing skills and more complex emotions. They continue with line plots but now have an x-axis consisting of a fraction number line. In addition, they notice that “happy” has different degrees of happiness. So, the x-axis can now represent “pleasantness” as intended in the original Mood Meter graphic. The degree of pleasantness can be represented as fractions on a number line. Students plot their X to show how pleasant or unpleasant they feel at that moment.
Helpful hint: The Mood Meter also looks at energy level, and the above activity can be repeated using that metric.
By the fifth grade, students no longer use simple emotion words, as in the earlier primary grades. With the RULER approach, they will know at least 60 words. In mathematics, students learn how to plot points on a coordinate grid, and they can use the coordinate grid to plot their mood, using precise vocabulary and the appropriate levels of both pleasantness and energy.
Helpful hint: Provide students with an emotions glossary to allow them to use different vocabulary terms correctly.
SEL across the elementary grade levels
How can we use these math activities to help students develop social and emotional skills? What do we do with the trends in information and levels of emotions presented in our class? There are three main things we can do to help students recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate emotions.
- Talk about it: Whole group, small group, or one-to-one discussions can take place. Questions such as How do you feel at this moment? Can you think of a more precise word to describe that? Why do you feel that way? help guide students to express how they feel, which helps them understand and regulate their emotions.
- Develop tools and resources to address the needs of students: Tools and resources such as Mini Mood Meters and Calm Corner can be helpful.
- Change course: Sometimes we need to adjust our plans; students who are not in an emotional state to learn won’t learn. You may decide to switch around lessons or hold off on a lesson completely.
Benefits of Interdisciplinary Connections
Using meaningful data in mathematics increases engagement and conceptual understanding of mathematical skills, and interdisciplinary collaboration creates more authentic learning scenarios. Mood Meter activities elevate educator understanding of students and build relationships between students and teachers. When we listen to our students and are in tune with their needs, we’re better equipped to grow their emotional and academic skills.