Have you tried SPLAT! by Steve Wyborney?

Browsing tweets last week, I stumbled upon a new blog and gift of AWESOME number sense lessons by Steve Wyborney!  He calls them “Splat!”

When I saw them, I knew I was on to something really special!

The next day, I shared them with a little over one hundred teachers in my district.  In his introductory blog, he has a video that explains the Splat! lessons and how they build in complexity.  Rather than explain it myself, we watched his video.  In each of the four sessions, the teachers gasped at the first Splat!  Really.  After the video, I showed them how easy it was to access and download the lessons.

Every group left sharing that the best thing of the day was Splat!   Way to go, Steve!

I have introduced Splat! to the teachers at my school as well.   Here is what happened:

Second Grade:

I started with the 3-10 SPLAT! slides.  I showed the first few slides…how many dots, how do you know? Then…..SPLAT!

Belly laughter–from deep down inside them, bubbling up and dancing in the air!   When you have laughter in math class, the filters of fear or “I can’t do this” disappear.   The students were so excited that they were sharing their thinking, and they couldn’t even stay in their seats.  They were standing, and laughing and talking.  It was so joyous!  It was so awesome for me to hear the deep thinking as they were explaining what was under that splat.  It was so much fun, we decided to do another one!   There was still laughter on the SPLAT! moment, but they were anticipating what would happen so we had a count down and they called out “splat” at just the right moment!   Again, deep thinking and every student was participating and actively engaged.  There are sometimes behavior issues in this class, but not during Splat!

First Grade:

I started with the 3-10 Splat! slides.   Again, great discussions, great partner talk.   There was connection to the quick images work we had done previously, so these students knew they had to tell us how they knew how many dots.   We were able to formatively assess some here, as well.  Some students needed to count all the dots, some recognized a group, then counted on, and some saw groups and “just knew it”.  They enjoyed this immensely, and the teacher is looking forward to trying it with the “Numbers to 20” set.

Fifth Grade:

Splat! is for upper grades, too!   Anything that Steve Wyborney does, always includes entry points for all grade levels and builds in complexity.  This grade began with “Multiple Splats”.  At first, they were hesitant…the work seemed a bit easy, but then, we asked them to explain their thinking.  We were able to get to some really precise language about multiplication and division.  Finally, on the slide that has the transparent splat, we asked them:  How could we represent this Splat! with an equation?  Oh, My!   We uncovered a great many misconceptions, especially around the use of parenthesis and order of operations.   (Grade 5 in our state standards includes both of these.)  We kept with it and ended up spending a solid 15 minutes discussing why certain equations would work and why others would not. We can’t wait for the next Splat!

Link to Steve Wyborney’s blog

Try Splat! with your students.  Be sure to comment on Steve’s blog so he knows we appreciate how much work went in to providing us with this AWESOME FREE RESOURCE!

Share how you used it with your students!  Let’s learn together!

#SteveWyborney    #SPLAT   #laughterinmathclass  #numbersense  #numberroutines


Thoughts about raising hands….

Many years ago, I was asked to come watch a teacher during her instruction.  I was new to coaching, and wasn’t sure what to do, so I just took notes on what the students were doing.  I noticed that only the same few students raised their hands, and so they were the only ones talking.  I started logging what I saw.

During the debrief, I shared my notes with the teacher.  We brainstormed some things to do or try to get all the students involved.  She came up with a “secret signal”, and we added some wait time to think, as well as time for partner talk.

She asked me to come back in a few days and watch again.  The difference was stunning.

The secret signal was a fist held under their chin.  She would tell them to get ready to think and place their fist under their chin.  When they had a thought to share, they put their thumb up, keeping it under their chin.  When she saw that most of the students had a thumb up, she asked them to tell their talking partner about their thinking.  She carefully listened in, and after a minute or so, asked them to share out with the group either their own thinking or what their partner had said.

Every single child was learning!

My thoughts on the benefits of a “secret signal”

  • Every student must participate – even quiet or reluctant learners.
  • Students who may be confused, or have a fear of their thinking being “wrong” can signal quietly and secretly.  The teacher can step in and support their partner talk.  If a student has no real ideas of their own, they can share their partners.  For example, “My partner said….”
  • Students who are learning English and may not be ready to share out to the whole class will benefit, because they get the think time, and the partner sharing time to rehearse speaking their thoughts.

I am really interested in what other teachers have tried to get all their students talking and participating.  Leave your ideas in the comments and let’s learn together!

#thinktime   #studentengagement



Purposeful Planning?


I have two little dogs, Henry and Molly.   Henry is scary smart.  Molly, well, not so much. Henry and Molly are small dogs, but unlike most small dogs, they do not bark.  I taught them that it is not ok to bark. . Their training really went forward when I enrolled Henry in formal training.   The trainer would tell us the skill we would be teaching our dog that night, break it down into little steps, and then showed us with her dog, what mastery would look like.   At home, I would practice with Henry and Molly together-she learned by watching Henry.   I now have 2 dogs, that on hand signals only, will sit, stay, lay down, and wait.   Anyone, even a small child, can give the signals to my dogs, and they will do the behavior.

When I was going through the classes, I couldn’t help but notice the structure.   There was a standard with an attached behavior.  There were little goals to help get us to the final goal. Finally, we were shown what mastery looked like.   This is the same process we go through as teachers in designing lesson plans to meet the needs of our students.  

We teachers begin with the end in mind.  We have state standards to tell us what mastery looks like.  The art of teaching is that middle ground:   How will we break the goal into little steps that our students can practice, and build on those steps to the final mastery? How will they show us that they “got it”?

I had a master teacher who told me that lesson plans do not need to be complicated or lengthy to be powerful and purposeful.  Do I have the learning target? (The standard written in kid-friendly language.)   Do I have the bigger goal broken down into do-able steps?   Do I have student centered tasks?    

Every day, I get to see how purposeful planning benefits our students.  The teachers make it look as easy as breathing, but I know that they put a lot of work into making sure that every detail, every teaching move, is carefully planned to ensure student success.  I can’t copy every strategy or move someone else does for their students, but I can borrow and adapt.  These little changes (innovations???) like planning what questions, or how the students will talk today, are small changes with big results!  

When I was in my classroom, I found that the most stunning change was planning my questions.   For example, instead of telling my students how to make adding easier, I asked “Does anyone have a different way of combining these numbers?”    Someone in the room always did, and then we could talk about it and name it.  The strategies became “Oscar’s way” or “Brianna’s way”.  Sometimes, we would use the math language.  It depended on the “way” that was shared, but the student who shared it always got to have “credit”.
So, here is the challenge:   What innovation (small change) have you made to your planning that yielded great results in your classroom?    Share in the comments!

Innovation Math Rocks #5


My personal goal as an instructional coach this year, is to support innovation in my work with teachers.  I’m lucky to work with amazing teachers.  They have a strong skill set and use best practices.  They are doing everything not just right, but awesome!  And yet, there are those students in every room that the teachers struggle to connect with, to make learning fun, and to draw that child in so that the child sees themselves as a learner.   

A quick internet search, and I found definitions for innovation as being a new method, or the application of a better solution to meet new requirements.  

Teaching is no longer a “one size fits all” craft.  What we were doing before may no longer meet the needs of students who are growing up in a world very different from even a few years ago!  

I was approached by our third grade math teacher for suggestions on getting her students talking more.  An invitation for innovation!

Third grade students in our district are analyzing graphs, with the intent that they not only will have a chance to review characteristics of graphs, but practice addition and subtraction to describe relationships between the information in the graphs.

We decided to try a “notice and wonder” strategy.  This is a little change that can bring big results, and boy did it!   I have been using this for years, but found it best described in my favorite book Powerful Problem Solving by Max Ray-Riek.  

The first one took a bit longer but here is what we did:

  1. Taught the students to put their fist under their chin.   When they have a noticing, and are ready to tell a partner, they put their thumb up.   
  2. We asked them to look at the graph, and think of something about that graph to share with a partner.  (We circulated through so that we could support students who had not put a thumb up, yet.)   
  3. We asked them to tell a partner their noticing, and then keep sharing more noticings with each other.
  4. We listened to the noticings, and then brought everyone back and charted some of the noticings.   We knew who we wanted to ask, because we had been listening.  We really focused on kiddos who were being very quiet….we asked them first.  Once their thinking was validated by being put on the chart, they started smiling.  They were more involved.
  5. We next asked students to think of a question they could ask.  “Imagine you are a teacher.  What questions about this graph could you ask your class?” We asked for the same minute of think time, the same hand signal, and the same partner talk.  
  6. We charted their questions.   Sometimes, the students would ask the same question in a different manner.  This allowed the students to have a rich conversation about the language in the question.  
  7. We highlighted  2-3 questions.  (She teaches math 3 times in a day.)  Then, we sent them to their seats to go answer the questions in their math journals.    Almost all the students asked if they could answer more than two questions.   
  8. Finally, we came back to share answers to the questions.  This turned out to be an opportunity for number talks!   Did anyone find the answer a different way?  Do we all agree on the answer?

Here is the graph.

I find it very challenging to come up with good questions that will provoke student thinking and discussion.   While they all came up with good questions, my favorite:   How many students did NOT choose softball?   Love it.  I wouldn’t have thought of that.    These third grade students thrived with this innovation in instruction!  This little change made sure that every student had a voice!   
#Math Rocks   #Innovationinteaching #PowerfulProblemSolving #noticeandwonder   #ShadowCon16

Beginning of the Year Classroom Rituals: My reader-life!

Every teacher friend I know looks forward to the beginning of a new school year, both for the new-the pencils, pens, and notebooks, and the rituals.  Rituals like favorite books, welcome packets, back to school night, and most importantly, the rituals that create a classroom climate that is co-created by your students!

When I was in my classroom, my favorite beginning-of-the-year ritual was sharing about my reading life!

In our meeting space:  “Gather around Class, I’m going to share with you all about my reading life.”  Out comes my favorite books-the autographed copies, the picture book treasures, my favorite National Geographic or Texas Parks and Wildlife magazines.  Out comes my copy of Endurance:  Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage.  This may be my favorite book, ever!   It is way above my students’ level, so I have to have a few copies of  Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, so that they can read about Shackelton, too.  Finally, I pull out my cell phone, and quickly flip to all the reading I have tabbed there:  news, weather, Flipboard, and 2 e-readers filled with books about animals, cookbooks, and the classics.

I pass out the books I have brought and invite my new students to share about their reading life…..and we start making connections that will foster learning throughout the year!

How do you share about your reading life?


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