Multiplication Fact Practice

A few days ago I was lucky enough to help Miss Schroeder celebrate multiplication and division facts by teaching her third grade class a new game. It’s a simple one, and can be played as a whole class or in groups of 3+. It can also be played as an addition/subtraction game.

I started by introducing the game to the whole class with two volunteers (who I knew had mastered their facts). They stood at the front of the room and I put a playing card in front of each of their foreheads so that they could see each other’s card but not their own card. Then they faced the rest of the class, who told them the product of the two numbers. Based on the product and what number the other player had, they had to figure out what their number was. The first to guess their number was the winner.

After a few practice rounds with the class, I formed groups of 3 or 4 and sent them off with a deck of cards to play. In their small groups they took turns with each role. I was able to differentiate by carefully creating the groups, putting students who were still working to master their facts with others who were proficient.

Thanks, Miss Schroeder, for allowing me into your classroom!!


Comparing Numbers in First Grade

Another great lesson happened in Mrs. Lane’s class last week! Students were playing a simple partner game where they each drew a two-digit number out of a baggie and had to tell which one was larger. They then each wrote the comparison in their math notebook.


After they played the game for a few minutes, Mrs. Lane announced that they had a ‘situation’ that they needed to work on. I LOVED how they all referred to the problem they were going to solve as a ‘situation!’ It made me think about this paragraph from the article Mirrors and Windows Into Student Noticing:

“In everyday situations, problems do not predate the person-world interaction; rather, problems are defined and redefined by problem solvers. In fact, many situations in daily life are not necessarily problems. Consider the following example.

Luis had some candies. His sister gave him 7 more candies.

After all, ending up with more candies is hardly a problem for children. Therefore, an agreement between students and teacher regarding what constitutes a “problem” seems to be foundational for fostering student problem posing.”

The students were all very excited to head to their seats, glue their ‘situation’ into the math notebook, and get to work finding a solution. After Mrs. Lane read the problem aloud, she guided the class to think about what information they were given and what they wanted to find out.

“Mrs. Cook’s class collected 24 BoxTops. Mrs. Burnikel’s class collected 42. Which class collected the most BoxTops? How do you know?”


I was impressed with the solution strategies students used. Many of them compared the tens and then the ones place.

They came together after a few minutes and shared their solutions and strategies. The way they were all able to verbalize their thinking was impressive.

The next day they had another ‘situation’ that looked like this:


This student, who had compared the tens in the problem the day before, used a strategy that a classmate had showed her, and saw that 17 comes before 18 when counting. She said that 17 was closer to zero on the number line. Woohoo for student learning!!

With Math I Can

A combination of Growth Mindset and Math. Your class can take the With Math I Can pledge.

  • We will celebrate our mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • We will be confident and share our thinking.
  • We will persevere through difficult practice.



One Good Thing and My Favorite


This post is a combination of Week 1 and Week 2 because it’s ‘One Good Thing’ about my job, and one of ‘My Favorite’ things, to be able to spend time with teachers and students and see amazing lessons happening!


As I was walking through the school hallway yesterday afternoon I was thinking through my day, preparing to write a post about A Day in the Life of me as an instructional coach. I had done a variety of things already that morning, and was excited to have a few minutes in my office to write it all down.

And then I walked my Mrs. Lane’s first grade classroom.

Let me tell you about Mrs. Lane. Her door is always open – literally and figuratively – and she has told me all year to come and join in whenever I want. I’ve taken her up on that many times, and I’ve seen cool social studies projects with Mind Missions, I’ve seen her students writing and conferring with each other, and I’ve seen Number Talks with thinking strategies that blow me away. Sometimes I stop in just to listen to her lesson for a few minutes, sometimes I confer with students about what they’re reading or writing or working on. Her students are amazing. They always know what they’re supposed to be doing and they are (almost) always doing it. They know how to have conversations with each other and can usually work well in partners and in groups. They also do well working independently. Mrs. Lane is able to have groups working with her often because the other students understand the clear expectations that she has set.

So yesterday as I was walking by her open door, I saw some students standing at the front of the classroom holding index cards, and the other students watching them. I had to check it out. Mrs. Lane was busy asking questions of the students and didn’t even notice me at first, and the students were so engaged in the conversation that they didn’t notice me either. The students at the front of the room had numbers on their index cards, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and they were standing in order. Oh, ordering numbers! This should be good. Their conversation was just finishing, and Mrs. Lane had five new students come up. She handed each one an index card that they held up to show the rest of the class. The numbers were 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15, but they were not in order yet.

“As you look at these numbers, think about which one is the least, or smallest number.” She gave ample think time, and then asked the five students to put themselves in order. “Is this the number you thought would be first?” she asked, pointing at the 11. The students all agreed that it was. Then there was a group conversation about how they could tell if the numbers were in order or not. Amazing comments came from students, about counting and the order of numbers, and the number of tens being the same so they looked at the number of ones. Wow!

The whole process repeated with five more students, and this time there were ‘harder’ numbers. They weren’t in consecutive order this time; they were a variety of two digit numbers. I was anxious to see how the kids responded. Would this prove more difficult for them? Nope. The conversation was even more rich with math vocabulary, with think time, partner conversations, and whole group discussions, and the students were able to figure out the least and greatest numbers and the order of those in between.

Mrs. Lane moved on to giving each child a number card, and then splitting the class into 3 groups. Each group had to put themselves in order from least to greatest, and show their cards to the rest of the class.

Then for the finale – Mrs. Lane asked the students to find a partner, and each pair received a baggie of number cards. Their ‘game’ was to pull out 5 cards and put them in order, and then put them back and do it again. The first graders were overjoyed. Mrs. Lane was able to check in with groups, ask questions, redirect as needed, and clarify any misconceptions. After they were allowed some time to play, and when it was about time to go to lunch, Mrs. Lane asked each group to leave out their most recent 5 cards in order so she could check their work.

Thank you, Mrs. Lane, for allowing me into your classroom!!


In my post about Breaking the Cycle I wrote about the terrible sickness that I had in second grade, ‘mathitis’. I had looked for Ms. Breen, my second grade teacher, before, but after writing the post I jumped in whole-heartedly. Some people with the last name Breen probably think I’m crazy from the emails that I sent, but I FOUND HER! She is still teaching, and seemed happy to hear from me. I then found my yearbook from second grade. Here’s my second grade class, and the note that Ms. Breen wrote to me.

It all makes me feel so happy, and finding the teacher that made me want to be a teacher is priceless.

Thanks Ms. Breen!

Another Round of Number Talks

I’ve been doing number talks in a few classrooms around my school. Today I was in a different 3rd grade classroom and tried 39+16 again. This time I planned ahead and thought about their possible responses, partly based on what I observed last month in another classroom.


I planned for a dot number talk as well, just in case we had extra time.

We only got to the number sentence, but they were able to share great strategies! I asked the little girl who had 62 as her answer to share first. She used the number line, but while she was sharing she discovered her mistake – she had started with 39, jumped 10 to 49, then was going to jump 9 more and then 6 more. When she said to jump 9 more, I asked her what number she had started with and she said, “39….Oh! I already used the 9!” So she decided that the jump of 6 was all she needed, and she landed on 55. I loved that she learned from her mistake and wasn’t at all thrown off by it….she just kept right on going. Her teacher obviously has set up a classroom community where learning from your mistakes is encouraged!!


It was interesting that nobody used the first strategy that I had thought of on my plan. Guess they’re just not quite there yet. I’m going to do another number talk in that classroom next week. Should I do the dots that I had planned or another addition problem?

Try and Reflect – Number Talk!

I loved being able to tell a class of third graders that I was going to be doing a Number Talk with them, and that it was the first time that I was trying the strategy with actual children. I had only ever done Number Talks with adults!

3rd grade number talk photo

Not knowing exactly what kind of problems this class was used to, I figured something with making tens would be a safe bet. In retrospect, I should probably have started with smaller numbers. Oh well, they did some great thinking!

I was very surprised to see the variety of answers that the students came up with, although I could see how they arrived at those particular numbers. My favorite part of the discussion was when students were defending their answers and realized that they had made a mistake. What amazing visible learning!! It was great to see the power of their explanations and communication!

After watching the video again, here are some things that I would do differently next time:

  • talk less, don’t put words in their mouths
  • ask them to justify the other answers, don’t call them ‘wrong’
  • don’t favor any answer
  • don’t use a light green marker!

Any other suggestions?

Breaking the Cycle

This RRISD Math Rocks mission is an easy one. This is my mission as a teacher. Breaking the cycle of people not liking math. How could you not like math?!?

A story….

When I was in second grade, my teacher, Ms. Breen, diagnosed me with a terrible disease – ‘mathitis’. Every day when it was time for math I had a headache or a stomachache, or some other awful sickness for which I NEEDED to go to the nurse. Although I don’t remember a lot about second grade and Ms. Breen, she must have been a great teacher. Because once she started noticing this pattern of when I needed to go to the nurse, she stopped letting me go. And she talked to me. She ‘noticed and named’ my sickness – mathitis – and worked with me to find a cure. I think I was probably pretty good at math in second grade, but I am definitely a perfectionist, and I think maybe that got in my way of enjoying math. I can’t remember what the cure for mathitis was, but Ms. Breen sure made it work. Math has become my passion. I can’t imagine NOT loving to teach and learn math.

So, anyway, based on the blog post In Which I Give A Survey About Math To My Colleagues... by Andrew Gael, which is based on the blog post Beyond Beauty by Justin Lanier, I sent out a survey to the staff at my school asking how they feel about math. I was nervous as I awaited their replies. I assumed I would get the same results as Justin and Andrew got, showing that a lot of people don’t like math.

But look!!


Most people like math because it is challenging or because it is useful! It was interesting to me that no one chose beautiful. It looks like I have some work to do to help everyone like math, but that’s ok. I love my job!

Next week I hope to have a few classes of students answer the same question, and compare how views of math vary from grade to grade at the same school.

Math Classrooms

Well, this post is supposed to be about how I set up my math classroom, but this is the first year I don’t have a math classroom. I have an office. It’s a cute office, and I love it, but I can’t write a post about how students are using it! Here are some pictures of the math shelves in my office…

my office collage

Kinda sad, although there’s probably more math in my office than anything else.

So, I went around my school taking pictures of other math classrooms. They’re all amazing! Here are some ways that the teachers here organize their math manipulatives.

Manipulative collage 1Manipulative collage 2

It was interesting to see how things vary from grade to grade and teacher to teacher, although there are so many great similarities. I enjoyed seeing that some teachers have baskets of math manipulatives for each table group to use. I explored some in first grade. They contained unifix cubes, magnetic ten frames, number racks, and number tracks. Awesome!

                                     group baskets collage

Here are some other pictures of math in classrooms.

Math class collage 1

It was interesting to see the reactions when I asked teachers if I could take a picture of the math in their classroom. Most said, “Oookaay?” Like, “Why are you taking pictures of my math stuff?? Weirdo.” But they all let me in. And their math manipulatives were well organized, and their math posters and pictures were relevant. It was all great. It’s funny how teachers think other people see how ‘un-perfect’ they are and focus on that. I don’t see anything but amazing and beautiful instruction, purpose, and intention. Especially when it comes to math!

Using Student Work to Guide Instruction

In late July a co-worker and I taught a one-day professional development course called Using Student Work to Guide Instruction for grades 3-5.

First we had to define what student work is and how we might use it to guide our instruction.

Capture1                    Capture2

One type of verbal/written work that we really enjoyed talking about was My Favorite No. This video is a great example, and although it involves middle school students, it can easily be adapted for elementary students.

Then we talked about the differences, advantages and disadvantages of formal and informal formative assessment.

CaptureThe ideas the teachers came up with were great!

Formal Examples – district assessments, state assessments, pretests, unit tests

Advantages – see what the students know, independent work

Disadvantages – can take a long time, multiple choice (students can guess), can’t always see student thinking

Informal Examples – observations, exit tickets, conversations, journal entries, group work, reflections

Advantages – quick, easy to prepare, see what students know, opportunity to discuss with someone

Disadvantages – not always the work of one student, sometimes too short to get a depth of information


When looking at some examples of student work, we focused the teachers in on these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the work?
  • What does the student understand?
  • What did the student learn (content/metacognitive)?
  • Where is the student struggling?
  • What did I learn about my teaching?
  • What questions do I have for the student?
  • Where do WE go from here?

They divided chart paper into sections, and for each student solution they wrote Understandings, Misconceptions, and Next Steps.

20150729_134634      20150729_134652






Student work samples are from

Do you use your students’ work to guide your instruction?