Math Rocks-The Secret Ingredient

Math Rocks has been an amazing journey that will have a lasting impact on my teaching. Before walking into that first meeting back in July, I knew I wanted to lift the level of my math instruction and create more opportunities for my students to discover mathematical ideas and make connections through their own curiosity. I had been reading professional books, blogs, and articles by math gurus like Marilyn Burns but I still felt like something was missing, as if I had a great recipe but couldn’t quite get all the ingredients to mix the right way. Math Rocks was just what I needed to stretch my thinking and push me to find that secret ingredient which I discovered was right there the whole time…other math educators that love teaching math. When I stopped to reflect, I realized everything I was introduced to or participated in from Math Rocks was the result of educators that want to share their love and knowledge of teaching math. I was hooked from the beginning and all the way to the end.

I guess you could say…I was hooked with curiosity. I found myself reading math posts on Twitter at restaurants and stores, searching for the best “which one doesn’t belong” on, trying new number talks, researching different types of problem solving, and constantly thinking about my next “notice and wonder”. My students became curious as well, especially as a result of noticing and wondering.  They LOVE this! It is so rewarding watching them discover math ideas and wonder-I actual hear them saying “AHA” often and they actual argue over who gets to prove the math. What could be better than that? They also love sharing their strategies in number talks and I love that I can say EVERY student in my class waves their hand frantically to share, (ok, occasionally someone is staring into space but mostly they are engaged). They even question each other, listen to each other, and best of all…they want to talk about numbers and how they connect with various math concepts! Now that’s a math teachers dream.

My math instruction has definitely improved and so has my relationship with my students. I think I listen better now, provide the right amount of production struggle, (well, most of the time), and engage in deeper conversations about math with my students. I seem to be more in tune with their understandings and needs as we are curious about math together.

I have formed some new relationships with colleagues on my campus after I gave a math presentation during a campus math PD session. Teachers are sharing their number talks, checking out books I recommended, or stopping me in the hall to talk about their noticing and wondering successes. Could this be the beginning of a math community at my school? I hope so!

The relationships I have formed within the Math Rocks group have been influential and inspiring. Although I don’t know everyone on a personal level, it has been a pleasure learning alongside such incredibly talented teachers. I will miss having math discussions, reflecting, and stretching my own math thinking, (which admittedly some of the math we have worked on has been challenging). I realize the importance of productive struggle and how listening to others’ ideas and mistakes really does help grow your math thinking! Of course, I also need to acknowledge Brian and Regina who have been such a positive influence on my teaching. The activities, resources, and knowledge they shared was like opening presents on Christmas! I appreciate all the help and support from everyone and I hope those relationships don’t end after our final meeting.

Math Rocks really does ROCK! Now my math instruction does too!





Open Middle Problem-Area & Perimeter

I wrote an open middle problem to use as part of our geometry unit which included area. I wanted to include perimeter as a review as well as help students to understand that different figures can have the same area. So, here is the problem…

The area of a rectangle is 24 square units. What is the smallest perimeter the rectangle could have?

I provided grid paper for students to use if they wanted to-all of them did. I was hoping that my students would use their knowledge of multiplication and division, or even skip counting to help them solve the problem. Some of them did, however, they didn’t show this in their work. I also noticed that quite a few students had to repeatedly count 24 squares on the grid paper to find rectangles with an area of 24. Yikes! I’ll definitely be planning some choral counting and counting around the circle by multiples.

Back to the problem…Although most were able to find 2 or 3 rectangles, I didn’t see very many students using efficient strategies to find the perimeter. Most were counting each cm by making tic marks on the line or actually writing the numbers for each cm while counting around the perimeter. A few kiddos were frustrated because they didn’t think they had found the smallest perimeter, (even though they had). This was really surprising because we often solve open ended problems with different solutions.

The good news-everyone knew how to find area and perimeter and understood the difference. Also, the problem was more challenging than I expected so I felt like there was enough of a struggle for most students. I think next time I would have a larger number as an option for some of my higher students.

Overall, I was happy with the results and will use this problem again. By looking at student work  I was able to determine who needs support with area and determine that we need to discuss efficient ways to find perimeter and more work with connecting area to multiplication, (we are still working on this as we finish the unit)



I Notice, I Wonder…My New Favorite

Using the I notice, I wonder  in math is now a favorite teaching strategy of mine. I first read about the strategy of noticing and wondering a few years ago in the book Powerful Problem Solving by Max Ray from the Math Forum. I tried it out a few times and as things got busy in the classroom I only remembered to use it here and there. Then I noticed it started popping up in other books and even in some lessons from my school district. I decided to make it a regular part of my math instruction, (in fact now I’m starting to use it in other subjects too).

Most of the time I used this strategy was whole class. After being inspired by Brain, our elementary math curriculum coordinator, I came up with some new ways to use I notice, I wonder. So, I came up with several images to use for I notice, I wonder to help my students discover the double, double strategy for 8s facts. But instead of whole group, I put an image on each table and had my students rotate to each image. When they were on their last rotation I asked them to try to make a connection between all of the images. After a few moments, Aha’s were chorusing around the room and a few kiddos shouted out. “They’re all doubles!”

Here are the images I used. The students used sticky notes to write what they noticed and wondered. You can’t see all of them in the photos, but you get the idea. Sorry, some of the images are sideways.


This image was all about doubling the legs. It was tricky-some just thought it was an array. But when they started thinking about doubles, most of the students realized the animal legs were doubling.


I asked students to share and justify their thinking. The students that shared were able to clearly demonstrate how each image was an example of doubling. I think all of my students gained an understanding of doubling from this experience and they were the leaders and teachers. I was amazed! It was one of those proud teacher moments.

Number Talks-Subtraction

This year I have been conducting number talks pretty regularly since the beginning of the year and overall things are going really well. My students moan if we skip our number talks, so it has become a favorite part of our daily math. I LOVE number talks. During my number talks, students are very engaged, (unless I let it go too long-it happens sometimes), they are SO eager to share, and their number sense and computation skills have greatly improved. Not to mention number talks are fun!

Last month we were working on a string of subtraction number talks because subtraction is a weak area for many of my students this year. I chose a number talk that would encourage the students to adjust a number to make the problem easier.

Here is my plan… 79-39.  (Oops, can’t find the photo I took-will retake and post the photo soon.)

As usual with subtraction number talks, we had several different answers as seen in the last picture, (36, 26, 44, and 34)IMG_0120

I was glad to see this student decompose the subtrahend. Earlier in the year several students were trying to break apart both numbers like they have done in addition and were confused when it didn’t work. I think most of them understand now why that doesn’t always work well with subtraction.

Below you can see that a student adjusted each number by 1. I asked him whey he adjusted both numbers. He said to make it easier.

Notice the misconception by the student written in red. I asked him why he decided to subtract 9-5. He said 5-9 wouldn’t work so he made it 9-5. Other students asked him questions such as… Wouldn’t it be 15-9, then 60 -30. He was insistent that his solution worked. After all the strategies were shared and several students explained that they revised their thinking, he still insisted the answer was 44. So, I put a question mark under and said we would come back to it. I decided to just meet with him to solve the problem with base 10 blocks.


I was sooo hoping this strategy would come up! This student understands that you can adjust both numbers to keep a constant difference when subtracting to make it an easier problem.


This was the 4th day of using number strings to encourage adjusting a number. Overall, I was pleased with the variety of strategies my students used. I still didn’t see a lot of students adjusting one number, but all but one or two students seem to really understand subtraction.

We will be moving on to multiplication number talks because my kiddos have been begging for them. I’ll revisit subtraction again, and plan to do a few more number strings for adjusting a number with 3 digit numbers. Until then, thanks to number talks, I know the few students I need to pull for a small group subtraction number talk.

Math Rocks MIssion-Twitter

I am hooked on Twitter! I must admit I was apprehensive about what I could gain from using Twitter. I read lots of professional books, follow blogs, attend PD…so how could Twitter really help me as an educator? Well, to my surprise-lots. The wealth of information, professional chats, links to webinars, links to blogs, quotes, wonderings, and tweets from top educators has amazed me. I took Brian’s advise and started following people-lots of people. I can’t believe I am seeing tweets from math gurus like Marilyn Burns, literacy experts like Jennifer Serravallo, and so many other educators I admire! The amount of information is a bit overwhelming, not to mention time consuming, but the more I have been on Twitter, the more I have been able to sort through things to find what information to meet my needs and interests.  This past weekend I found a link to a great free webinar on integrating technology in the reading workshop. I also found a chat on small group instruction in math coming up this Thursday. Since I have yet to join a chat, I plan to join it. I super excited because that is one of my goals this year.

So, I have been reading tweets and following people, but I have only dabbled a little into tweeting myself. I did retweet a few things, but I know I need to dive into tweeting. That’s my goal this weekend!

Collaboration Nation-Math Rocks Mission # 5

I really like the website Which One Doesn’t Belong. I tried this last week with my students and they loved it. Everyone was engaged, and it was a perfect way to get students up and moving. It was great to hear all the different thinking that was going on. I did notice a few kiddos just going where their friend went, but hopefully once they have a bit more experience they will choose based on their own thinking. Maybe this will help students with their reasoning and ability to justify their thinking when solving problems.

Math Goals for 2015-16

I am a firm believer in providing rich problem solving opportunities and ensuring that students have conceptual knowledge before moving to more abstract concepts. Since I teach 3rd grade, I know this is a great way for students to build a strong foundation of skills they will need in order to be competent in higher level math. One of my goals this year is to incorporate more open ended problem solving that will lead to deeper thinking and understanding of concepts. Another goal is to be more intentional with math discourse. I am rereading Intentional Talk and plan to use the types of discussions mentioned in the book. The biggest obstacle for both of these goals in TIME! It is easy to fall back on previous lessons/problems when I am short on time. My plan is to get my team on board with improving math talk and planning engaging, rich math experiences so that we are planning together.

My goal for my students is to be able to stay engaged during math talks as well as improve their ability to justify their thinking. I hope if I can instill a passion for math in my students this will help with both goals. Also, I want to spend more time at the beginning of the year teaching & practicing how to engage in a good math conversation. Of course, the biggest obstacle is the age of my students and time. Many still have limited attention spans and have a hard time really listening to each other. Also, there is so much to teach that sometimes I try to fly through discussions so we can move on. I’m thinking the best way to overcome this is to practice together, keep it short, (talk less myself), and hold them accountable for staying engaged in our math talks. Also, by planning intentional discourse I think that will save time and help keep everyone focused, including me.