Friday, May 15, 2020

1, 2, 3, Animals!

Everytime I take one of my kids for a well child visit with their pediatrician I get asked about reading with my kids at home.  Even since they were small babies this question has been asked.  I love this question because it reminds parents to read to their kids but I wish they asked another important question as well......

What are you doing to work on your baby/toddlers early math development?

How often do you practice counting objects with your child?

Are you working on subitizing with your child?  Do you know what subitizing is?

I might have given the pediatrician a lecture or two about the importance of asking math type of questions during a well child visit a time or two but I am not sure it did much good!

I think all parents know they SHOULD be reading to their kids but I am not sure enough parents know about early math opportunities for their babies and toddlers.  There are many counting books out there that they might be reading but they tend to focus on just one skill which is rote counting.  Rote counting is important don't get me wrong but it is probably the least exciting of the early math skills!

I have been on the hunt for the PERFECT counting book to give to folks at baby showers because books are one of my favorite baby shower gifts.  Recently a math blogger friend, Bethany Lake wrote a counting book that sets itself apart from other counting books.

Looks kind of like other counting books on the cover with its cute graphics and easy to read font but when you look inside you see something different.

This is a counting book with layers.  There is the story and the counting (both forward and backward to 10) but then there is more.  Bethany starts the book with a full page letter to parents.  In that letter she outlines some important early math skills in easy to read parent friendly language.  It gives parents ideas about what they can do while reading the book (and after!) to increase their kids interest, engagement and how they interact with the math in the text and pictures. 

The story itself is super cute (written in rhymes which I always love!), and provides the opportunity to count forward and backward within 10.  Many early counting books miss the opportunity to practice backward counting but I think it should be there from day 1!

The book ends with other visual models kids can use for subitizing.  Showing parents all these in one book is brilliant!  They will see them there and by seeing them over and over again in this book, they will start seeing them and pointing them out to their child in everyday life as well. 

1, 2, 3, Animals! is a great counting book for toddlers and would make an excellent baby shower gift!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Teaching and Homeschooling: Our Current Schedule

I hope everyone is staying healthy and taking care of themselves during these uncertain times.  My school made the decision to close yesterday.  My own children are also out of school for now.  My husband has to continue to work. 

The expectations for teachers for this week is that we will be in our buildings Thursday and Friday preparing materials for the buses to deliver to students on Monday.  After that, our buildings will be only open to a select group of staff for the following week.  We are providing kids with 2 weeks of review materials, both paper/pencil and some online options.  We are sending devices home with kids in grades 3-6.  Not all of our students have internet.  We have sent/will be sending home some of the things I discusses in last week's post.  I also sent a reminder to parents about our school wide math blog which is a great way to curate online resources for your students. 

I will dive more into how we are supporting our students online and with hard goods later this week.  Today I want to share with you our current work from home/homeschooling schedule.  This is going to be what we try to follow on days that I am working from home.  When I have to go into school, this schedule will have to look a little different.

Morning Block 6:30-8:30ish
-Morning snuggles, breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, feed pets, morning chores and free play.

Community Meeting 8:45-9
-We are using our dining room table as out all together work area.  We listen to the weather, make a schedule for the day and talk about what activities each person really wants to do that day.

Seat Work 9-10ish
-Each kid (I have 3) has a personal work space set up in a different room in the house.  I start with the oldest and go over work for the day and then meet with each kid at the dining room table to help them get started and make sure they know the expectations.  Then I walk around checking in with each kid as needed.  I use the time after I meet with each kid while they are working independently to answer emails and do whatever needs to be done for "work" at that point. At this point they are working on a combination of things their teachers have posted, some math worksheets, writing letters to grandparents, independent reading and working on a few independent math games/activities with dice, cards and number puzzles.

Recess 10-10:45ish
-We have a lot of outdoor space and plenty of opportunities for recess.  I get myself outside with the kids and we all do whatever we want.  We live in the woods and have a pond and a swing set so there is plenty of free play opportunities.  I have been using the time to push kids on swings and rake up the millions of leaves and sticks that are currently covering the lawn.

Device Learning 10:45-11:30
-My kids are using a variety of websites that they already use at school combined with a few websites that we use at my school that my kids are already familiar with.  At this time we have not introduced any new learning sites but there are many offering free services at this time.

Lunch 11:30-12
-Time to eat!

Family Hike 12-1
-We live in the woods on a dirt road and next to a large farm so out outdoor walking opportunities are just about endless.  We are counteracting some of the additional screen time with some intentional family exercise.  We own excellent outdoor clothing for all weather so we plan on a family hike in all weather although it might be shorter when weather is not great. 

Read Aloud 1-1:15
My school is doing One school, one book and all families are reading the same book.  We hit the couch and read one section around this time.

Quiet Time 1:15-2:15
My kids are beyond napping but this is a vital part of our day.  Kids go to separate rooms and play or read independently.  Mom can work, relax or do anything that has to get done.

Flexible Time 2:15-5
We will use this time to be outside again when the weather is perfect, work on larger projects like organizing the basement or do more learning things like virtual field trips or kitchen science experiments.

Family time and Dinner 5-6
My husband is home and can spend time with the kids.  Mom gets a break if she needs it.  Dinner prep and cooking lessons, hanging out time.

Screen Time 6-7:30
Watch a movie as a family, play video games, make whatever screen choices kids and parents would like.

Get ready for Bed 7:30-8

We are only getting  started on this trying to work and homeschool and go nowhere journey.  We shall see how our schedule changes and adapts moving forward. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Helping Kids Learn From Home

As I write this, a small percentage of K-12 school across the US have already made the decision to close schools for several weeks.  In the days to come, I am sure a great many more will also reach such a decision.

Many online learning companies are now offering their services for free to schools that are facing these situations which I think is great but not all of our students will have the same level of access to these things.  I also do not know how much elementary schools will expect from kids and teachers in terms of at home learning.  I do know I want to create a culture of learning and provide opportunities for my students to continue learning while they are away from school even if this time isn't going to "count" toward school days for teachers or students.  I also know that if I am in a situation where I have to stay home with my own children for an extended period of time, we are going to need some school like stuff in our days to keep us all sane and happy.

Here are a few little things that you can do now that will help give your students some offline learning opportunities if you are required to go on an extended break.

Send Home Books

  • Your school library is full of books!  Relax guidelines on limits of books checked out and let them borrow more!
  • Many schools have a free book shelf or area.  Make sure that kids get some time to go through these books today!  You know which kids need these the most, make sure they get the first look! 
  • Look for other books in your school that are no longer being utilized like they once were and add them to the free book shelf!  You know there are some books in that science unit box you haven't taught in 5 years and there are always books that can be culled from the multiple copy area in our school!

Card Games

  • Over at Math Coach's Corner you can grab a printable book of games for kids in grades 3-5 to play with a deck of cards.  Most kids have cards at home and if they say they don't you might consider sending a deck home from school!  Decks of playing cards are super easy to replace, they sell them at Dollar Tree for 2/$1 and if you know anyone who plays poker they will keep you supplied for life! 
  • For younger students, ten and twenty frame games are the way to go!  Click here for a post about 10 ways to use 10 frames (also 20 frames). Feel free to print this post and send it home with a set of 10 or 20 frame playing cards. Need printable 10 frame cardsNeed printable 20 frame cards


  • Math Coach's Corner again hits it out of the park with a free easy to print booklet offering dice games.  These can be played with an ordinary pair of dice, which many kids probably already have at home but again you may need to send some from school.  If you have time making origami dice can be a fun way to provide dice for home use. 
  • Here is a post about using dice K-6 to promote additive reasoning.  Might be less printer friendly but offers suggestions for every grade level.  

Math Practice

  • We have structured our math classes to include more hands on learning and less worksheets but there is still plenty of written practice that comes with our math program.  We take a sampling of that written practice and make individualized mini math practice books for kids that we tend to use in class once a week or so or in place of main lesson when a substitute is in charge of the class.  If we get the word that we are going on an unanticipated break, these will go home in backpacks.  Do you have some unused pages from your math curriculum that you could pull out of books or copy to send home? 
  • Bridges practice books: These a free and offered at K-5 levels.  Maybe you have time to print 15 pages for each kid.  Try to find things that are at kids independent level


  • I found this great post which I think is the perfect way to handle something like this if you have time with you class before the break starts.
  • This writing bingo looks like fun and is just a one page printable!
I know you probably won't have time to do all the things but these are the quicker and easier ways I have been thinking about this week.

Good luck to all my fellow teachers as we tread into this uncharted territory.

I just  saw this list of 25 ways to practice math at home

Sunday, March 1, 2020

How We Structure Our Multi-Age Math Classes for Upper Elementary

One of the big things changes I have made over the last few years but have had very little time to write about here on  my blog is our shift from teaching math to one grade at a time to a multi-age math approach.  We went to a multi-age model due to declining enrollment and after 5 years, we have really figured out how to differentiate and personalize learning for kids in a multi-age classroom.  The big surprise is how it has changed the way we approach our single grade classrooms as well.  The things we have learned from multi-aging have helped us differentiate and personalize learning for all learners.  Differentiation and personalizing math class are the things that I can talk about all day right now.  In the next few months, I will be working to share some of the things we have learned while multi-aging that will help differentiate and personalize in all math classes.

Today's topic is the structure we use for math classes.  We currently have a 3-4 multi-age and a 5-6 multi-age that follow this structure


We start math class with a whole group warm up.  This almost always includes all learners and is a great way to fit in cumulative review and lessons on mindset.  It is also the perfect opportunity to engage kids in low floor high ceiling tasks, do a whole group number talk or introduce a game that will be part of our math menu later.  Some of our favorite resources include

Main Lesson

Our main lesson time is the problems and investigations times.  It is when we do a mini lesson or problem launch followed by kids working on that problem.  This is where we implement what we know about math workshop.  Sometimes this is done as a one whole group and other times we split into 2 groups for this portion.  We use a co-teaching model in math several days a week so there often is 2 adults who can do 2 different main lessons if needed.  If only one adult is available, they can do main lesson with one group and send the other kids out to math menu and then switch.  

How do we know when we can do one whole group lesson and when we need to offer 2 or more different main lesson options?  It all comes down to what we are working on.  Near the beginning of a unit, we often do one main lesson.  As our formative assessment adds to our knowledge about what kids know and are able to do we sometimes get to a point where we need to offer more than one main lesson. 

Ready for an example?  Right now our 5/6 class is jumping into an algebra unit.  We have kept these kids together for main lesson a lot this year partly because we have gotten better at differentiating our main lesson and partly because our fifth graders have had several years with a more differentiated math class which has allowed them to access more challenging problems from an earlier age and has put them in a place where they are happy to take on challenging problems.  For the past week and for the next several weeks, they will have main lesson together.  When our formative assessment shows us that some kids really have it and others start to struggle, then we may break into 2 groups for main lesson.

Another example: Our 3/4 class is in the midst of working on fractions.  We are about halfway into our fraction unit and have decided to break into 2 groups for main lesson for the rest of the unit.  We do not put the third graders in one group and the fourth graders in another group, rather we put kids in whatever group they happen to be ready to be in based on formative assessment.  We currently have a smaller group of mostly third graders working on part whole and equivalence and magnitude.  They are working on placing fractions on number lines and comparing them and noticing things about equivalence and magnitude using models.  They are working on the traditional third grade standards.  Our second group has these fraction skills down and is working on the next level of fraction stuff.  They are noticing things about adding and subtracting fractions.  They are using models to find sums and differences.  They are connecting fractions and decimals.  These kids are working toward traditional fourth grade standards.  This group has a lot of fourth graders in it but it also has some third graders. 

Math Menu

What started out as math stations or math games 10 years ago morphed into a guided math type set-up about 6 years ago and has now landed on a math menu style intentional practice period.  We end almost every math class with about 20-30 minutes of math menu.  Kids transition to math menu when they finish their main lesson.  For us, math menu is a selection of games, problems and activities that are offered at multiple levels that kids can play with a partner or independently.  We offer students choice and voice during this time.  They do not have to do every activity or problem we present but get to choose from a selection and within each selection, there are often multiple levels.  I have a lot more to share about math menu in the coming weeks and months so stay tuned.

What questions do you have about how we structure our multi-age math classes?  Please respond in the comments below or head over to our Facebook group and join our community as we explore ways to differentiate math class!

Preview of a great opportunity! 

From March 3-9th there will be a special opportunity to add to your collection of differentiated resources for grades 3-5.  I have teamed up with some other math educators to bring the Bundle of Bundles which gives you access to 14 different math bundles for grades 3-5 all worth at least $15 each.  You get it all for under $20.  This deal will only be available for seven days! 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Giant Yohaku!

A few years ago, I discovered Yohaku puzzles which are an excellent way to engage all learners in your classroom.  They might be the ultimate low floor, high ceiling math task.  We have used these puzzles in grades 1-6 and revisit them frequently.  They make an excellent addition to math menu and can be accessed by all learners.  They are an easy way to start differentiating your math practice.  Kids love solving Yohaku puzzles and creating their own.  You can access a bunch for free here or check out the collection of books on Amazon

My students had the grand idea to create a GIANT YOHAKU board in our front hallway.  We used paper from our rack of large paper rolls.  They are about one square yard each.  We wanted to laminate them so that we could use dry erase markers on them so we made them as large as our laminator is wide.  After creating a set of Yohaku puzzles that each have multiple correct answers, we made sure we had puzzles that ranged from easy to quite challenging.  We put them up in order from easiest to most difficult and pinned small squares of microfiber cloth and a string with a dry erase marker.  We put up a few signs to invite folks to solve these puzzles.

What happened next was truly amazing.  Despite most kids being exposed to these puzzles within math class over the weeks leading up to this project, these giant puzzles made Yohaku a school community project.  Suddenly, kids from different grades were comparing puzzles and parents got involved since the front hall way is where parents wait to pick up kids.  Even some community members who are not usually part of our school got involved during town wide events.  These puzzles got solved over and over again in many different ways.  Folks were free to erase and start again at any time and the students who helped me with this project and myself would erase them all a few times a week so we could start from scratch.  I wish I had taken a picture of all the different ways these got solved because that itself would have made a great follow up to this!

This week I also started a brand new Facebook group for teachers who want to  start working on ways to differentiate and personalize learning.  It is a place where I will be sharing extra tips and motivation and also a great place to ask questions and learn from other teachers who are walking down the same path.  It is free to join and a great choice for any K-6 teacher who wants to do more to meet the needs of all his or her learners.  We are just getting started so it might move slowly for a week or two but as more teachers join and contribute their ideas it is sure to become a rich mathematical community! 

We got a lot of our Valentine's Day favorites out this week and had a great time trying out some new Valentine and winter freebies that are part of our new grades 3-5 math freebie bundle!  

Have you ever tried a Yohaku puzzle?  What is your favorite low floor, high ceiling math task?  Please respond in the comments below! 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Reflections on Our First Global School Play Day

Today is our first snow day of 2020 and I have to say, it is nice to have an extra day off!  Yesterday was a busy day at my school, we participated in Global School Play Day in the morning and then our students went home and we had professional development in the afternoon.  I have been leading a group of teachers working on differentiating math class, trying out math menu and focusing on the big ideas in math class.  It takes a lot more energy to lead inservice training than it does to just sit and listen so today I am taking a much needed day to slow down, snuggle my babies and reflect on our first Global School Play Day.

First, there were certainly mixed feelings for staff about spending a day "just playing"  but since it was already an early release day for our students and we all know we get way less done when our schedule is interrupted, staff had a generally positive attitude about the whole thing.  The other thing that happened was that many of our classroom teachers were participating in a full day of district led professional development and that meant a LOT of substitutes in our building for the morning.  This meant some shifting about of staff so that there were familiar adults in each space. 

Kids were allowed to bring toys from home as long as they had no screens, batteries, plugs or weapons.  This meant a lot of lol dolls, legos and sports equipment made their way into school.  We also have various toys, STEM type building materials and a huge pile of cardboard boxes.  We had a bunch of classrooms open, the gym, the music room and the playground as choices.  We did two sessions and took a break in the middle for kids to go back to their homeroom for snack and attendance.  Kids were welcome to move about the building freely.  Areas of the building that were closed had closed doors and kids knew ahead of time which spaces would be open. 

Adults were asked to stay out of the way unless behavior became unsafe or if a kid asked us to play.  Some kids had a hard time settling in at first and moved from room to room looking for friends or the right space to play in.  Some spaces like the gym got to loud for some kids and they went in search of a new spot to play.  In my space, there was a lot of building going on.  Of course my classroom has a lot of different STEM challenge type toys anyways and the kids adore them.  Also many kids brought Legos into my room and dolls.  Pokemon cards were also very popular.  There was also a pile of cardboard boxes in my room and it was amazing how the play changed when kids started dragging those out. 

One groups of kids started building the Titanic out of cardboard and tape and within 10 minutes, so many kids were building things with cardboard that we had to get MORE boxes and eventually used every piece of cardboard in the school!  The kids playing with LOL dolls and trucks started building houses and shops.  They started incorporating other objects like digiblocks, small cups, craft sticks and more.  All of the sudden, everyone was building and making stuff to go along with whatever they were playing.  It really reinforces the idea of the book Not a Box and why giving kids time to make and create things is so important.

By the end of the morning, kids were trying to figure out how they could transport their boxes and creations home and what they were going to add onto it and what else they were going to make out of cardboard. There was a spark of creativity and an excitement about play that  was contagious.  I think a lot more kids went home and played the rest of the day instead of going home to sit in front of a screen or play with electronics which is pretty common on these early release days in the middle of winter. 

I think our first time trying the Global Day of Play was a success and I am sure we will be doing it again next year.  If you want to join us, you can get more information here!

If you teach grades 3-5, you won't want to miss out on this great bundle of 10 winter and Valentine themed goodies that I put together with some of my math blogger friends!  Head here to sign up and grab this freebie!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Fill Your Math Centers with FUN: 10 FREE Activities for Grades 3-5

Are you feeling like you’re in a winter slump as you head into the month of February?

Although we’re past the busyness of the holidays, we’re not yet into the warmth and sunshine (and home stretch feeling!) that spring brings.

Never fear! I’ve got just the thing to liven up your math lessons and re-engage your students to help you get through the next few weeks.

Several experienced math educators have put together their best freebies for February in one download, just for you.

This collection of 10 FREE games and math challenges for grades 3-5 will save you time and help your kids to practice and review essential math skills.

Some of these downloads have a Valentine’s Day theme (so go ahead and prep those now!), while others simply have a winter theme that you can use all month long.

Math Skills Your Kids Will Use in These Games:

    •    Using known facts to solve harder multiplication facts

    •    Using the doubling & halving strategy to solve multiplication facts

    •    Multiplication & division fact families

    •    Finding equivalent fractions & decimals 

    •    Comparing, adding & subtracting fractions

    •    Time & Elapsed time word problems

    •    Multiplication & division word problems

Whether you teach 3rd, 4th or 5th grade, you’re bound to find something new and fun to help your kids build number sense and take a break from your normal math routine.

Ready to grab this set?? Hop over to this page to sign up!