The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get and its Effect on our Priorities/Focus

After watching a short video by Annie Fetter, math educator at Drexel University, called “The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get,” our cohort was asked to look deeply at our unit rationale and TEKS. In addition, we looked through the vocabulary, worked through big ideas of student expectations, and essential questions. Throughout I jotted notes, reflecting on what I feel I should prioritize. With the Unit Title “Applying 2-Digit Place Value Concepts and Descriptions.”

So what do I feel is most important? What I really feel is the goal of this unit is to continue the students’ journey to understanding numbers beyond its standard form, a symbol. We’re asking the students to understand to look at numbers as representing the idea of distance and quantity. Later we’ll add the ideas of time and speed. We’re helping the students to understand what the number represents. One part of this goal is the relationships between numbers in base 10 – individual units that can combine in a set pattern or proportion to groups or units of a number, unitizing. In looking at relationships, a student can compare, realizing a greater quantity or distance. In adding bars and graphs to the unit, the student is given a a real world application of using these concepts, as well as learning to reason through information, then finding an efficient method to problem-solve.

So given the 3 bold phrases which are my priorities for this unit, how do I get there?
1) The beginning of our math block will start with conversation about numbers in various ways. I plan to start small, allowing students to talk about smaller numbers/images/expressions so they can build the number sense to understand the concept of numbers. Our team has decided to have

    at least 3 number talks a week

, asking students to look at computational fluency, then look at word problems twice a week using a number talk, which may or may not include computational fluency. Many of these will be problems they can work through mentally, though some may require some concrete manipulation. District instruction shows that this takes about 10 minutes.
2) In our core time, there will be approximately 40 minutes of time given to

    exploration, collaboration, and discussion

3) After this, the students will be given time to review what they have learned through


. We’ve used a lot of Fundamental games in the past two years. This year we will add games from Developing Number Concepts by Kathy Richardson. The link will take you to her 3rd book which has a focus on place value.

    *Spiral review may be included within a number talk, at the end of a number talk, during conversation in the core block, or during game review. It depends on where there’s a relevant fit to what is being planned.

This year I move back into an inclusion class. It was beneficial to listen to the video about focusing on the purpose of teaching math, rather than fitting standards into a calendar.

Does Your Curriculum Match Your State Standards?

“Becoming a Better Storyteller” is the name of a video with Graham Fletcher, math education specialist, speaking about how presentation of math matters. He explains that math is a story, and like any story that is “read” aloud, the listener can be interested or wish to escape. Within this idea, he discusses the content we are teaching. As we work day to day, are we intentionally matching our curriculum to state standards?

Interested, even intimidated, I checked the state standards for second grade math. I found a few TEKS which gave me food for thought. One, was the word estimation in 2.1C (Texas Y’all): (C) select tools, including real objects, manipulatives, paper and pencil, and technology as appropriate, and techniques, including mental math, estimation, and number sense as appropriate, to solve problems. You see, I’ve been told a couple of times that estimation is not a current standard for second grade, so it wasn’t included in my lessons this past year. We talked about what is reasonable when problem-solving so I hit the idea indirectly, but here it is: estimation as an appropriate tool that 2nd graders need. What does this mean for me? Well, estimation will be a purposeful part of my year.

Another TEK wasn’t exactly surprising, but the language shows I need to teach at a deeper level. Listen to this: 2.1G (G) display, explain, and justify mathematical ideas and arguments using precise mathematical language in written or oral communication. In our grade level teams, we talk throughout the year about facilitating experiences to give students the skills to explain their thinking using correct vocabulary, but it’s the words justify and argue that I find appealing. Here’s a great avenue to teach respectful discourse, team work, to defend or revise your ideas when there is disagreement. What a strong concept! I hope to highlight this TEK within our team discussions to deepen the relevance of our number talks. I highly encourage anyone reading this to listen to the linked video, then take a closer look at your state standards. It’s an eye opener that can only help you as an educator.

Math Rocks Day 2

Number Talks PD
I’ve gone through a little professional development for Number Talks, but today we spent 6 hours diving into understanding its components, analyzing and discussing a common routine from which to work as a district group, and practicing structure from planning through implementation to reflection. Walking away, I felt a better understanding of how a Number Talk should look. The leaders, Brian Bushart and Regina Payne, explained how the purpose of these conversations isn’t to improve concept comprehension, though there are aha moments within, but instead to gain computational fluency. How did I miss this essential attribute? Yet, during the demos and student (teacher) practice, I could see how deeply learning occurs through such a seemingly simple discussion. In practice, students can understand how to apply subitizing, relationships, patterns, and realize how to efficiently solve problems in a reasonable manner.

Questions asked by the teacher seemed intuitive: how did you think about this, does this look like an earlier expression, does anyone have a different strategy? Yet listening to how to model the student’s thinking was new to me. The idea is to listen to the students as they are talking to their partners about how they came to their answer. From this, the teacher may selectively invite specific students to present efficient, varied strategies, focus on one or two strategies, including answers that are not correct, to both honor the thinking and the student, as well as allow the students to learn from one another. The teacher gains important information about individual students while the children are truly thinking about numbers, learning how to explain their ideas, and how to speak in a collaborative, constructive, respectful manner. What a treasure from only 10 – 15 minutes of routine class time.

We were introduced to the book which provided much of the background to this idea: Making Number Talks Matter by Cathy Humphreys. It is one route you can go to learn more about Number Talks independently, but I recommend a personal workshop in your district if possible. There was better clarity to watch it in action and discuss the steps of a number talk.

You can discover more about all things elementary math from Brian Stockus at his blog: Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer. On Twitter, you can find him @bstockus

Regina Payne’s blog can be found here: Regina Rocks: A Mathematical Journey to Change the World. I’m not sure if her twitter account is for public viewing, but I’ll keep you posted.

Check their blogs out – it’s worth exploration. Oh, and today’s tech site of exploration: In the classroom activities, you can create math questions for students to answer and explain their thinking after they enter a join code, then display the answers as a group anonymously for discussion. Most applications seem to be for fourth grade and up, but a tech savvy teacher could play to create an activity for lower grades. Try it – can’t beat free, it’s the best in teacher collaboration.

Math Rocks

Math Rocks Long Term Professional Development

Each year I determine a focus for the upcoming year for personal development. This year it will be math. Why math and why Math Rocks (a district year long program)? One reason is I wish to increase exploration and discussion in my classroom during math time. Growing up in a traditional classroom, this doesn’t come naturally to me. Although I try to purposefully include these factors within my lessons, I know that learning from experts and peers will be a valuable experience!

Today was our first day. Wow, I’ve gained so much already. We joined Twitter for professional use; I added a separate account to keep my personal interactions separate from work. Should you be interested, feel free to check me out at @acheelove2learn. We received two websites which I look forward to trying in the classroom:

Estimation 180

Which One Doesn’t Belong?

These two tools should provide an excellent way to get the students to think and talk about their thinking.

What am I hoping to gain from this program? I hope to develop new strategies through peer collaboration, stretch my thinking about how numbers work in order to provide deeper learning within my room, and gain new perspectives. This will be an exciting year as I learn so my students can learn. I’m looking forward to learning more how to use number talks that yields strong growth in concept comprehension.

One assignment given is to suggest one way my classroom is distinctively mine. My answer is the continuous celebration of each student as an individual we build in our room. Celebrations are posted on the board for effort, compassion, risk-taking, and persistence. Students give cheers to one another or write notes of specific praise/encouragement as we help one another be our best. I believe my students truly feel this in our classroom. It is a safe, of zone of encouragement. Certainly that is my daily goal, but students seem happy within our room.

Get Them to Read

Achee_Reading2014 (2)

Teaching 3rd grade, I feel there are two main goals: solidify number sense and read, read, read. The math can feel a little frustrating if number sense hasn’t been gained as the curriculum moves along. I bring in games, review, small groups, more games, and more review. I still feel some frustration with wishing I could just focus on number sense for the small fries who desperately need to focus on the basics. However, I work as hard as I can to reach and teach.

Motivating students to read is my candy. I use several avenues. If students have an interest, I find matching books in multiple genres. They learn quickly that they can write a desired book, author, or topic on a post-it and I will try to fulfill that request.

Read Across America

I use “Read Across America,” an idea inspired by my team when I was student teaching, with my personal twist. The original plan gave the students prizes when a Reading Log page was completed, plus showed a graph of how many pages each student finishes. Every 4 pages, a state was colored on a United States map. There was a competition between the classes to see who could color the most states within the year. No one is competing with my class, which means it needed an additional driving force. When a student has 4 stars on the graph, he or she colors in any state. Then I purchase a matching state book for our classroom library, plus a book set within this state, hopefully with a focus on that student’s interests. These two books receive a dedication sticker to the student and reside in his/her personal book box before going into the library. My goal here is to leave a strong impression that reading truly does take you places – always a Seuss fan!

Bluebonnet Book Club

My favorite program right now is the Bluebonnet Nominee Club. Each year in Texas, 3rd through 5th graders at registered institutions, receive an opportunity to read (or hear read aloud) a minimum of 5 of the 20 Bluebonnet Nominee books in order to vote for the personal favorite in January. After reading each book, they must complete a form which proves the book was read. The Texas Bluebonnet Award is presented to the author of the winning book.

In my school, the librarian presented the 20 nominees to classes. She has a graph within the library for each class. My students were excited about the books which gave me an idea. I offered for each student in my class to choose their top 3 books they wished to read, then write me a letter explaining why I should buy their top chosen book to add to our classroom library. I promised to buy 5, but ended up purchasing 9 of the 20 books. I created a “Bluebonnet Book Club” with images of each book where students received their names above each book read with a summary submission form completed. Between the school library and mine, most of my students have a Bluebonnet book in their book box at all times. Many ask for a new one, once a form has been submitted.

I love the enthusiasm and interest this program is bringing to my room. Students are enjoying sharing their opinions of each book read. I’ve just bought 5 more Bluebonnet books to keep the interest fresh.


We also have a pair of vultures nesting on top of our school roof. The students have taken a huge interest in vultures. I’ve bought Vulture View and two other books about vultures to present to the students once Bluebonnet enthusiasm wanes. One of the books is by Sandra Markle, a favorite author of mine. I’ve made several Animoto Book Trailers which are assessible on this blog, but haven’t needed to use them yet. I need to build my collection of videos for the spring.

If you’re not moving or sleeping, consider reading. Pick up a book :).

Singapore Model Drawing for Grades 1-6

After spending the past two summers as a full time student, I thought I would enjoy the extra free time with my children.  Of course I do, spending wonderful moments with family and friends, but I find a little too much free time on my hands.  During that time, I’ve worked on future bulletin boards, extension games, reading strategies, organizational papers such as transportation home in Excel or creating “Absent Folders”, plus independent professional development through my readings.  I really do not like being idle.  Because of this, I searched Google for online courses to claim some of my time productively.  I found Singapore Math Model Drawing for Grades 1-6.  I’m pretty excited.  This sounds like a really useful class to provide another tool students can use.  Any visual I can provide that gives children access to the relational nature of math will be beneficial in the second step of cocrete:pictorial (or concrete repesentational, but that’s a mouthful): abstract.  With word problems, it’s the organization of the material which can often be difficult.  I think if I can provide a consistent method which can be used throughout various types of word problems such as the bar method, then perhaps it will ease some of the organizational issues.  Both districts in which I worked sometimes used a similar concept of Singapore, using the example of a tape diagram.  It’s a 6 week class which begins in a couple of weeks; I’ll post again at the end of the course.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy family trips to Schlitterbahn, card games, trail walks, and continued professional preparation.  Today, I’ll seal the stool I painted ages ago and begin another one.  Next summer, I need to teach summer school or begin my graduate classes.

Inquiry Journal

A year ago, I began reading Why are School Buses Always Yellow? Teaching for Inquiry Pre-K-5 because I have an interest in student led inquiry/project based learning.  This summer, I’m working through it more closely.  I have to tell you several years ago, I thought I was being original when I came up with the idea of a Wonder Wall.  What a shock when I saw this concept being used in nearby districts – at least I was in line with current research.

Now I’ve learned someone has already beaten me to the idea of an Inquiry Journal as well.  Again, I’ll take it as validation.  Here are my thoughts.  The wonder wall is great; let’s get the mind juices pondering.  However, I don’t want it to end with a brief discussion.  Where can the students take their ideas?  Also, what about the random questions that occur during a Read Aloud or watching a video in science?  Enter the Inquiry Journal (or Wonder Journal for younger students).  I plan to give my students a composition book to encourage development of questions and ideas, with some time given to searching out answers – a place just for independent questions and answers – not just questions that coordinate with current lessons.  Using natural curiosity, I plan to extend/supplement  lessons with student led questions to teach students how to determine whether sources are valid and determine a plan to problem solve.  The idea isn’t a formal lesson, but rather naturally searching answers to satisfy personal curiosity.  Time is carved out during writing, a few minutes of computer time during one of the guided reading blocks or actual computer time, perhaps when assignments are complete for early finishers.  The details are specific to the classroom/school environment.  Many inquiries will be the result of class discussion in line with objectives being taught merging assignments with interest, but I hope to encourage students to take those mini-lessons, such as observing as a writer, into their personal thoughts.  That’s our goal, right, that students realize the relevance of the classroom, applying gained knowledge to life?

Without the journal, I’ve used this idea successfully with one student.  A group of TAG students presented their independent studies to the class.  A student not in TAG, interested in a specific topic, asked if I would give him time to research and present.  Each day, during one of the Guided Reading blocks, I gave him approximately 10 minutes with a computer.  He researched, then created a Power Point on his topic.  One afternoon, before recess, he presented his discoveries to the class.  It was time well used – reading, researching, writing, using computer skills, and finally presenting in front of an audience – all student initiated.  Giving students a journal to record wonderings and ideas, then small chunks of time for investigation can only add to this process.  I’ve begun my own Inquiry Journal as a model, adding tabs to organize my ideas (PD, Classroom Management, Math, Reading, Writing, Science, Social Studies, STEM, Organization, PBL/Inquiry).

Organizing my Room

Without knowing my classroom layout (or grade for that matter), I’ve been spending a couple of hours each morning while my children are asleep organizing for a classroom, creating Power Point Procedure Slides and binders such as Parent Communication Logs (or just browsing ideas on Pinterest with coffee). While working in the second and third grade rooms this year, I wanted an all-in-one system where I can account for all students in one glance. While in Hobby Lobby one day for a daughter’s school project, I saw a dry erase calendar for sale and envisioned it by my door – a student tracker. Few revisions were made though I did scrap the words on the buttons – they couldn’t be read from across the room and weren’t necessary. At the top are a row of green and red magnetic push pins to show attendance on the roster number each morning. Additionally, there are dry erase tabs to write student names in sharpie for substitutes and for the beginning of the year while matching names to numbers. Plus, kids love to see their names – it’s more personal. When students leave the room, they simply put the appropriate button in their square. I downloaded an Avery Template into Microsoft Word, then found clipart images that represented various school locations.  I bought the wooden circles from an online craftstore, along with epoxy bottlecap dots to cover the labels with a finished polish.  Each color/symbol represents a specific location except for yellow = resource/extension. I don’t feel these need to be distinguished; I know whether a student is receiving TAG support or intervention. I prefer the positive symbolism of the light bulb. Each student is leaving to receive support to reach a personal best. Blue = water fountain and Black = restroom. Only 1 boy and girl may leave at a time. Silver = nurse. I have two buttons in case a buddy needs to walk with a student to the nurse for any reason. Green = library and Purple = Office/Other. Because the board is dry erase, I can also write or have a student write short notes within the squares if necessary.  Student being picked up at 1:15?  Write the time in his/her square.  Also, in a fire drill, I can grab the board for quick reference.  I can’t wait to try this out!

Classroom Management Calendar

Beyond the Content

Content is important.  Everyone should have access to a broad range of understanding our world in order to interact successfully, make intelligent decisions, and enjoy life more fully.  When I look at content I try to keep this in mind.  Consider persuasive writing – vital to understand for any child who wants to swindle, I mean receive as an investment into personal education, the need for the new Lego Movie lego set.  Fast forward several years, when the same child now needs to buy life insurance for his/her family.  On the receiving end of persuasion, this same person needs to be able to evaluate which persuasive strategies the agent is employing, then sort through the extra information, to determine what best meets the needs of the family.  Watching commercials or listening to a politician requires the same skill.  When I taught persuasive writing in a third grade classroom, first we looked at the character in the mentor text, I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff, to decide which techniques he was using to persuade Mom to let him has his friend’s iguana.  Then the students discussed favorite commercials, talked about the purpose of the commercial and what tools were used to get the buyer to purchase the product.  Of course, all of this was written on a handy dandy anchor chart, some by me and some by the students – shared writing!  Finally we looked at an OREO graphic organizer to begin our prewrite to persuade people to protect the earth.  The next day we viewed “The Great Kapok Tree” on youtube (the book is by Lynn Cherry).  The students compared persuasive techniques from the day before, went through their organizer to see if they wanted to make changes/additions, then began their first draft.  By the way, when discussing persuasive techniques, the students were highly engaged, taking turns respectfully at a higher level than usual which earned a gumball for positive communication skills towards a class reward.  It was a great feeling!!

Why Bring this up now?  Beyond the Math Classroom

One, summer is a great time for reflection.  I hate sitting idle, but also because I’m reviewing math concepts which may be used towards multiple grades.  Today, I looked at a couple of math books on fractions wanting to create relevance for the students in future years.  Math is so much more than computation.  It’s considering patterns, relationships, and promoting problem solving which is needed daily.  As far as relevance, I think for younger students, I will lean towards cooking and sharing food which is something all kids can understand.  With older students, I can really delve into shopping with real ads so the relations between fractions, decimals, and percents can be explored.  Recently, I purchased hamburger patty squares for concrete investigations into equivalent fractions, fractions to decimals, fractions to percents.  At a math conference last year, I saw this used with colored pencils – fascinating.  I plan to use a strip model more than circles because it is much easier to draw on paper without error for assessment purposes.

Note to consider:  One review center I want to keep in mind when exploring fractions will be creating pictures out of pattern blocks, then creating fractions out of the different shapes (using correct terminology).  For older students, I can change this to individually created flags which we can express in fractions, decimals, and percents.   Also, I want to use a paper balance for students to investigate comparison of fractions.  Return to page 259 of Elementary and Middle School Mathematics.  This can be done with discretely colored unifix cubes first, then expressed in a math journal or on a math balance sheet I can create.