# Our Venn Diagrams are One Circle

This past week my work life and my daughter’s school life came crashing together in the most wonderful way.

## I.

On the way home from school on Thursday, she asked if we could practice “take away.” At first we practiced numerical problems like “What is 3 take away 1?” and “What is 5 take away 2?” Eventually I asked her if I could tell my problems in a story. The rest of the ride home we told “take away” stories. I told a few, and then she wanted it to be her turn:

• “This one is sad. There were 2 cats and 1 of them died.”
• “There were 6 oranges on the counter. A girl ate 2 of them and they died in her mouth.”
• “There were 8 trees, and 3 of them got cut down.”
• “There were 6 roads, and 2 of them fell down.” (I was able to figure out she was referring to overpasses because that’s what we were driving under at the time.)

Slightly morbid, but she’s 6 years old, so I roll with it, especially since she isn’t usually this chatty about anything related to school.

Anyway, as we were getting closer to home, I remembered that the math unit she’s currently in in school uses some numberless word problems, so I asked, “Have you ever had a problem about some geese and some of them stop to rest?”

(Stunned silence)

“How did you know that?!”

“What about a problem about a boy who checks out some books from the library and returns only some of them?”

(Stunned silence)

“Yes! How did you know that one!”

“Because I wrote them.”

“What do you mean?!”

“I’m the author of the take away stories you’ve been working on in math class.”

And thus our two worlds – my work and her school – came crashing together for the first time ever.

I’ve mentioned to her before that I work with and help teachers, but it’s always been in the abstract. Finding out that I was the author of specific problems she’s encountered in her classroom just blew her mind. She wanted to see some of them when she got home. Knowing she probably won’t always be this interested in my work, I was only too happy to oblige.

## II.

As I was scrolling through the suggested unit plan to find the numberless word problems, I asked her about other tasks in the unit to see which ones she remembered. I asked about Bag-O-Chips, a 3 Act Task from Graham Fletcher, which was planned for the day after the numberless word problems, but she said she’d never seen it before. I have no idea how closely her teacher follows the unit plan, but lo and behold, the next day in the car when I asked what she did at school she said, “We did the bags of chips!”

We talked a little bit about the task in the car, and a little later as we finished up dinner I showed her the Act 1 video. Her eyes lit up. “That’s the video!”

We kept going back and forth between the image of what came in the bag and the image of what should have come in the bag. She happily used her fingers to figure out how many missing bags there were of each flavor.

I thoroughly enjoyed talking through the task with her, and what a pleasant surprise when she wanted to do another.

## III.

I’m not one to pass up an opportunity talk about math with my daughter, so I quickly scanned Graham’s list of 3 Act Tasks to find one I know we didn’t include in our suggested unit plans. I settled on Peas in a Pod.

Source: https://gfletchy.com/peas-in-a-pod/

First, we watched the video and estimated how many peas would be in each of the pods.

“I think there are 3 in this one, 4 in this one, and 10 in this one. No, 13 in this one.” (She estimated from right to left in case you’re wondering.)

“Hmm,” I said, “I think 3 is a good guess for the first one. I think there might be 4 or 5 in the second one, and I’m going to agree with your first guess of 10 for the third one.”

Estimation is a new skill for Kindergarten students. I talk about guessing and she talks about being right. She thinks the goal is to be the person who guesses the correct (exact) amount. I’m going to keep talking about being close and reasonable because over time I know her understanding of what estimation is will develop and refine.

Then we watched the reveal video.

Source: https://gfletchy.com/peas-in-a-pod/

“I wasn’t right and you weren’t right!” She exclaimed.

“That’s okay. All of our guesses were pretty close, even though none of them matched the exact number of peas. I was surprised that this one only had 2 peas in it. I thought for sure there were more in there.”

“Me, too.”

“Hmm, I have another question for you. How many peas are there altogether?”

“Let me count.”

“I want to see if you can do it without counting on the picture. How many peas were in each pod?”

“8 and 7…and 2.”

“So how could you figure out the total?”

At first she tried using her fingers. She counted out 8 fingers, and then continued counting from there. I couldn’t really tell what she was doing, but at one point, after lots of ups and downs of fingers, she said, “18.”

Pretty close!

I didn’t say that though. Instead I said, “Hmm, I wonder if that’s the right amount. What other tool could we use to check your answer?”

She decided to get her Math Rack to check, and as a complete surprise to me she said, “Can you make a video of me?” Make a video of you solving a math problem? Why, of course!

Watching her first attempt, it was fascinating seeing her trying to keep track of two separate counts: (1) counting on from 8, “…9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,…” and (2) counting the 7 she was combining with the 8, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5,…”

It seems like she abandoned the double counting  when she was so close to being done. I wonder if she sort of gave up and just continued counting to 18 since that’s what she had thought the answer was before.

I had a split second to think about how to respond. I didn’t want to confirm whether the answer was correct, and I wanted to see if she would be willing to try combining the three quantities again.

There was definitely a lot more accuracy when she separately modeled each quantity! I was impressed with the double counting she was attempting earlier, but in the end she was more successful when she could show each quantity separately and then count all.

It was a proud dad moment when she didn’t just accept 17 as the correct answer. She decided we should look at the picture of all the open pea pods to check. And, sure enough, when I held up the phone with the image of all the open pea pods, she was able to count all and verify that there were in fact 17 peas.

All in all, I’m over the moon. All year long I’ve asked her about school (and math), but up until now her answers have been fairly vague. (“I’m so surprised,” said no parent ever.) The most I’d gotten out of her before was that they did Counting Collections.

But now we’ve actually had a full blown conversation about the work she’s been doing in school, specifically activities I wrote or helped plan for our Kindergarten units. I’ve always loved talking about counting and shapes and patterns with my daughter since before she ever started school, but to have our worlds collide like this was really special. I enjoyed getting to share and talk about my work with a very different, and more personal, audience than I’m used to.

# Moving On Before It’s Over (Kindergarten)

This school year isn’t even over yet, but in my role as a Curriculum Coordinator, I’m already starting to look ahead to next school year. I feel like I’m cheating on the current school year, but if I don’t start now, there’s no way I’ll have everything ready when the teachers come back in August.

One of my responsibilities every spring is to analyze our instructional units to determine whether any changes need to be made for the upcoming school year. Over the past several years, I’ve made some pretty drastic changes to our scope and sequence, but each year I feel like it’s been less and less and that we’re settling on a coherent plan that works for our teachers and students.

Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years – and I’m starting to feel like I actually know what I’m doing – I thought I’d share our scope and sequences to give you a sense of what kinds of changes we’ve made over time and what we’re planning for next year. I have no idea whether this will be useful to anyone, but if I don’t share then I’ll never know.

Here are our scope and sequences of units for the past three school years. What do you notice? What do you wonder?

### Kindergarten – School Year 2017-18

Let me explain some of the big changes that have happened over the past few years as well as the rationale behind our scope and sequence.

Kindergarten starts with introducing students to the numbers through 5 and then the numbers through 10. This has been fairly stable over the past few years. At this early part of the year, the focus is on counting, counting, counting and representing, representing, representing. Students come to us with a wide range of abilities. We can’t presume their understanding so we want to ensure everyone has a solid foundation in the first month or so of the school year.

You’ll notice over the past few years that unit 3 on sorting and classifying jumped up from 11 days to 15 days to 25 days. Sorting and classifying are huge verbs in mathematics, and we wanted students to start engaging with them right away via our data and geometry standards. The jump in days came because the unit used to only include 3D figures. We used to introduce 2D figures later in the school year. Now this unit includes both 3D and 2D figures.

We circle back around to numbers to 10 in unit 4. Students continue to count, count, count and represent, represent, represent, but they also start comparing in this unit. This is followed by our measurement unit which extends the concept of comparison as students talk about things being longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and more full or less full.

During the 2017-18 school year we made it so our addition and subtraction units are back to back, followed by our unit on numbers to 20. This is because the old scope and sequence confused teachers. For the first half of the year students engage with numbers to 10. After winter break, students used to work in a unit where they engaged with numbers to 20, only to encounter a subtraction unit afterward that suddenly said to only focus on numbers to 10 again. Teachers were baffled by this. If students were learning about numbers to 20, then why weren’t they subtracting with numbers to 20 in the next unit? The answer is because our standards explicitly state to add and subtract within 10.

We opted to remove the confusion by putting both the addition and subtraction units before the unit on numbers to 20. That way it maintains a flow of working within 10: They learn to count and represent numbers to 10, compare numbers to 10, and then add/subtract numbers to 10 (in contexts). Finally we extend to numbers to 20. Our unit on numbers to 20 is a long one because it takes the concepts of counting, representing, and comparing and puts them together all in one unit.

The year closes out with two units. The first is our personal financial literacy unit, which introduces skills such as identifying coins by name, identifying ways to earn income, differentiating money received as income vs gifts, listing simple skills required for jobs, and distinguishing between wants and needs.

The second unit to close out the year is our addition and subtraction unit that brings the operations together to give students an opportunity to start having to identify which operation is needed in a given situation. The earlier units focused on working through the language stages of addition and subtraction separately to help students connect those operations to the actions of joining and separating (as per our standards), but at the end of the year we want students to have the opportunity to problem solve and make decisions about whether a given situation involves joining or separating.

These last two units used to be in reverse order, but after some feedback from teachers I changed it for the 2017-18 school year. Basically we ran into an issue where teachers couldn’t give grades on the report card regarding the financial literacy standards because grades were due before they completed that unit. Since addition and subtraction were already introduced earlier in the school year, I moved that to become the final unit so that teachers could teach the entire financial literacy unit before they have to submit report cards.

### Kindergarten – School Year 2018-19

I’m pretty happy with the Kindergarten scope and sequence from this school year. I’m going to meet with my Kindergarten curriculum collaborative in a month or so to see if they agree, but I’m not anticipating making any changes for next school year.

You’ll notice that our scope and sequence spends a TON of time on numbers to 10 because that is the focus of our Kindergarten standards. Students do extend these understandings as they work with numbers to 20, but numbers to 20 is actually the focus of the 1st grade standards. You’ll see what I mean in my next post on 1st grade.

One of my primary goals across each grade in grades K-5 is to ensure sufficient instructional time on core concepts for that grade level. I want students who need intervention later on to end up there because they truly aren’t understanding concepts, not because they weren’t given sufficient time to learn during first instruction.

One thing I am trying to decide about for next year is whether I’ll specify spiral review topics throughout the year. Here’s our at-a-glance so you can see how each unit is broken down into three instructional goals – focus TEKS (standards), computational fluency, and spiral review.

In Kindergarten we don’t have spiral review in the fall semester because the math block is only 60 minutes – 50 minutes for core lesson and 10 minutes for computational fluency. In the spring semester we add in 20 minutes of daily spiral review to bring up our math block to 80 minutes daily.

I suggest topics to review during spiral review to help teachers out, but I am afraid that this creates a confusing message. I wholeheartedly want teachers to review the concepts their students need to review. For example, if a teacher knows some students are struggling comparing numbers to 10 in unit 8, then by all means, review that concept rather than sorting and classifying with 2-D and 3-D figures.

The only reason I list topics is to give some guidance to help teachers ensure that topics are coming up again throughout the year. I know from firsthand experience as a classroom teacher that I was often working at the day-to-day or, if I was extremely lucky, the week-to-week level. Now that I’m in a position that allows me to look at the level of the entire year, I try to provide as much guidance as possible for teachers to help them navigate the school year.

Got a question about our scope and sequence? Wondering what in the world I’m thinking about planning things this way? Ask in the comments. I’ll continue with 1st grade’s scope and sequence in my next post.

# Rethinking Test Prep

I don’t know about you, but here in Texas we’ve got a state math test in grades 3, 4, and 5 coming up soon. The 5th grade test is taking place in mid-April followed by the 3rd and 4th grade tests in mid-May. In my school district, we used to stop instruction for one to two weeks prior to the test to focus on review. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way, and this year we changed that. If you want to read more about our rationale for doing that, I recommend reading Playing the Long Game, a post I wrote on my district blog. I also recommend checking out my Ignite talk from NCSM 2017. The work I’m sharing here has been a chance for me to put into practice the principles I shared in that talk.

If you don’t have time for all that right now and you’d rather check out the review activities I’ve created and get access to them for yourself, read on!

This year, with the help of our district instructional coaches, I put together collections of 15-20 minute spiral review activities that can be used daily for a month or so before the state test to review critical standards and prepare students without interrupting the momentum of regular math instruction. Here they are:

(Note: If you want to modify an activity, you are free to do so. Either make a copy of the file in your Google drive or download a copy to your computer. You will have full editing rights of your copy.)

When you look at an activity, it might look short. You might ask yourself, “How could this possibly take 15-20 minutes?” Good question! These activities are designed for student discourse. Students can and should be talking regularly during these activities. The goal is for students to be noticing, wondering, questioning, analyzing, sharing, and convincing  each other out loud. These discussions create opportunities to revisit concepts, clear up misconceptions, and raise awareness of the idiosyncrasies of the test questions, especially with regards to language.

Most of the activities are low or no prep, though here and there a few activities need some pages printed ahead of time. Be sure to read through an activity before facilitating it in your class so you don’t catch yourself unprepared.

Each collection of activities is organized around the Texas state standards (also known as TEKS). If you don’t live in Texas, you still might find these activities useful since there’s so much overlap between our standards and others. To help non-Texans navigate, I’ve added a column that (very) briefly describes the concept associated with each activity. If you’re interested in reading the actual TEKS each activity is aligned to, check out these documents:

If you try any of these activities out with your students, let me know how it goes in the comments. Enjoy!