Math Rocks, Assignment #4

Getting ready for the first unit!

I’m excited to be launching into Math Rocks for a second year!   What makes this very first classroom centered assignment exciting, is that we have been guided through a process to help us plan ALL our math units throughout the year!   

As the year progresses, it will seem that time will become more and more scarce, but as in Annie’s video, some things that take a little extra time at the beginning, can result in big time savings later on.  The steps Brian outlined to take a deep dive into the unit before you even begin to plan will take a little longer the first time, but as we get more proficient, we will get faster. Since I am an instructional coach, I repeated the process for EACH grade level.  Yep, all 6.  The first one took me quite a bit longer than the last.  I fell into a rhythm, and I began to know what to look for to quickly identify the key points.   

My noticings:

  • If we are truly stretched for time, MAKE the time to watch the video by Brian or Regina.  They highlight the key learnings that we will need to be aware of!
  • Each grade level begins the year by reviewing critical content from the year before.   For Kinder, it is reviewing what they may already know about numbers and counting.  For grades 1-3, it is using data to play with numbers and review basic facts and operations.   For 4th, they began reviewing place value ideas learned in previous grades, and then really emphasizing the relationship between places.  Finally, 5th grade begins the year by applying what they know about basic operations to learn order of operations.  They also have an intense review of 4th grade fraction and decimal concepts.
  • Spiral review activities and resources are highlighted for all grade levels.

I’m looking forward to purposeful planning with teachers, starting with these great first steps:  rationale and unit video!  I just know it is going to help us make mathematics come alive and relevant in our classrooms!

#MathRocks          #RRISDPD

The Journey of Math Rocks

The Journey of Math Rocks is drawing to a close….for now…

During this journey, I have been challenged to Tweet—-I enjoy that, especially the Thursday evening #ElemMathChat.   I just could never get to Tweeting too much.   Privacy concerns with my students keep me from putting too much out there.

I have been challenged to blog—I have enjoyed that, too.   My blog for me has given me a place to reflect, to share, and to address topics I see in my work as an instructional coach.  It also gave me a chance to right a homework wrong with my own children.   My growth as a teacher has led me to believe, strongly, that homework should be short.  Math homework should be confined to fluency practice, not problem solving. When solving rich problems, students need to be able to talk and collaborate with their peers at school.  The most important part of homework is reading.  Every night. Seven days a week, and whatever the student wants to read.  I want them to love reading.  I want them to be able to use their reading skills to access fabulous math problems!

I was challenged to be purposeful with my number talks—something have been doing for years anyway, but now my talks have a new life, and a new energy.  I was challenged to try Estimation 180—an intriguing website with problems I like to solve for myself…then find ways to adapt them for students.

We were also challenged to choose a word that means math to us.  I chose “wonder”.   As a human, I love numbers.  I think about them all the time, and I wonder what patterns are there.  I wonder what questions I can ask.  During this journey, I have worked to inspire students to wonder about math, and ask their own questions.

Finally, we were challenged to be curious.  I became curious as to how students think about math, how they approach problem solving.

It has been a fun and fulfilling journey.  Now it is time to share what I have learned and experienced so that even more students and teachers become curious and wonder about the math in their world.

#MathRocks   #RRISDElemMath   #Estimation180  #numbertalks  #wonderingaboutmath

#mNTmTch Ch 4 Subtraction Strategies

One of my  5th grade teachers stopped by and asked for a resource to bringing subtraction number talks into her classroom.   My copy of Making Number Talks Matter, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker was on my desk, so I handed it to her, and said, “Check out chapter 4.”

I dropped into her room a few days later, and the students were trying out the “round the subtrahend to 10 and adjust”.  Some of the students were catching on, and some were still confused.  Careful questioning by the teacher found that the students who were confused were stuck because they were still trying to perform the standard algorithm in their head.

I didn’t get a chance to drop in again for a couple weeks, but there was no more confusion!   Not one single student was trying the algorithm in their head.  They were all using multiple strategies, proving their answers and questioning each other.   A “safe space” has been created so that students are free to say “I don’t understand” or “I don’t agree”.

Most students had now put several strategies in their math toolbox, some had only mastered one–but it was mastered.

The room was energizing and happy.  I love seeing smiles, and hearing “I get it” in math class!

#mathquestions   #mNTmTch        #dearteacher      #mathtalk

#mNTmTch Questions in math class:

Dear Colleague,

Chapter 3 in my book study, Making Number Talks Matter, we are looking at the questions we ask in math class.

I have always felt that the most important part of any lesson I create for my students is purposefully planning the questions I will ask.  I’m not one of those people that can “shoot from the hip” and ask the just right question at the just right time.   I have found I have to PLAN.

In my classroom, and now in the classrooms where I am co-teaching while I coach, I jot down some open ended questions that can be used at any time.   My favorites:

“Why did you choose to use that strategy?”

“How do you know that your final answer is correct?”

“Can you explain why that works?”

“Can you explain if that strategy will work for every problem, every time?”

“Why?”       “Tell me more.”

I try to avoid asking questions that focus too much on the right answer, or yes or no answers.

In considering number talks, whether I use the generic questions, or I use a task specific question for that particular talk, I still plan ahead.

What do I want the students to do?   What misconceptions should I be looking for?  What strategies might I see?  What understandings am I looking for?

Once I can answer these questions, I can plan what questions I will ask my students.

Probably the most important question I asked once, was “What questions could we ask?”   This put the responsibility for thinking about the problem back with the students.   The first time I asked this question was probably unplanned, but it had a spectacular effect:   My students took over the math talk, and began talking with each other!

Since this time, I have planned this particular question into lessons.  What I notice is that the first few times, the students are hesitant.  They are not used to asking questions on their own.   Once they are comfortable, they will begin asking amazing questions that are even more thought-provoking than what I had planned.  The energy and enthusiasm for math talk also increases.

Asking this one question has increased the math talk between students more than any other teacher move I have ever done!

#mathquestions   #mNTmTch        #dearteacher      #mathtalk




Making Number Talks Matter: Dot patterns with Kinder students

Kinder number talks using dot arrangements.

I was recently asked to model a number talk for each of our four kindergarten classes.

My Purpose:  I wanted the students to identify dot arrangements of 5, and see how they could subitize numbers that are within 5-groups of 2, 3, 4.   I wanted them to have practice using oral language in English–a language they are learning.  I wanted the teachers to hear, and see modeled, the kinds of questions to get students talking more.  

My plan:  I created 3 different dot arrangements for 5, and made 16 copies of each.   (I put all three on the copy glass, and just cut them apart.)  I would glue them in 3 columns with each column being the same pattern of dots–all making 5.  Four cards would be in each column.  

My Questions:

How many?  How do you know?   What numbers or patterns do you see inside this group of 5?  What other patterns do you see?

Day 1, classroom 1:

Not one of my better moments.   My plan was to show the dot patterns and ask the students “How many?” then, “How did you know?”  I showed 4 in a row of the same dot pattern, and asked “Who can see it a different way?”   Fortunately for me, one of the students said “I see 3 and I see 1 and I see another 1.  That makes 5.  Good thing for me.  That helped the other students see what I wanted them to do, but I had one more issue.   I don’t work with Kinder students too often, so every time I tried to glue the arrangement on the chart, I would lose the whole group to off-task behavior.  I did better at multitasking, finally, and my appreciation for the talent of kinder teachers grew significantly.  

In reflecting on the the day, I went back to my purpose.   I wanted the students to see that there are smaller numbers “inside” of the 5, based on the arrangement of the dots.  I did not want to use number sentences, the plus sign, or the equal sign.  I wanted to keep everything focused on ways to make five.  I also wanted to see how their subitizing was developing.  

I  decided that I needed to glue the patterns onto the chart paper ahead of time.   Once I had done that, it looked visually cluttered to me—all that white on white, and little black dots floating everywhere–I made a note to put a box around the single “card” I wanted the students to focus upon.  I also decided to connect finding the numbers to playing “Hide and Seek”, or looking for something.

Day  2, classrooms 2 and 3:  The talks went great.   Not having to glue things down really helped me.  Asking students to look for patterns inside was a great help to the students.   I noticed that they all chose to count the patterns first, then look for patterns hiding inside.   At some point, I began having students come up and point out how they would group the dots, and then have them say, for example “3 and 1 and 1 make 5”.  Then the class would say it together.   Most of the students in these classes are learning/practicing English and they need opportunities to be successful with language as well as content.  Once the first card was shown, for the remaining 4, I had them turn to a partner and tell other numbers or patterns they saw inside.  

I found this students could:

  • subitize 2-3 dots easily—they are not quite to 4 or 5 yet.
  • they could easily count and land on 5.
  • Some are remembering where they are, and counting on.  For example, “3, 4, 5”.
  • Are learning to explain themselves as mathematicians!   Yay!

Here’s a picture of the anchor chart we created.  When I debriefed with the teacher, I explained why I had pre-glued the “cards” to the chart, and why I was putting a rectangle around each one.

She was pleased with how well her students were able to explain their thinking-because they had the dots to provide visual support.   She suggested that I use one color marker only for each column of copied dot patterns.  I thought that was a fantastic suggestion, so I redid the chart, and added numbers for the student words.   

                          Before                                                     After

Before        After

You can see that they counted the first card of each set, then found the patterns within the card as we worked.  With each notation we said, “______ and ______ (and ______) makes 5”.  Only the five was shouted, with  the exuberance that an only excited kindergarten student can master.

Reflecting on Days 1 and 2, I decided to glue the cards onto the anchor chart—the kinder teacher told me she will put blue tape on them ahead of time when she tries these in her room.  

I know myself with tape, and if I prepared the cards with tape in my room, by the time I got to the kinder room, I would have cards stuck in all manner of random places.  I decided to cover the chart with strips and uncover as I go.

Here is my chart, ready to go:

ready to go


Day 3, classroom 4:

It was much clearer to the students to look for numbers and patterns within numbers.  I was so glad that I had covered the extra cards, because this class had different needs, and they would not have been able to “shut out” the extra dots floating around.

Overall reflection:

Once I was able to make the purpose clear to the students, they enjoyed looking for patterns of 1, 2, 3 or 4 within the dots making up 5 dots.  Some were able to subitize up to three dots, and 3-4 students were able to subitize with 4 dots.   

The underlying purpose of the number talk was to model for the teachers some of the questions, and prompts they could use to get their students talking about numbers.  I know that they will be able to improve upon the number talks that I did in their rooms.  They know their students, and their students know and understand expectations–something that I had to struggle with a little.  What made this fun, is that no matter how many times they said “______ and ______ makes 5!”, it was done with enthusiasm!  Even students who are hesitant to talk, were joining in with us.       

Update:  December 4, 2015:   I stopped by the rooms to see how they were doing with the number talks on their own, and the teachers made one significant improvement.  They are placing the similar dot cards in rows instead of columns to reinforce the reading task of top-to-bottom, and left-to-right.   I will remember this when I am working in Kinder and 1st grade rooms.

#mNTmTCh            #MtBoS             #RRElemMath          #RRISDMathRocks                  

Dear Teacher: Curiosity Strikes!

Our district has a really awesome curriculum department that gives teachers timelines to follow in all content areas, and lots of lesson ideas to choose from.   They are really concerned that timelines be followed so that if a student moves from one school to another (an issue for us),  that student will still receive instruction in all standards.   The actual lessons that a teacher chooses, is up to them.
I received an email this morning from a teacher who has set up a wonderful class atmosphere.   Her students use signals, including a thinking signal.  There is nothing cuter than one of her little students sitting in a thinking pose.   She talks very little, except to ask questions.
When she was reviewing the addition math facts less than 10 yesterday, one of her students stumbled onto doubles.  She didn’t want to put off or shut down their curiosity, so they had a lovely discussion about them, and charted the other doubles that they noticed.   Then, she had a moment of panic because doubles don’t come in until the next unit.
I nearly tripped myself dashing out of my office and down to her room of thinkers.   Her students know she values curiosity and questions.  I encouraged her to continue feeding their curiosity–and let them explore doubles today.
Her students will know that we value their thinking as mathematicians, we value their curiosity and we value their thinking!
These little pearls of opportunity do come up, and when they do then we need to give ourselves permission to take advantage of those teachable moments………..It is a lot of fun!
#mathtalk          #RRElemMath            #RRMathRocks       #MTBoS     #MathCuriosity

Dear Teacher Colleagues #mNTmTch Chapter 2 Reflection

In my book study for Making Number Talks Matter,by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker,  we studied chapter 2 this week. This chapter is written with an emphasis for teachers wanting to start using number talks in their classroom.  Even though I have been using number talks for 10 years, called “routines” then, I got a great deal of helpful information in this chapter.  It was also really nice to see that other teachers carry out number talks the same way that I do, and that we have critical common practices.  For example, it is suggested that students use a thumbs up signal, which I have always used.  Where my thinking is now stretched, is to encourage your fast finishers to use their finger to signal how many strategies, or ways, they have found for solving the same problem.   I love this because it will continue to challenge these students while allowing the rest of the students to have their “think time”.

Another great take away was some suggestions on what to say when you really need to stop a number talk, but the students have not fully explored the idea.  I tried it on in a number talk today, and it left the kids eager for me to come back.

I had written 19 + 1 is the same as ________.  I recorded various student answers:  20, 20 + 1, 21, 18 + 1, 19 + 1.  That is another suggestion, record and honor all student answers. I have always done that, because that was how I learned to do it.  On a side note, I had another coach with me, and we both felt that the students were saying ANYTHING, just to see their answer on the board.  I then asked students to defend their answers, or explain to me why that answer would be the same as 19 + 1.  (I’m trying not to use the = sign–another blog).   We ended up having a rich discussion where students said things like “it is the same as 20 because I just counted on 1” or it is the same as 18 + 2, or 17 + 3.  These ideas came up because I explained that when you change your answer, “The sky parts, the sun comes out and rains glitter dust, and I am in my happy place”.  Students began clamoring to “change their answer and change their thinking.”    One young mathematician asked me to put a line through his answer 18 + 15 because it just didn’t make any sense.   Time was up, and I told them “I know that many more of you have ideas that you want to share.   May I come back tomorrow, so I can hear your thinking then?”    This is a rich conversation that needs a chance to finish…we may even get to the = sign.  The students know I value their thinking, and that they will be able to share with me tomorrow!

Chapter 2 explains the importance of letting the students make sense of their own mathematical ideas.  To quote from page 13:  “The minute we start to explain [for them], we take little bits of their ideas–and their autonomy as thinkers–away”.

My goal in the last few years is to talk less so that the students will talk more.  My next goal in number talks comes from chapter 2:   I will be trying to my students to talk to each other directly, instead of talking to me.   I’m still reflecting how I will make that come about, but I will be trying……

Have a great week!

#mNTmTCh   #numbertalks    #mathtalk    #mathrocks

Dear Teacher: My reflection about number talks #mNTmTch

Dear Colleagues,

I am involved in a fabulous book study with fellow teachers and educators from around the world–over 500 of us!  We are studying the book Making Number Talks Matter, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker.

I was first introduced to some of the ideas behind number talks  many years ago, but they were called “number routines”. Regardless of what they are called, and small differences in how students will navigate through a number talk, they still give students their voice back.

My goal the last few years has been to talk as little as possible.  I will ask questions, and clarify information or problems, but I try to let the students do most of the talking.

Number talks allow this to happen without changing very much in my classroom.  Originally, I used them as a warm up, but the more I used them, the more I found that number talks are powerful tools that allow for great learning to take place!  This week, I have been challenged to explain my “WHY?”    Why number talks?

Some of my reflections:

  • Students get a chance to talk to each other, which provides practice in listening and speaking.
  • Students must clarify their own thinking, and it requires them to use precise language to make their thinking clear to others.
  • Students hear alternate strategies or thinking from their peers, and then are challenged to try it themselves.
  • Students get practice and more practice on using the relationships between numbers to solve problems.
  • Students get practice in describing and analyzing place value relationships.
  • Students have the opportunity to practice composing and decomposing numbers to make new relationships between numbers.
  • Students have fun!

Having fun during math has recently become important to me.  I have noticed that when students are having fun, behavior issues decrease significantly-sometimes even vanish!  When I say “Time to clean up”, it is music to my ears when students say “What?  Already?”   As a bonus, they seem to remember for longer, and are able to access previously learned material better when they had fun exploring in math.

I’m really excited to get into some classrooms now, and play with some numbers with students during number talks now!

#mNTmTch        #numbertalks          #studentvoice             #studentthinking       #mathisfun

Dear Teacher: Some thoughts about writing in math

Dear Teacher Colleagues,

When I was still in my classroom, I loved having my students write during math (and all curriculum areas, really).  I had my students write a little every day at the end of each lesson.  In Texas, we have English Language Proficiency Standards that require that English Language learners are given the opportunity to listen, read, write and speak English, in order to help them acquire language.   By writing, I had them doing all of the parts nearly every day.

First, I set an alarm on my phone, and let the students choose the ringer.  When that ringer went off, it was time to wrap up for the day, and write.  I had sentence stems posted to help them get started.  They were free to use the posted stems or think of their own.  Examples of sentence stems or frames:

  • Today, I learned________________.
  • A strategy I tried was ___________.
  • I liked how____________ did the problem because ______________.

Once we cleaned up, and yes, sometimes, a lesson would have to be finished the next day, students had about a minute to think by themselves.  When think time was over, they would next tell a partner what they were going to write.  (Listening and speaking, here.)  After everyone had a chance to listen and speak, they would write in their journals.   The speaking was the practicing for the writing.   By listening to each other, they had a chance to hear other strategies, and vocabulary. Vocabulary words were posted as we came across them in our explorations.  Finally, we would either do a gallery walk and read each other’s journals, or one or two students would share out what they had written.  We have document cameras so student work could be placed under the camera for all to read along.

This is daily practice that really benefits student acquisition of language.  It also provides formative assessment for me, the teacher.  By reading my students’ entries, I can get an idea of where their thinking has progressed.  I can identify misconceptions, and address them in the moment, instead of waiting until a final assessment.

My last year in the classroom, I had many students who struggled.  In fact, each student struggled against several from the long list of things that make school challenging.

Here is a journal entry from the beginning of the year:

From September
From September

An then from the end of the year.   Note how much more writing.  She has added questions for herself.

One of her last entries
One of her last entries

When this student took the state test, her 4th grade reading and writing soared, and she passed!  She almost passed math, but she did have 1 years growth!   I’m convinced it is all the writing and speaking that she had to do during math (and science, too!)

I realize that the pictures blur her actual writing, but you can see the quantity of writing, along with pictures, and diagrams has increased.

As an instructional coach, I encourage writing in all areas as well.  I believe it is one of those little adjustments that yield big results.

Marilyn Burns, from Math Solutions, has written a great article that explains why and how there should be writing in  math class.  I’ve linked the article here, because I cannot explain it as clearly as Marilyn Burns has done.

I would love to hear from others who have included writing in their math classes!   What were your successes?   What were the struggles?  How did you overcome the struggles?

Here’s to great writing!


#talkinginmath  #writinginmath