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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Buzzworthy Ideas: Back to School Math Blog Hop

Summer just flew by for me. I didn't accomplish even half of what I had planned for my classroom. Plus moving from first to fifth created a lot of new work. I did spend a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to start the year. Procedures and routines had to all get examined with such a huge change and I really wanted to start the year on the right foot. I didn't want to be rethinking and changing things early on. If you are in a similar boat or just want to think about how you are going to be setting  up for a great mathematical year or maybe you are looking for some great beginning of the year math ideas, then this hop is for you. We are all going to be talking about math at the beginning of the year.

It doesn't matter what grade you are teaching, we all have those students who are not very flexible with numbers. They are lacking the ability to play around with numbers and strategies and probably always go to the same strategy regardless of efficiency or accuracy. We can't teach them number sense but we can provide activities, tasks, games, and time for them to gain number sense. I am going to talk about a few quick routines that you can plug in at the beginning of your math time to help your students develop flexibility, efficiency, and accuracy.

In first grade I used a lot of activities from Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway.
Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
I built in a 5-10 minute time at the start of math where we used a variety of routines including the Rekenrek, ten frame cards, dice, dominoes, counting circles etc. It didn't take long, but it was consistent all year long. The Rekenrek is my all-time favorite because you can do so much with it. Last year I wrote a post about using the routines found in this book. They are especially good for K-1 students. You can read it about it here on my post from our Math Books That Will Change Your Teaching hop

With my grade change, I've had to rethink what I can use for number sense routines because older students need some time to develop number sense just as much as the younger ones do. I picked up Number Talks by Sherry Parrish and started reading. Younger grade teachers don't stop reading. My examples may be from fifth grade, but this book divides up into K-2 and 3-5 for a discussion of number talks and for lists of problems. 

Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
Reading the book got me thinking about implementing number talks,  but watching some of the videos on the included DVD is what really sold me on trying this. I started on day one of the school year with two-digit addition problems arranged horizontally that encouraged the use of making ten. I was shocked to see students who were trying to to "write" on the ground with their finger to solve the problem vertically with the standard U.S. algorithm. I'm glad they can do the algorithm, but these problems could have been solved quicker and easier by making tens. My students were choosing the hard way! I was so surprised by that. Another thing that surprised me is that they weren't comfortable explaining their reasoning. I am now 8 days into the school year and I already am seeing students solving in new ways, becoming more verbal about their thinking, and working more efficiently.

Here's what I love about this 15 minute routine at the start of my day:
  1. It's a 15-minute routine. Everyone knows what to do, what is expected and the only prep required is to come up with 3 problems for each day. I can do that on fly if need be, but I try to plan them ahead.
  2. Students use hand signals to show how many ways they can solve the problem and to show when they are in agreement with others.
  3. Discussion, discussion, discussion. I think that most of the learning takes place during the discussion and this routine is all about showing your thinking.
  4. Students gather at the carpet with no tools, no pencils, no paper. It's mental math. Which means that the transition time is virtually nada.
  5. Students verbally explain what they have done to solve the problem and the teacher is the scribe. That makes the pacing really move.
  6. I am doing a number talk each day Monday through Thursday, but on Friday we are doing a pencil and paper assessment with problems similar to those from the week. This gives me an easy assessment that shows what students can do individually. 
Here are a few pictures from the second week of school in my fifth grade classroom.

In this problem, I wrote down exactly what the student said. But with a little more discussion after the first three equations, the students corrected it to 40 + 30 and 700 + 600 and we continued on with the problem. Since place value is our first teaching topic as a grade level, I wanted my discussions to focus on place value also.

As we have moved into some larger numbers, we are still focusing on making tens so I purposely chose numbers that could be solved with this strategy. 10 + 10 was from adding the ones and the ten in 9,613. Everyone seemed to be following without any questions until the mathematician said that 20 + 20 = 40. We stopped and you can see in orange where we wrote out what was happening to get 20 + 20.

On Friday my students start directly on the weekly number talk assessment. They are required to solve the problems in two way. This assessment was from week one in my class. I wanted to start off with some easier problems and help build some confidence. My class has quite a few perfectionists and I didn't want any panicky students during the first week. I thought it was easy and was surprised at how difficult another solution was for many students. It also took them a lot longer to complete the five problems than I expected. I was also surprised at the number of times students got two different answers and just left it, or solved it twice in the same way. The second week, the difficulty of the test increased but my students still finished a lot quicker. I think it was because they were becoming more efficient with thinking about making tens and also in solving in multiple ways. 

Still not sold on trying number talks? Watch this short youtube video. It's a great little sales pitch if you need one.

Plus it really brings up a few points worth mentioning:
  1. The goal of number talks is to strengthen accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility.
  2. It provides opportunities for students to develop number sense.
  3. Students on auto-pilot don't consider things like the magnitude of the number or reasonability of their answer.
If you have the time, Sherry Parrish has another great video on youtube but it's about an hour and 15 minutes long.

I love the way she ties number talks into the mathematical practice standards and content standards of the CCSS. She also talks how students can have the correct answer and correct procedure but still not understand or make sense of the math.

If you would like a copy of my weekly assessment master, you can grab it by clicking on the picture.

For lots of great ideas to help you build strong mathematicians and get the year started out right, hop along to The Math Spot.

Friday, August 7, 2015

How Do You Fit It All In? Scheduling in Fifth Grade

It's so ironic that as a teacher I feel like the day is so short, but when I was a stay-at-home mom, I thought the school day was so incredibly long. I couldn't wait for my girls to come home. Now I don't know how I will ever get it all in. Here is my 110th try at a schedule. Seriously.
Since this is my first year teaching fifth grade I have been thinking and rethinking through everything. Here's a small glimpse into what I have in mind:


I want to start off with number talks. I just finished reading Number Talks by Sherry Parrish and I'm really excited about using them to build fluency and efficiency. I read the book, but it wasn't until I watched some of her videos with fifth grade that I knew I had to try this. Next, I want to the bulk of my instruction to be taught using inquiry. So I plan to have at least 30 minutes for inquiry based problem solving and 15 minutes for discussion. Leaving (I hope) about 15 minutes for math games and fluency practice for the students, allowing me to work with small groups and individuals.


I really try to teach skills within context, but the tightness of my schedule and the amount of time before lunch left me with this 15 minute block of time. So I figured why not throw in a little skill based work. I really want to focus on using morphology to teach vocabulary and spelling. I'm still struggling on whether to go with the weekly spelling test. In first grade, parents didn't expect it. I'm not sure about fifth. I'm wondering if not rocking the boat is best this year.


I absolutely loved writing workshop with my first graders, so I'm really excited about trying this in fifth grade. I just ordered the newest Lucy Calkins Units of Study for fifth grade and I can't wait to get started.

DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read)

I wrote a post about this earlier this summer while reading Kelly Gallagher's Readicide. Where did our silent reading time go? I know it's only 15 minutes, but I'm trying to look for ways to get more in. I just don't know if I can redo this schedule for the 111th time.


I will be teaching a unit on static and current electricity to the entire fifth grade. So that covers most of the year and then I will teach one more unit to just my class. I am so glad we are rotating for science this year. I know I can pull together one great unit, I'm not sure I could pull together five. We will rotate three times a week and have set some pretty specific ground rules. Plus I think my new team will all be great. 

Computers, PE, Library, Music

These all function as our planning times, so no teaching worries.

Social Studies

This is actually one of the reasons why I picked fifth grade. I love US history. I was a little disappointed when I looked through our textbook but I knew I wouldn't be teaching through only a textbook anyway. So this is probably where I need to spend the most time developing a plan for teaching. But it's also the best time to use literature. Good content, good literature - this is going to be so fun!

Guided Reading

I really want to do a mix of student choice groups and leveled groups this year. I think some book clubs and genre study will be perfect. My biggest worry is the number of groups and books I need to keep up with, so I'll be throwing some class books in there too.

I don't know how you get it all in, but I'm sure going to try! I would love to hear your best advice for an experienced teacher who is new to fifth grade.

Looking forward to a great new year. I hope you are too!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Free Math Apps

Did you know that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) makes apps? Plus they are free!

And The Math Learning Center makes math manipulative apps that are also free.
Check out my post over at Who's New and Who's Who to learn all about these great resources.