Category Archives: Resources

A Little Preview

Next week I have the privilege of presenting a session about numberless word problems at the 2018 NCTM Annual conference. Even if you don’t teach in grades 3-5, I still invite you to join us because there will be lots of ideas shared of interest to multiple grade levels.


During the session, I’ll be referencing a few numberless word problems used over the course of several months in a 3rd grade classroom in my district. I thought it might be fun to share them before my session so folks could take a peak (and possibly even try one or two of them out before my session!).

The Collie and Chihuahua Problem – This is a comparison problem where the difference is unknown.

The Ancient Penguin Problem – This is another comparison problem. This time the larger quantity is unknown.

The Sand Castle Problem – This is an equal groups problem with an unknown product.

The Minecraft Problem – This is a multi-step problem involving multiplication and addition.

The Piano Practice Problem – This is a multi-step problem involving addition and subtraction.

The Pie Problem – This is a multi-step problem involving multiplication.

Enjoy! And if you’ll be joining me next week at NCTM, I look forward to seeing you in Washington, D.C.!

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!