Monday, September 2, 2013

We Do Math in PEN!

Yup, sure do. No pencils allowed. You see, neglected blog readers, I've been on a little mathematical journey this year. The challenge? To get awesome at teaching math. We'll get back to the pens later.

I will admit that this is the first time in my entire career that I feel pretty good about teaching math. It's always been my weakest area of instruction and I'm over it.  I would teach whatever the lesson from the manual was for the day and watch my "high" performers sit and either goof-off or not pay attention and finish their work in 2 minutes OR watch my struggling learners sit there and try to copy someone else.

i know. shame.

I've been introduced to the way the Madison Metropolitan School District does math instruction and I'm in the process of implementing this in my room.

I like it because the math hour is divided into four parts. I can totally wrap my mind around things that start like that. They even give time allocations! I was in love. The four parts are:

*Number Work (15-20 mins)
*Inspecting Equations (5 mins)
*Fluency and Maintenance (15-20)
*Problem Solving. (15-20)

Today I'm thinking I'll share out on just number work...then the others later.

I've been reading up on each of these sections but the gist is that:

*Number work is attending numbers to WITHOUT a story context. This is where you do function machines, patterns, etc... as long as it focuses on number concepts. This is where you also teach things like multiple names for numbers, number relationships, place value, computation strategies, etc...
I've actually moved this section into my morning meeting so that I have time to focus on the other three in the actual math hour in the afternoon.

Number work looks a little like this in my class:
side note: this is just ONE number work activity from ONE day- the activities vary!! 
1. Teacher draws three cards from the deck and writes the numbers on the board. Teacher then asks the students to add these numbers in the most efficient way possible. (side note, I totally have a need for a math word wall this year! "Efficient" was the first word to be added!

2. Students offer up their strategies and the teacher helps them notate their mathematical thinking on the board.

3. We discuss the various strategies...which ones were the most efficient?

As you can see, Mrs. Tabb DID offer a strategy. This wouldn't normally happen but we were getting into our number work routines and they needed a nudge. 

Here are some scripts from this lesson: 

Pierre: "I know that 14 is 10 and 4 and 9 is almost 10. I can easily add 10 to 14 to get twenty four. But then I have to take one away since I added 1 to the 9. Then it's easy to just add two more." 
Safiyah: "Another name for 2 is 1 and 1. I can give one of the ones to the 9 to make a friendly number 10. then I can break down the 14 to 10 and 4 and I'll give the other one to the 4 to make a friendly 5. Then it's easy to add 10 and 10 and 5."
We DID have kiddos offer up the traditional algorithm too and that was great. I just don't want to teach that algorithm as the "be-all end-all" for adding numbers because there are tons of ways to add numbers. 

Another strategy that was offered was the beloved dot-drawing.  There are kiddos who always want to draw a picture- which is fine, but what happens when the numbers get too big? I, on purpose, select bigger numbers the next time and drawing a bunch of dots isn't so appealing! We learn to become efficient very quickly.

The hardest part is not giving them answers or affirming them. Everything else we teach is the polar opposite. We want to scaffold, direct, model our thinking- but I'm learning that in math, it's important for them to go through the process of mathematical thinking...and not always worry about the problem being RIGHT.

It's hard for the kids, too! 

It makes me chuckle because we all have this desire to know if our answer is right immediately but when we think about it, we take tests not only in school, but to get into college, and even some jobs ask you math questions before your hired...and you DON'T get to know if you were right! It's much more important to be able to think mathematically and to be able to explain your thoughts and the process for how you arrived at the answer...right or wrong. But we hope it's right!

So- this brings us back to the pen. I ask my kids to use pen during math because I want to see the tracks of their mathematical thinking. I am used to seeing homework turned in with tons or eraser marks and just a nice clean answer on the line, and I make a HUGE deal about not EVER erasing your notations! (The kids think they are awesome because they are making "notations," by the way. Soon they'll making that'll be sure to please!)
SO anyway, during math, we come to guided math groups with our math notebook and a PEN. Because I want to see what's going on in those brilliant minds of theirs.

Hoping you had the happiest of Labor Days.


  1. Very interesting! I have been so excited about teaching math this year because I'm starting to get it. I've become a math nerd. Like you, it was never my strong subject to teach, but I feel much better this year. I love teaching number sense. I think that's fundamental to everything else.

  2. Awesome! I love teaching math and seeing their brains work. I am glad you have found a way to love teaching math as well.