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

Number Strings/Number Talks

Math was fine this week. We started doing more place value work while working on “The T-Shirt Factory” Context for Learning unit by Cathy Fosnot. It’s always an interesting one, but I actually didn’t do it with my class last year.  We weren’t ready for it until much later than this and when we were ready for it…I forget what we did instead.

This week was Halloween. That means an interrupted day on Thursday because of the Halloween Parade.  I anticipated a day of difficulty on Friday as well, and while we’re at it, let’s just admit that Wednesday wasn’t going to be easy either.  See how hard it is to stay on schedule?  That’s why we didn’t exactly stay on schedule with the unit.  However, I didn’t skip math any of those days – even the snow day on Friday!

I did a fun mapping activity with a Halloween theme one day when I was pulled out for a meeting, and we did a lot of work with the base ten blocks.  But every single day I made sure that we were doing a Number Talk.

During a Fosnot unit, there will be a lot of Number Strings.  But when I am not teaching a specific skill and want to review things that I hope everyone already knows or that I know they need to practice, I go back to Number Talks.  This week we used some from the Grade 2 section of the book “Number Talks” by Sherry Parish.  We started with single digit numbers and I found out on day one that most everyone understands commutative property.  I repeated a talk that would reinforce this with double digit numbers on the second day.  On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we talked about the “doubles plus 1/doubles minus 1” strategy.  These strategies are now displayed on our math wall so we can refer to them often.

This week, I am doing Number Strings to support the learning in the unit.  Because I can barely remember what day it is on most days I have to write my numbers on a Post-it note.  These will sit on my lap top all week or I will lose them.  I find it also has me thinking many times during the day about what we are doing in math, which is good for my brain.

Some of these are from the unit and some are from my head.  I know my learners well enough at this point that I’m sure we will need to do practice the skills that are in these strings multiple times.  They’ll be practicing them while doing the work in the unit as well.

I’m going to finish off my planning today by making my anecdotal record sheet for this unit.  (Just double checked and I already made one a few years ago! WOOHOO!

math, Number Strings

Math Workshop Thoughts

I’ve been learning from Cathy Fosnot for many years.  I first started using her Context for Learning Math Units about 15 years ago.  I’ve read her books, even the newest conferring book.  I’ve attended in-person workshops with her.  I listened to every episode, sometimes more than once, of her podcasts on VoicEd Radio. (Go here if you want to listen!)

You might think I didn’t need to go to a 2 day workshop to learn some more from her, but HOLY COW I learned so much in the last days.

Both days we focused on using Number Strings to promote the development of numeracy.  I wrote in my notes:  We do STRINGS to promote a development of NUMERACY – a deep understanding of number and operation. We want to eliminate as much working memory stress as possible. We want SO MANY things to become automatic and known so they (students) don’t have to work every piece out.  

After spending a few days working through Number Strings with Cathy and many of my colleagues, I have come up with a few things for me to work on adding to or refining in my teaching practice.

  1.  Cathy had all the problems in the string listed on the side of the board.  She added her models and numeric representations on the side.  Some of these were erased as they got messy or as she ran out of room, but the equations in the string stayed up during the whole conversation.  This will help students have the answers from previous questions, and helps them see the patterns in the questions, which will hopefully help them see the patterns in the solutions that can help them learn how to solve equations.
  2. Cathy talked a lot about using multiple representations for a single strategy.  This helps children who understand one begin to understand another.  This is also because if they don’t understand the first they have a chance of understanding the second. Overtime they can develop some fluency and flexibility and choose for themselves which strategy or representation makes the most sense. In my notes I wrote: “DIFFERENT REPRESENTATIONS DEVELOP DIFFERENT THINKING! Choose the model carefully. Go back and forth between representations so that they can constantly see the connections.” This is also something Monica Neagoy really stressed in “Unpacking Fractions” (Summer book club, which I just realized I never blogged about!)  Showing things with many different models helps kids understand the math instead of just understanding the model.
  3. I have been modelling decomposing using carrots, and Cathy was modelling them using parentheses/brackets.  She admitted this is new thinking for her.  I learned about the carrots from her!  I’m going to use the brackets from now on.  The carrots do make it messier. I also think that going straight to the brackets, using associative property and commutative property from the start, even in primary grades, is going to remove an attitudinal barrier that exists for students who think they are starting to learn algebra for the first time in grade 5 or 6.  I think this makes it so obvious that algebra is taught all along!


Those are 3 pretty good goals, I think.

I am excited and mostly ready to go back to school. Workshops like this, at the end of August, help me get even more excited about starting with a group of children and helping them grow as mathematicians (and readers and writers, and humans.)  I’m also looking forward to more podcasts with Cathy Fosnot on VoicEd starting at the end of September.  I feel like I STILL have a lot to learn from her.