math, Math Workshop

Mea Culpa

I never give out traditional worksheets for math.  Like, seriously…never.  Maybe once time this whole year, and that was for a child who was absent. But I am starting a new Context for Learning unit with my grade 3’s and they need all of my attention to get them going.  So I need the grade 2’s to work quietly.  I came up with some good independent workshop centres for them to do, with plans to bop in and out as my grade 3’s got busier.  But they really needed me, so my time with the 2’s was limited.  The activities were really good too, did I mention that?

On Friday (I know…who does this kind of stuff on a Friday?)  I gave them their games and put them work.  Over the weekend I rethought some of the noisier activities and added two that would require basically no talking between the participants.  Then on Monday I spent the whole time redirecting grade 2’s and asking them to work quietly. It seems they were having too much fun, so even though they were doing the math I had given them, they were also loud.

I decided they could do some worksheets today. They could quietly work on some addition and subtraction practice without me having to intervene at all. I dug out my dusty grade 2 commutation worksheet black line masters and copied a few. I passed them out, sent my grade 2’s to tables, and got to work with the grade 3’s.  Things were going OK!  I knew it wasn’t the most engaging work, but hey…Mercury is in retrograde and there’s a full moon on the way. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

As I started marking the worksheets later in the day, I saw lots of problems that looked like this:


For those who have not taught Primary students, let me interpret.  Both of the answers are correct.  The little 10 floating in space between the 8, 2 and + is the correct answer to 8+2, and the weird 114 under the 7 is there because 7+4 is 11.

I have always had a child or two do this, but never the whole class.  I’m gonna take full responsibility here.  I mean how did I not see this coming, right?  I think this is why teachers in older grades think we aren’t teaching math to the little people. They arrive in a class where the teacher expects students to complete worksheets or do work from a textbook and the kids look like they can’t do math when really what they can’t do is a worksheet. That’s a whole set of skills that they just aren’t going to be taught in my class. I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Every child answered all or most of the questions correctly, it’s just that they didn’t know how to communicate this…there were weird circles all over the place, floating numbers, and even a few pictures that seemed to come from nowhere. A bunch of them did the worksheet in marker, even though there were sharp pencils aplenty in the can. It looked, at first, pretty terrible.  But because I know my mathematicians, I could find the answers and interpret the hieroglyphics.

Next week my grade 3’s will be in a more independent place and I can get started on a unit for the 2’s so everyone will be engaged in work that is moving them forward instead of practice.  We’ll be able to do our regular Math Workshop work then, and I can spend more time conferring with groups instead of trying to get one group off the ground and the other group off the ceiling.

math, Math Workshop, Number Strings

They heard me. They really did!

Last week, I was ending the week feeling like I may have spent a few days talking to the walls. (You can read about it here.)   This weekend, I feel much better.

We spent the week working on building an understanding of number lines. After making a measuring strips, in groups of 5’s and 10’s, and measuring some things, we needed to start thinking about how a person could skip around on that number line and use it for adding.  When I taped a 100 strip to the board and started asking kids to tell me the number of a certain cube on that number line, it was like a miracle had occurred.  Because nobody could reach the number line to touch each square, and because we’d talked a lot in our math congresses about how we could use the 5 and 10 structure of the paper number line to skip count, they started actually using the number line tool and the skip counting strategy to find the answers I was seeking.  THEY ACTUALLY DID!

Oh, and no big deal, but they were finally counting on from a known number instead of starting back at zero every time.  Seriously.  I’m not even exaggerating to make myself look/feel better.

Here’s the lesson for me:

  1. Trust Cathy Fosnot.
  2. Sometimes moving forward helps some kids who appeared to not be ready to move on.  I thought I would do a quick number string, sort out who needed some more help with skip counting and counting on, and then make up some Math Workshop groups.  But, low and behold, some of the kids who haven’t been counting on started counting on!  And many who had been fully committed to counting by ones were using the 5s and 10s.

So there you have it:  Valentine’s Day, Winter Electives, and a field trip, all in the same week, and we still moved around on the Landscape of Learning!