Monthly Archives: September 2016


Free time. I wish I had more of it. Instead I have the amount I have and a wide variety of ways I’d like to fill it – going to the gym, paying bills, cleaning the house, spending time with my husband and daughter, blogging, reading comics. The list goes on. Lately I’ve been prioritizing time with my husband and daughter.


Except when that wasn’t an option. Back in August I went to Virginia for a few days to serve on a planning committee for the 2017 NCTM Innov8 conference. Our days were full of committee work, but my evenings were filled with hours of time to myself. It was a nice change of pace and the perfect opportunity to tackle a project I’ve been putting off time and again – revising our parent resource page on our district website.


The highlight of the revision work was creating curated collections of resources around the following topics:
* What Does It Mean to Teach and Learn Mathematics Today?
* Creating Positive Identities Toward Mathematics
* Talking Math With Your Kids
* Exploring Elementary Mathematics Topics
* Mathematics Games and Products
* Digital Mathematics Games and ProductsThe #MTBoS is a treasure trove of these kinds of resources, so I had a lot to pick from! I’m so happy to have the opportunity to share them with a wider audience. I’ve already had one of our instructional coaches share the link at her campus Back to School Night. She had over 75 parents ask for the link. Yay!

If you’d like to check out the resources, here’s a link to the page. And if you have ideas for other resources I should add to any of the resource collections, let me know in the comments.

Decisions, Decisions

This week our Math Rocks cohort met for the fourth time. We had two full days together in July, and we had our first after school session two weeks ago. One of our aims this year is to create a community of practice around an instructional routine, specifically the number talks routine. We spent a full day building a shared understanding of number talks back in July. You can read about that here. We also debriefed a bit about them during our session two weeks ago.

This week we put the spotlight on number talks again. We actually broke the group up by grade levels to focus our conversations. Regina led our K-2 teachers while I led our 3-5 teachers. The purpose of today’s session was to think about the decisions we have to make as teachers as we record students’ strategies. How do you accurately capture what a student is saying while at the same time creating a representation that everyone else in the class can analyze and potentially learn from?

We started the session with a little noticing and wondering about various representations of 65 – 32:


Very quickly someone brought up exactly what I was hoping for which is that some of the representations show similar strategies but in different ways. For example, the number line in the top left corner shows a strategy of counting back and so do the equations closer to the bottom right corner.

This discussion also led into another discussion about the constant difference strategy – what it is and how it works. It wasn’t exactly in my plans to go into detail about it this afternoon, but since my secondary goal for the day was to focus specifically on recording subtraction strategies, it seemed a worthwhile time investment.

After our discussions I shared the following two slides that I recreated from an amazing session I attended by Pam Harris back in May. (For the record, every session I attend with her is amazing.)

The first slide differentiates strategies from models. Basically, if you have students telling you their strategy is, “I did a number line,” and you’re cool with that, then you should read this slide closely:


The second slide differentiates tools for building relationships from tools for computation. This slide is crucial because it shows that while we want students to use tools like a hundred chart to learn about navigating numbers within 100, the goal is to eventually draw out worthwhile strategies, such as jumping forward and/or backward by 10s and then 1s.


The strategy on the right that shows 32 + 30 followed by 62 + 3 is totally the type of strategy students should eventually do symbolically after building relationships with a tool like the hundred chart.

After blowing their minds with those two slides, I led them in a number talk of 52 – 37. During my recording of their strategies, I stopped a lot to talk about why I chose to do what I did, to solicit their feedback, and even to make some changes on the fly based on our discussion.


For example, in the top right corner of the board I initially used equations to represent a compensation strategy. Someone asked if this could be modeled on a number line because she thought it might make more sense, so I did just that in the top left corner. By the time we were done they were like, “Oh, hey! That ends up looking like a strip diagram!”

It was amusing that the first strategies they shared involved constant difference. They were so excited about learning how the strategy worked that they wanted to give it a try. I didn’t want to quash their excitement by telling them that the strategy tends to work better, especially for students, when you adjust the second number to a multiple of ten. I wanted to stay focused on my goals for the day. We’ll discuss the strategy more in a future session.

(Unless you’re in Math Rocks and you’re reading this! In which case, see if you can figure out why that’s the case and share it at our next meeting.)

After some great discussion about recording a variety of strategies, we watched Kristin Gray in action leading a number talk of 61 – 27.


We talked about how she recorded the students’ strategies. We also talked about some really lovely teacher moves that I made sure to draw attention to.

We wrapped up our time together talking about what new ideas they learned that they wanted to try out with their students. I had asked one of the teachers to lead us in another number talk, but we ran out of time so I think I’m going to have her do that at the start of our next session together. Hopefully everyone will have had some intentional experiences with recording strategies between now and then to draw on during that number talk.

Oh, another thing we talked about at various points during the session was how to lead students in the direction of certain strategies. This gets into problem strings, which may or may not happen in number talks depending on whom you talk to. Regardless, here are some we came up with. Can you figure out what strategies they might be leading students to notice and think about?





Play With Me

On Wednesday I had the chance to visit my first classroom this school year. Sadly, in my role as curriculum coordinator, I don’t get to do this nearly enough. So I relish opportunities like this. Even better than visiting, the teacher allowed me to play a math game with her class.

I had so much fun!

I wanted something simple and quick to get the kids engaged before moving on to another activity. I also wanted it to involve adding 3-digit numbers because her class is in the middle of a unit on that very topic. I also wanted to bring in some place value understanding and reasoning, which are very much related to adding multi-digit numbers.

Basically I brought two decks of cards – one had Care Bears on the back and the other had Spider-Man on the back. I wanted different backs to the cards so it would be easier to tell which cards were mine and which were my opponent’s in case we needed to reference them during or after the game. I also pulled out all of the 10s and face cards, with the exception of the aces. I kept those and we decided to use them as zeroes. I tell you this because if you ever want to play a game that involves digit cards, here is a great way to get some without having to painstakingly cut out cards to make your own sets. Decks of cards are cheap enough. Just use those.

The game was me vs. the class. The goal is to make two 3-digit numbers. Whoever has the greater sum wins. On my turn, I drew a card, and I had a choice of putting it blank spots that I used to create two 3-digit numbers. Once a digit was placed it couldn’t be moved. On the class’ turn, I drew the card for them, but I let them tell me where to place the digit.

My favorite part of the game was at the end when the kids started shouting out that they’d won without even finding the sum. Take a look and see why they got excited: (Just pretend I hadn’t written the sums yet. I took the picture after the game was over.)


“You have a 9 and a 4 in the hundreds place. We have a 5 and a 9.”

“Interesting, and how does that tell you you’ve won?”

“Because the 9s are the same. And we have a 5 which is greater than 4. You should have put your 5 in the hundreds place.”

“I was hedging my bets and I lost.”

Such wonderful thinking from a 3rd grader! How often do students rush to calculate and find an answer to a problem? How amazing that these students were paying attention to the place value that matters most in these numbers – the hundreds – and then comparing the digits to determine who had a greater sum?

Since I was just the lead-in to the day’s activities we only got to play once, but I would have loved to play again. I would have liked to change it up a bit. I would still construct my number on the board, but then I would have allowed everyone to create their own number at their desk using the cards that I drew on their turn. At the end we would discuss who thinks they have the greatest sum and talk about their placement of digits.

Even though I didn’t get to play again, I’ll take the time I did have. It was the highlight of my week!

And Now For Something A Little Different

Providing PD to teachers is tricky business. Our district offers two weeks of jam packed professional development every summer. The catch is that it happens while teachers are off contract, so there’s no requirement to be there. In addition, teachers have so many options of courses to attend – literacy, math, science, social studies, technology, TAG – that it can be hard to fill seats in some sessions.

During the school year, we periodically offer PD during the school day. We usually only do this when we have special funding that allows us to cover the costs of subs for teachers who attend the PD. Otherwise, you might not get many teachers to attend. However, when we do have sub funds, we usually can only afford to pay for one sub per campus so we’re only able to bring in 34 of our 1,200 or so elementary teachers. It’s a drop in the bucket.

For the past two school years, we’ve offered after school PD sessions called Just In Time. As the name implies, they were offered just in time for the start of the next nine weeks grading period. The purpose of these sessions was to give teachers a preview of the upcoming units. Now that our units are a few years old, attendance has dwindled because they’re no longer very timely.

So this year we decided to try something new.

We threw out the Just In Time sessions and created new mini-courses to bring some of the amazing topics from summer PD into the school year and to give teachers more choice in their professional development offerings. Instead of choosing from the Kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2, grade 3, grade 4, or grade 5 Just In Time sessions for math, teachers now have 7 course topics available to them. Here’s a link to a document that details each of our courses.

The sessions are still after school for an hour and a half, which is a turn off for some, but I’m hopeful that many more teachers will be drawn to a topic they want to explore this school year. I specifically designed our courses to be experiences over time because I believe that one-off PD experiences have little lasting impact on teaching practice. However, attending 4 sessions spread out over several months where teachers have the opportunity to try out what they’re learning in between sessions feels like a better recipe for success.

We had the very first session of our very first course yesterday. (Huge thanks to our amazing instructional coaches who will be leading all of these PD sessions!) The 16 teachers who attended were engaged and eager to learn about number talks. Here’s hoping this is a sign of even more great learning to come this school year!


More Than Words

Yesterday Tracy Zager shared a heartbreaking post that every teacher should take a few minutes to read.

The gist of it is that teachers need to be mindful about the messages they send students and parents about learning and doing mathematics. Sometimes damaging messages come across in the form of words – “You may not talk to anyone as you work.” – but they also come across in our choices of lessons and activities we do in our classrooms – such as a long pre-assessment that most students will “fail” because they unsurprisingly don’t yet know the content from their new grade level.

But there’s hope! This Tweet sums it up nicely:

I’ve been especially encouraged while reading the latest blog posts from the members of my Math Rocks cohort. Back in July we watched Tracy’s Shadow Con talk. Afterward everyone took Tracy’s call to action to choose a word to guide their math planning at the start of the year.

Flash forward a month and the school year is finally getting underway. Our latest Math Rocks mission was to re-watch Tracy’s talk and to watch my own Shadow Con talk since the two are very much related. Then they had to choose one of our calls to action to follow and write a blog post reflecting on their experiences as they kicked off the school year.

The results have been so inspiring! I’ve collected all of their posts in this document. Take a look. Just reading the titles of their posts makes me happy, and if you go on to read them, I hope you’ll finish with as big of a smile on your face as I have.