math, Number Sense & Numeration

Math at Home

My son, who is in grade 1, has really good number sense.  He has a lot of mental math strategies that he uses efficiently and flexibly.  He adds on, he counts back, he finds landmark numbers, he even splits numbers!  And no, this is not because we spend a bunch of time every day drilling math.  It’s because we play lots of games and have math conversations that pop up throughout our day.

As I watched him play “Sorry” I was surprised that he was having some counting trouble.  He has been able to count in sequential order with one-to-one tagging for quite some time. He can count a variety of object by ones, more than 100, and when he makes a mistake he notices it on his own and fixes it.  He subitizes, and I feel like this what he is doing  while he counts and that his how he notices his own mistakes.  But that’s a tangent I won’t go on right now.

What surprised me as we were playing “Sorry” this week was the trouble he was having  moving his pawn the correct number of spaces on the board.  He recognizes every number in this game, and connects the number symbol with the amount. He’s done this with other games many times, such as when we play other games and he has to compare which of two numbers is larger. (I had a hard time writing that sentence because I kept thinking about how we haven’t played War in a long time!)  When he drew 5, for example, I know he knows that is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

When he would draw a number he would count to that number as he bounced his pawn around the board, but invariably any time he had a number higher than 3 he would bounce a different number of spaces.  Sometimes he would go fewer than he was allowed, and sometimes he would go farther than he was allowed.  If you draw a 4 in this game, you have to go backward, and he did OK with that but he would count slower than usual, so I built that into my intervention. I told him about the problem.  “Just like when you are counting things, your pawn has to touch each square when you count it.” I started by putting his hand in mine, and making sure that every bounce had his pawn landing in just one box without skipping any boxes.  After several rounds of this, he started doing it on his own.  He would slow down his counting and he’d land in the right spot.

The next day we played again, and the problem resurfaced.  This time I explained the problem to  him, then instead of holding his hand I put a finger on the square as he counted.  If he got ahead of me, or skipped a square, he would recognize this on his own and correct himself (and sometimes his big sister had to butt in and point out his mistake, but that’s a different post altogether!)

The third time we played the game, he needed a verbal reminder, but that was it.  And the fourth time he needed the verbal reminder.  And if we have time to play it again tomorrow, which I hope we will, I expect he’ll need the reminder again, but I’ll wait and see.

This whole thing has surprised me some, mainly because as I said before he knows how to count with one-to-one tagging and has for a while.  So why was he having trouble? This is what I think: there was a little pressure on him this time that isn’t normally there. First, he loves to win and he knew that winning in this game requires getting around the board quickly.  That was a distraction and a stressor when he was trying to count. Second, besides just counting, there was some other thinking that had to happen.  If you land on a square with a triangle you get to slide, and if you land on a square that already has a pawn on it then you say “Sorry!” and bump that pawn back to start, and sometimes I could see that he was making a move with one pawn while also thinking about how maybe he should actually be moving a different pawn to get a better outcome. He’d be in the middle of a move, suddenly stop, put the pawn back where it was and move a different one instead.  Third, …I don’t actually have a third.  I think those two things are enough to explain why he was having some trouble. I did double check to make sure he was wearing his glasses the first time I noticed it, and he was, so we can’t blame the vision.  And his coordination is such that moving a pawn around the board is not a physical difficulty for him.

Counting is such an interesting thing, isn’t it? I feel like I have some new insight into him as a mathematician.  I have since noticed that he also needs reminders to slow down when he is doing calculations.  He also does a better job when it is just me and him and he doesn’t have to worry about his sister butting in with answers. (Are you noticing a theme here?  It’s hard to be the little brother!) Finally, he does a much better job and enjoys the whole thing more when he can do single step problems. I feel like that last part is developmental and will work itself out over time.

My diagnosis is that there is an executive functioning thing going on.  He is using his working memory to do multiple tasks each time he takes a turn, not the least of which is to manage his emotions around the fact that his big sister is always butting in.

I am, of course, thinking about how to help my son with this particular thing.  But what does this look like in a classroom?  I’m thinking it would be useful to sit down with a few of my students and play a round of “Sorry” or “Trouble” or even “Snakes and Ladders” and really play with them.  They do these sort of things sometimes during indoor recess, but if I were to set this as an activity during class it would be so a group of children would be busy while I work on the real math with other kids.

Time to rethink that practice.

math, Number Sense & Numeration, Number Talks, Patterning & Algebra

Counting

Years ago I bought this treasure at a yard sale for $1:

There are well over 100 beaded necklaces in that bin!  I use them exclusively for math, though I definitely have had some children in the past 10 years who would have loved to wear them, or just run their hands through them over and over.  (It does feel nice!)

I bought them to use for a specific counting game.  I didn’t know about this game until I came to Canada.  Seemed every Core French teacher I ever worked with loved this game, though now that I am in an Immersion/English dual track school it isn’t as popular.  In French, this game is called “Dix” or Ten. The class sits in a circle and counts to 10, each saying one number.  Whoever says ten gets to sit down, and the game is played until there is just one person left.  I bought these necklaces when I was teaching kindergarten.  I didn’t want anyone to get out because the “out” people aren’t getting any practice.  I feel like I may have read about this in the Effective Guide to Instruction in Mathematics, but I can’t be sure.

Over the years, this game has evolved. I now use it for skip counting by all sorts of numbers: count by 10s and whoever says 100 gets a necklace, count by 5s and whoever says 50 gets a necklace, and so on.  I am getting ready to start some multiplication with my class after the March Break, so last week I pulled out the necklaces and we started using them every day for a few minutes before the mini-lesson.

On Friday, I asked everyone to count by 10s, and whoever said 30 got a necklace.  After we’d made it around the circle once, I asked them to talk about the pattern they could see.  Several realized there was a pattern.  It was identified as a “no, no, yes” pattern an “ABBABB” pattern, and a “skip, skip, yes” pattern.  Finally someone said, “It goes, 1, 2, 3! 1, 2, 3!” (emphasis on the 3!) I asked what would happen if we counted by ones.  Sure enough, every time someone said 3 s/he was wearing a necklace.  Then we counted past 3 to see if the pattern would continue.  I scribed on the board for them so everyone could see the numbers while we counted, and then I circled the numbers that corresponded with a person wearing a necklace.

Sure enough!  The pattern continued.

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We talked about how we could use what we had learned to count by threes, just like when we count by 5s or 10s or 2s.  Everyone was amazed, and several were happy to share their strategy: say the numbers you are skipping quietly to yourself then say the third number loud and proud.

I’ve been reading the book “Number Routines” by Jessica Shumway, and this activity shows up in that book too.  She recommends that the class start with one of her many number routines, then Number Talk, and then the mini lesson.  I’ve been giving that a try this week and I like the way the counting routine lead into the lesson, which is going to lead into our next unit of study.

Well, not exactly “next”.  We’re going to spend a bit of time on time and temperature.  But then it’s off to multiplication we go!

math, Math Workshop, Number Sense & Numeration, Number Strings, Number Talks

Early Algebra

We started the “Trades, Jumps and Stops” Context for Learning unit quite some time ago. A variety of inclement weather days has interrupted us a lot, so we are behind where I thought we’d be at this point. That might be part of the issue I’m having with this unit.  I’ve not taught it before, so that has to take a bit of the blame as well.  And finally, I’m thinking I might have misjudged our general readiness for this unit.  But I talked to my down-the-hall neighbour who is also doing the unit and she concurred:  It seems that some kids are easily getting it, and some are really, really having to work hard to get it.  There’s not a lot of in-between here.

Day 4 of the unit begins with a mini-lesson that we needed quite a bit of time with.  I was to fill 2 separate bags with a certain amount of coins in each, plus a “mystery” coin.  We have had a bit of trouble adding up coins, so I decided to stretch this out a bit instead of trying to get through it in 15 minutes.  Instead of putting the bags out of reach, I gave the coins to kids.  I started by explaining, “X and Y have some coins.  They have an equal amount of money, but they have different coins.  I want to see if you can figure out which coins they have.” On the first day only one child had a “mystery” coin (a poker chip!), but on the second day both kids had one.  The children holding the coins were very excited to be given this job. It gave them practice identifying the coin by name and value.  Have you ever thought about how we interchangeable use “dime” & “10 cents” when talking about coins? Some of the kids are still calling this “The Boat”.

We unpacked the bags a bit at a time.  I don’t have pictures of the whole process, but this is how it looked in the end.  Obviously our mystery coin was worth 10 cents this time.  This is the beginning of the children learning about a variable, and I think they did OK!

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On the second day, we talked more about the signs < > and =.  We added up the coins in chunks, as suggested in the lesson, and then decided if we needed to have a < or a > or if we finally needed the =.  This time, instead of adding them up as a group, I had the students work with partners.  We knew that X had 40 cents, and Y had 5o cents, but how much would they have once they each got another quarter?  This partnership was trying to make a number line across the bottom end of this photo, without actually making the number line.  It’s a step in the right direction for them!

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They wanted to have the numbers in a long line, but couldn’t hold all those totals in their head. Writing them above helped them work on the math and compensated for the stress load on their working memory.

We had lots of people able to do this:

Finally we made it to the mystery coin.  We knew how much money everyone had in actual coins, but what was that mystery coin worth? This led to one of those really cool moments when I felt like (most) everyone was excited about the math.  You can see here where I recorded some of the different responses to the value of the mystery coin.

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I was even able to use a double number line to show two of the answers, and since that is the goal of this unit (developing an understanding of the double number line is in fact the very next lesson we will do!) I felt very good about that.

The next day I needed a Number Talk to reinforce the understanding of the variables.  I didn’t really NEED to do it, since this doesn’t come into the curriculum until a later grade, but they were excited about it, and it certainly can’t hurt them so we did it anyway. I found some images on Math Before Bed and use them for our Number Talk.  I feel like they really help to reinforce the student’s number sense because there is more than one way to make 10, or 12, or any number really.

The weather here is terrible today (Sunday) but I’m hopeful there will be plenty of actual school days this week when we can move forward with this unit.  I don’t want to lose our momentum!  Next time I do this unit, however, I am going to maybe wait a bit.  Of course, the thing that keeps getting me through is that I have to trust Cathy Fosnot! She says this will work, and she has seen it work with many, many children, so I am going to go ahead and finish the unit.  The students are mostly getting the ideas behind the math. Some of them are actually in need of more practice with adding up money.  I am going to make sure we have a day this week when we have some activities that require counting money and we’ll rotate through those to give everyone lots of practice. Often these blogs help me think through what has happened and what needs to happen next!  Time to stop writing and plan my money counting activities.

math, Number Strings

Minus/Subtraction/Take-Away

Minus…subtraction…take-away.  Do these all mean the same thing?  They are certainly all represented by the same symbol.

Last week the math coordinator was in  my class for a few days.  (Here name is Melissa and she blogs here!)  After watching me do a number string related to subtraction, she encouraged me to always say “subtract” when I am reading the problem to the class, rather than “take-away.”  Some kids will actually do some adding to solve these types of problems, and by always saying “take-away” I would be restricting their thinking and maybe even imply that they need to use a certain strategy, namely that they need to remove.

I know that there are different ways to solve a subtraction problem:  add on, count back, think of it as a part of a fact family and figure out the addition problem.  But I hadn’t really been intentional about my language when discussing subtraction with the class.  I was more focused on the answer!  (I’m hanging my head in shame!) (not really…but you know what I mean!)

On Thursday and Friday we had bus cancellations, so I didn’t really get a chance to try this out until today.  We were working a Number String from Cathy Fosnot’s mini-lesson book.  We talked about 14+1, then 14-1 (Did you read that 14 subtract 1? or 14 minus 1?)   Then I gave them 14-13.  You can’t see them in this picture, but I had the maths.ca relational rods going in the background, and had build 14+1, and 14-1, and those were still visible to the students. I saw lots of kids with their fingers out counting back.  It’s an okay way to get  correct answer, but very inefficient.  However, I then asked my favourite student (my daughter!!)  to tell me how she solved it.  I’d seen her working away on those fingers, and I know that if she spent a tiny bit of time thinking before she started that, the answer would have been obvious to her.  Knowing this, I had to ask her about her strategy.  “Well, I thought about having 14 cookies, and then I ate 13 of them, so yeah…one is left.”  This is not totally unreasonable for her (don’t judge my parenting!) especially if they are Viva Puffs!   I annotated her thinking like this:

I pointed out to everyone that CC was thinking of subtraction as “taking away” something.  And then asked others what they thought about when they saw a subtraction sign.  Someone else said, “Well, I knew you would only need one more to get from 13 to 14, so I knew it would be 1.”  I talked about how that child was thinking about the difference between 14 and 13, which was different from CC’s but they both still got the same answer.  Then we did 2 more problems from the string, and talked about the “take-away” strategy and the “find the difference” strategy.

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Someone even mentioned that they thought about 9+2=11, which is a great connection to some work we did a week or so ago, so that was awesome too.

It’s funny how being intentional about how I was reading that symbol to the class changed the strategies they used.  This wasn’t truly the goal of the Number String, but “m delighted by the results.  I am hoping the forecasted 25-35 cm of snow (and 80 Km/h winds!) hold off until late on Tuesday so we can work on this again tomorrow.  I feel like we are developing a really big understanding about subtraction!

math, Number Talks

Collaboration

We’ve taken a little break from partner work in our class.  Increasingly our struggles with problem solving were getting all tangled up.  Instead of feeling frustrated because working with partners is hard, I felt too many of the students were starting to blame math for the problem and I didn’t want that feeling to perpetuate.  We took some time to do some worksheets *GASP* alone – mostly because I needed a bit more data to feel confident about assigning letter grades on report cards.  Geometry has been the focus of these.  We also took some time to loop back to patterning because this seems to be an area where lots of people hadn’t made a connection between patterning and using an open number line to add numbers.  I think we are there now!

Before we dive into our next unit (Trades, Jumps and Stops from the Context for Learning kits by Cathy Fosnot), I’m going to take some time next week to do some work on the collaboration part.  I have been assigning partners all year.  We’ve talked a lot about why I am choosing those particular partners for everyone.  Now it is time for them to make some choices of their own and I will also be asking them to justify those choices and articulate what makes a good partners.

Once partnerships are established, partnerships last for a month.  They stick together for every part of our day when they might need a partner – writing, reading, science, math and anything else. We will be working on building our collaboration skills all day long.  Specifically in math, I am going to ask everyone to do a “turn and talk” with their partner during each Number Talk.  Usually we do what I think most people do:  I put up a problem, kids work them out alone, then we discuss them together.  I think the turn and talk time will help them practice actually talking to their partner about how to solve the problems.  They will be empty handed, so they can focus on talking about the math instead of arguing about who will be using the marker to write it down.

The second thing I am going to do is create some problems for everyone to solve.  Today we are going to do an activity from The Super Source where partners work together on some describing and listening skills.  One builds a design using no more than pattern blocks. The second partner is not allowed to see this.  The first partner describes the design that was built so the second partner can recreate it.  It’s a tricky exercise for 7 year olds, believe it or not.  Positional language,  attributes of geometric shapes, and expanding on one’s own words are all practiced.  I find that the person describing often reverts to giving directions such as “get a triangle and put it on top of the square…no that way…no that way…no down…YES!”    The other problems are going to involve some addition, maybe some subtraction and will be put in a context they can work with.

The final thing I really need to work on is how to respectfully disagree, and how to accept that “No, I don’t think so” isn’t the same as “I hate your guts and will never speak to you again!”  It’s a hard one, but necessary.

I had initially planned for next week to be the start of my next unit.  But I’m feeling better about this plan of action.  It’s going to help us have a smoother run through the unit, and it is going too help me set up the Math Workshop groups we’ll need during the unit.

math, Number Sense & Numeration

Update: Assessment

I’m interviewing everyone in my class to make sure my report cards are up to date and accurate. It’s been very telling!

I often get one-on-one time with students, but they are usually at different places in their work. During the interview, I’m asking the same 6-8 questions, and talking about the strategies the kids use from beginning to answer. One question in particular is standing out because so far my friends fall into 3 categories.

The question is: I have 7 crackers, you have 9 crackers. How many do we have altogether?

One child said, without pause, “16.” This child was confident, and didn’t falter at all when I asked how he’d gotten the answer so quickly. “I just know things like that.” When I asked other questions he was equally confident and had very efficient strategies.

Another child, same question: “…mumble…mumble…it’s…16?!” I asked for an explanation. “Well, I know 9 is almost 10, so make it 10, then 10+6…yeah…16.” Earlier in the year this child told me he solved problems by reading my mind until he found the answer. I’d say he’s made excellent progress in his meta cognitive and communication skills!

Another child, same question: “….2?” I repeat the question. “7!!!!” I repeat the question. “9!” I take a handful of counters out of the nearby basket & make a pile of 7, and a pile of 9. Then I say, “These are mine. I have 7. These are yours. You have 9. How many altogether?” Response: “If I take away 2, then we’re even!” And “Is it almost time to eat?”

So I put the counters away and write on a piece of paper “7+9” and the child says 16. Rote memorization for the win!

There are three things going on here, and if I made each of these three the team captain I’d have no trouble finding people in the class with similar thinking to fill their teams. Each of the other questions I’m asking further shows the thinking behind the answers I’m getting from the class, including showing me the preferred strategies each child has. It’s so much more interesting than just getting a worksheet filled with answers.

math, Number Sense & Numeration

Understanding vs. Memorizing

When I was in elementary school my teachers regularly asked us to complete Math Mad Minutes.  These were sheets of math problems, usually just 1-digit numbers, and we had to complete as many as we could in just one minute.  Some years we did addition and subtraction, some years multiplication and division.  Sometimes we even had to do a Mad Minute that had a variety of operations on it.  When I first started learning how to become a teacher, my mentor teacher used these.  Children started with a sheet that had 20 problems, and if they could do all of those in a minute they upgraded to a sheet that had 30 problems!  The super fast kids got a sheet with 50 problems.

I hated doing these.

I remember having only one strategy:  I went through the Mad Minute, week after week, and did all the problems that had 0, 1, or 2 for an addend, subtrahend, or factor.  If I saw a number along the way that was a “double” I would do it (3+3, 6×6).  Basically, I memorized the location of the problems for which I knew an answer.   I have a clear picture of myself sitting in Mr. Goodrow’s 6th grade class and reciting to myself the answers to the top two rows of problems.  I was certainly memorizing a bunch of stuff but I wasn’t actually memorizing anything useful beyond the Mad Minute.

True confession:  In my first classroom as a teacher, I finally “memorized” the times tables for good. Nobody gave me a sticker when I could recite them all, but I did it anyway.  I was teaching math on a rotary to 90 fifth grade students every day.  I have a clear picture of myself standing at the whiteboard writing answers to multiplication problems and realizing there was a pattern to the answers.  I was 27. I was university-educated.  I feel quite confident nobody had every told me about these patterns.  It opened a door for me.

What if I had understood this sooner?  Sticking with the multiplication example (though I could also talk about how understanding addition and subtraction is equally important!) if I had understood these connections and patterns I’m sure division, fractions, decimals, algebra and statistics would have all come much easier for me.

I’m listening right now to a Ministry of Education “Town Hall” call.  People are advocating for spending the Primary grades memorizing facts. The thing is, nobody ever says, “In the Primary grades kids should just memorize words.  We’ll teach them to understand words, read sentences, and write sentences once they get to the junior grades.”  Sounds ridiculous, right?

So if you are at home at night and want to work on helping children memorize math facts, then go for it.  But in class, I have some really important foundations of understanding to build. I have concepts to connect, I have patterns to point out, and I have number sense to build. You will not find any Mad Minutes.  Do I want them to have facts memorized?  Absolutely!  Are we actively working toward that?  FOR SURE! But I’m not going to focus on this at the expense of spending time on building understanding.