Category Archives: Resources

Crystal Capture

This weekend I made something fun and wanted to share it in case it provides fun for anyone else.

My daughter has a board game called Unicorn Glitterluck.

It’s super cute, but not the most engrossing game. She and I especially like the purple cloud crystals, so this weekend I started brainstorming a math game I could make for us to play together. I know number combinations is an important idea she’ll be working on in 1st grade, so I thought about how to build a game around that while also incorporating the crystals.

Introducing…Crystal Capture!

Knowing that certain totals have greater probabilities of appearing than others, I created a game board that takes advantage of this. Totals like 6, 7, and 8 get rolled fairly frequently, so those spaces only get 1 crystal each. Totals like 2, 3, 11, and 12, on the other hand, have less chance of being rolled, so I only put 1 space above each of these numbers, but that space has 3 crystals.

I mocked up a game board and we did a little play testing. I quickly learned a few things:

Play-Test

I originally thought we would play until the board was cleared. Everything was going so well until all we had left was the one space above 12. We spent a good 15 minutes rolling and re-rolling. We just couldn’t roll a 12!! That was getting boring fast which led me to introduce a special move when you roll a double. That at least gave us something to do while we waited to finally roll a 12.

That evening I made a fancier game board in Powerpoint and we played the game again this morning:

Since clearing the board can potentially take a long time, which sucks the life out of the game, I changed the end condition. Now, if all nine of the spaces above 6, 7, and 8 are empty, the game ends. Since these numbers get rolled more frequently, the game has a much greater chance of ending without dragging on too long.

I did keep the special move when you roll doubles though. This adds a little strategic element. When you roll a double, you can replenish the crystals in any one space on the board. Will you refill a space above 6, 7, or 8 to keep the game going just a little bit longer? Or will you replenish one of the three-crystal spaces in hopes of rolling that number and claiming the crystals for yourself?

All in all, my daughter and I had a good time playing the game, and I learned a lot about where she’s at in her thinking about number combinations. Some observations:

  • She is very comfortable using her fingers to find totals.
  • Even though she knows each hand has 5 fingers, she’ll still count all 5 fingers one-at-a-time about 75% of the time.
  • She is pretty comfortable with most of her doubles. She knows double 5 is 10, for example. She gets confused whether double 3 or double 4 is 8. We rarely rolled double 6, so I have no idea what she knows about that one.
  • In the context of this game at least, she is not thinking about counting on from the larger number…yet. She doesn’t have a repertoire of strategies to help her even if she did stop and analyze the two dice. If she sees 1 and 5, she’ll put 1 finger up on one hand and 5 on the other, then she’ll count all.
  • I did see hints of some combinations slowly sinking in. That’s one benefit to dice games like this. As students continue to roll the same combinations over and over, they’ll start to internalize them.

Several folks on Twitter expressed interest in the game, so I wanted to write up this post and share the materials in case anyone out there wants to play it with their own children or students.

You’ll have to scrounge up your own crystals to put in the spaces, but even if you don’t have fancy purple ones like we do, small objects like buttons, along with a little imagination, work just as well. Oh, and if you can get your hands on sparkly dice, that helps, too. My daughter loves the sparkly dice I found in a bag of dice I had lying around.

Have fun!

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.

2018-NCTM-Program-Bushart

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!