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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Virtual Math Class: Main Lesson

Thanks for the excellent feedback on part 1 of this series which was all about virtual math class warm up!  I love reading all your messages on Instagram and Facebook about how you are using these ideas! Even when you are teaching remotely, it is important to include a warm up to reinforce important concepts, build community and work on positive mathematical mindset.  

Today we are going to talk more about main lesson.  During "distance learning" or when you have to teach virtually in a fully remote or hybrid model, main lesson serves the same purpose it does when you teach in person.  Main lesson is the time for kids to dig into new to them content and practice new ideas.  It is a time for teachers to help connect the dots on students' strategies and help them build their new understanding on top of their old understanding by helping them connect what they know to what they are learning.  

Here are some things to keep in mind when you are teaching new content in a virtual math class.

Keep it Short!

You are going to have less instructional time this year, there is no way around it.  That means you can't do everything in your math program!  You have to know what topics give you the most bang for your buck.  

-Our math program (Bridges) put out a pretty complete set of program recommendations about what to skip if time is an issue and what is most important.  I have heard of several other math programs that have done something similar.  It is a good place to start to check out your math program.

-Your district or school might also have made some recommendations about what topics are most important from a curriculum standpoint.  If this has happened it is a great place to start.  If it hasn't happened, it is a great thing to do with a group of colleagues because when doing work like this two heads are always better than one!

-If you need more guidance getting started with this check out the content focus documents from Achieve the Core or the high leverage concepts from All Learner's Network

Choose Problems Wisely

You have narrowed down your curriculum to the big ideas for your grade level.  Now it is time to teach new concepts.... ready to lecture over Zoom?  No!  There is a better way.

-Start with a problem in context.  Providing a problem in the context of a story gives kids an opportunity to use what they already know to solve a new problem.  Start with a problem and see what THEY can do.  Provide or suggest a virtual manipulative if you think it might support their understanding.
-Have kids share their solutions and strategies.
-Your job is to connect kids' strategies to each other and to help them figure out which strategy is most efficient.  
-By letting kids share strategies you support their fluency and flexibility and help them understand how what they are learning today connects to what they  have learned before.

Guided Practice

You have posed a problem or 2, allowed kids to solve, discuss and connect.  Now it is time to assign some practice.  

- Continue to be selective!  Kids do not need 20 practice problems!
- Try a gradual release.  Give one more problem, have kids show you or submit their answer to you and then leave the call once you have seen it/reviewed it.  Provide support to those who need it who are still on the call.
- Need to do one more with support?  If kids are still on the call stick around for one more problem if they need it.

Have a plan for Small Groups

One small group just happened!  By providing kids with a gradual release from Zoom, you already have had one opportunity to work with a small group.  Now it is time to think about what other opportunities fit into your digital life for meeting with small groups.  Office hours?  Scheduled calls with small groups?  

Use Tech Wisely
Doing a main lesson virtual math lesson like this and covering new content online means you have to have a commanding understanding of different technology.  Many teachers have been learning new technology at lightning speed and many of you now possess the skills to do all these things in your virtual classes.  If you don't know how to do some of these things, I find the easiest way to learn is often to Google it.  I usually can find articles and videos and learn a new tech trick in just a few minutes by just searching for what I want to learn how to do.  

More Help!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Five Fabulous and Free Warm Up Activities for Virtual Math Lessons K-6

I have written in the past about how we structure math class and today I want to share with you the first in a series of posts about how we structure virtual math classes.  Over the past 6 months, we have played around with the structure of our virtual lessons and have landed on a digital version of what we do in class.  First thing is first and that is the warm-up!

Why a Warm Up

I like doing a warm up in a virtual math lesson for some of the same reasons I like doing them in person.  It is a great way to get everyone excited about learning math, it gives us a chance to review important concepts, and it is a perfect opportunity to talk about mathematical mindset.  It can be a chance to do a whole group number talk, engage kids in a low floor high ceiling task or introduce a game that will be part of our math menu or choice board later.  It is also a great way to honor virtual learners who arrive for class on time by having something ready for them to get started on. 

How Long?

Virtual math classes seem to vary in time more than traditional ones.  In general they tend to be shorter so I try to keep the warm up portion to 10 minutes or less.

Best Warm Up Activities? 

Here are the activities I have been able to do live over Zoom or Google Hangouts that my kids have loved the most.  


This has been the overall favorite of my students during distance learning.  You download the powerpoint presentation and hit present.  The slides include a visual model and clues to help them narrow down their estimation.  They practice important skills related to estimation as well as other grade level appropriate vocabulary as the clues help them narrow down their estimation.  They also fit nicely into a 10 minute or less time span and get kids excited to show up on time. 

Which One Doesn't Belong

The premise is simple but the results are amazing.  Four images put together and you think about which one doesn't belong.  The best part of this type of activity is that there is really not a wrong answer and there are many right answers.  It is also good practice at looking at things from different perspectives.  By the time we are done with one of these my students have usually found reasons why each number, shape or picture in the set does not belong. 

3 Act Math 

My students had actually already done most of these when we switched to distance learning.  They continued to be super popular to do from home, but you need to be pretty good at using the share screen feature to make it successful which by now many teachers are.  These start by seeing a picture or video clip and asking kids what they notice followed by an estimation and thinking about what other information would be useful.  Additional information is provided in act 2 which leads to a narrowed down estimate or an exact calculation.  Act 3 reveals the answer by showing the rest of the video clip or picture.  

Number Talks

Starting a virtual math lesson with a whole group number talk is a great way to build flexibility and fluency with calculation.  It is a great time to review important concepts and help kids work on how to listen and share.  The pair-share part of number talks kind of gets lost online so I keep our number talks even shorter than usual, typically no more than 3 problems.  That seems to be enough for kids to try out other classmates' strategies without taking more than 10 minutes.  If you have a problem string that is longer than that, it will usually work over 2 days better than trying to get it all in at once.

Mindset Videos

Official research and my own classroom research has shown me how important math mindset is and when you are in a virtual world I would argue that it is even more important than ever.  These videos are short, sweet a bit corney and pretty engaging for kids.  A quick video and a group chat about it followed by the teacher pointing out when she sees kids demonstrating the desirable mindset qualities found in the video during the main lesson that day is a great way to reinforce the importance of a positive mindset and help kids believe they can learn anything. 

Stay tuned for 3 more posts in this series about structuring virtual math classes for distance learning! Next up is main lesson followed by math menu or math choice boards then one final post that summarizes the structure of an online math class! 

Something to help with virtual teaching! 

“I don’t have time to plan and prep all the math lessons to differentiate for every student.” <--Raise your hand if you’ve thought that a time or two! We’ve been there. And we’ve got something that will help make this not only possible, but easy and affordable. Learn more here!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The ABC's of Hybrid Teaching

We are three weeks into a hybrid teaching model and oh my goodness I am exhausted.   You might have noticed I have been MIA from the blog since I went back to work but today I was just processing all the things and this blog post is the result of that.  I still have a lot to share about differentiating instruction, math menus, meeting kids where they are and teaching online but right now I am in survival mode!  Without further ado, here are the ABC's of hybrid teaching! 

  • Acne: wearing a mask all day led me to having the skin of a middle schooler. I now have a skin care routine like a proper middle aged lady.(thanks Grove for delivering Burt's bees to my door!)
  • Breath mints: mask wearing leads to being hyper aware of your own breath smells. Everyone now keeps mints in their desks/backpacks
  • Confusing: Our kids come in 2 cohorts and keeping track of what I have done or said with each group is still a challenge I am working on conquering.
  • Dry: Extra hand washing and sanitizing leads to sandpaper hands for kids and teachers! Rooms without a sink are especially prone.
  • Extraordinary: in a short amount of time my colleagues have relearned everything they thought they knew about teaching and a providing quality instruction in new and interesting ways. 
  • Frustrating: just when we think we have it figured out, the guidance changes, the structure changes or our own children's school changes plans leading us to scramble for childcare.
  • Gawky: like an awkward middle school student my new roles and responsibilities feel a bit unnatural.
  • Hot: wearing a mask/face shield/goggles all day then the weather feels like summer is no joke.
  • Illogical: there are some regulations and requirements that make no sense. Neighboring school districts have different plans that lead to childcare nightmares for teacher parents.
  • Jaded: the rapid pace that things change and time wasted planning things that never come to fruition has added 10 years of jadedness in 6 short weeks. I'm afraid of becoming the "I used to walk uphill to school both ways" person!
  • Kaput: how I feel by 2 pm every single day.
  • Lonely: it's great to be back seeing some faces but I miss seeing all the faces and all the hugs and community building activities we used to be able to partake in. Kids who are not in the same cohort never get to hang out together and I get limited contact with other teachers.
  • Masks: we have to wear a mask in the building at all times unless we are alone in a room. We are never alone in a room. 
  • Nauseating: we are cleaning more frequently with stronger smelling chemicals while breathing in our exhaled air it's a combination that leaves me feeling nauseous at least a few hours each day. 
  • Obliging; teachers, kids and families have worked together to create the best of the situation we are in. 
  • Passwords: I spend an embarrassing amount of time resetting passwords and emailing parents and students with their passwords. Passwords might be my least favorite word in the English language right now.
  • Quiet: less kids, more spread out and no one really in the hallways along with a ban on singing indoors has led to an almost unnatural quiet in the building. 
  • Rewarding: when all is said and done setting those smiling faces eyes folks my heart with joy.
  • Stumps: we have taken teaching outside on stump circles that our amazing PTA volunteers delivered to school.
  • Tenacious: teachers and kids have really demonstrated this quality during this challenging time.
  • Unique: we are living history right now and we have to remember that this isn't forever.
  • Valiant: I have always said teachers can do anything and the obstacles my colleagues have conquered this year demonstrate this very well.
  • Wild
  • X-hausting: I'm kind of glad my car ride is a little longer this year. I am so mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each day I rely on the drive home for partial recovery.
  • Year-long: We might not be in hybrid forever, we might be fully remote, in person or in a different version of hybrid but we know for sure that this school year is going to be anything but normal!
  • Zoom: We spend Wednesday mornings on Zoom with kids while no students are in the building. We spend Wednesday afternoons on Zoom with other people in our building. Our students who are not at school send us Google Hangout messages or try to do video calls while we are in school with their classmates. It's a wild world and Zoom is part of our lives for now.
For all my fellow teachers who are living this nightmare reality right now, I'm with you.  I see you, I know how hard you are working, I know we will make it to the other side.  I know someday we can tell new teachers our stories and I know we will come out in the end better than ever. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Ten Games to Play with 10 Frame Playing Cards FREE Printable Booklet for Families

If you have ever read my blog before, you probably already know how much I love 10 frames!  One of my favorite tools are 10 frame playing cards.  I have created 10 frame playing card sets with penguins, pumpkins, santas, hearts, school buses and plants. When kids are ready, I level them up and use double 10 frames as well.  

Why do I have so many different 10 frame playing cards?  The reason is that there are so many different ways to use them and they are a great tool to help kids develop numeracy and additive reasoning.  The other reason is that changing the pictures on the cards can make a game feel brand new and seasonally fun yet doesn't require a bunch of re-teaching on how to play the game.  The third reason is that most of these games can easily be leveled up and down making it so kids can play multiple times over multiple years and still get good practice from the games.

My own kids and my students love 10 frame cards because they love card games.  I have long been a fan of using these at school and at home with my own kids but this spring when folks had to do more school work at home, I wanted families to be able to play these games together.  My students had already played most of these games at school and I knew I could easily make more 10 frame playing card decks to send home with each family and I had teacher directions written for these games, I did not have an easy and parent friendly set of directions.  To solve this problem, I created this little printable book that includes 10 different games kids and families can play with 10 frame cards.  When you print double sided, it only takes 3 pieces of paper to make each booklet.  All games include a picture and parent friendly directions.  

This booklet features the cards from my penguin 10 frame set but would work with any set of 10 frame playing cards.  

If you would like to grab this to use with your own children or to send home with families this year, I am offering the booklet as a freebie in my TPT store.  If you need 10 frame playing cards to go with it you can choose from the penguin ones featured in the book, pumpkinssantasheartsschool buses or plants.

Looking for more to help you out with teaching during these crazy times?  For a super limited time, I have partnered with a bunch of amazing math teachers to offer a spring themed bundle of resources.  A great way to save time and money and grab what you need to finish out the school year strong! Get all the info here! 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Math TV Shows for Kids

In my area, we have about 4 weeks before teachers are back at school and about 5 weeks before kids go back.  Things are very much still up in the air about what we will be doing for in person/online instruction.  It looks likely that we will be doing a hybrid model of in person and online learning.  I am certain kids will have more time at home than usual and teachers will have more on their plate than ever. 

I know that this often means more screen time for kids especially kids whose parents are at work or working from home.  I know parents are doing their best, but sometimes they need an hour to do a work call uninterrupted or have 5 minutes peace! Today I want to share with you our favorite math TV shows for when you just need the kids engaged in learning independently.  These are also great shows to recommend to parents of your students for when they have just had enough! 

Number Blocks

This show recently popped up on my kids' recommended list on Netflix.  Since then, I have seen parents and teachers posting about it on Facebook several times!  In the name of blog research, my kids and I spent an hour on a rainy afternoon checking out a few episodes.  It is definitely a show that is to young for my kids but they were still engaged enough to watch several episodes.  It is a great option for kids 2-5.  It does a particularly good job introducing the idea of decomposing numbers.  They have quite a few episodes available on Netflix and they also have a very active Youtube channel.  

Here is one of the videos from their Youtube channel that shows kids how to build the number blocks with playdoh.  

Peg + Cat

This was a favorite of my kids' when they were in preschool and kindergarten.  It used to be on Netflix but doesn't seem to be currently.  Luckily there are full episodes available on Youtube and on PBS kids.  This one is great for pre-k up through grade 1!  


This one is the best choice for bigger kids!  There are lots of episodes, it was a show on years ago that then was canceled and then started up again!  It tackles all kinds of math topics and is super engaging for kids.  Great for grades 1-4! This is another one from PBS kids that is also available on Youtube

This one definitely saved my sanity during quarantine this spring!  My 3 kids could all watch it together and all get something out of it. 

Monster Math Squad

This one is another one that is new to my family.  It is available on Netflix and Youtube and is another show aimed at preschool and early elementary.  Despite being to old for the target audience, my kids agreed to watch an episode for the purposes of this article.  My older 2 pronounced it as terrible and only stuck around for one 12 minute episode.  My youngest who just finished Kindergarten said it was okay but wanted to watch more so I think she enjoyed it but likes to be just like her big brothers.  If  you have kids at several ages I would start with Number Blocks instead of Monster Math Squad. 

Leap Frog Number Land

This one was around when my kids were smaller but they were such big fans of Peg + Cat they never really got into this one.  It works on early number concepts like counting and writing numbers to 10.  Another option for the preschool to Kindergarten crowd.  Available on Netflix with some clips available on Youtube.  

Team Umizoomi

This one rounds out the crowd of math shows aimed at the preschool crowd!  It is from Nick Jr and is available on Amazon prime video.  It is a good option for those who already have Prime Video and preschool aged kids!

Odd Squad

Another great show for the bigger kids!  This one has a detective spin and explores elementary math concepts.  Also available on PBS kids and Youtube! We discovered it recently and it has been my kids' got to show in recent weeks! An excellent option for elementary age kids!

What would you add to the list?  Feel free to leave your favorite in the comments below or head over to our Facebook page and leave your thoughts there!

Want to work on differentiating instruction this year?  Join our FREE Facebook group here for discussions about all things differentiated! 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Here is Your Free Multiplication Game

We have a winner!  I asked last week here on the blog and over on my Facebook page which game from my new book, Complete Multiplication Workbook you wanted to see and the winner was this one!  

This is called Gone Fishing and is a great way to practice the 4 and 5 multiplication facts! 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

10 Ways we Can STILL do Math Centers or Math Menu With COVID Restrictions: In Person Learning

One of the best things we have ever done to move our instruction forward over the past few years is implement math menu.  A math menu helps us meet all our students where they are.  It gives a chance to provide practice for kids in their zone of proximal development.  It is an excellent tool for differentiating instruction and practice and gives kids voice and choice in their learning.

Some folks do math stations or guided math as well.  These ideas should also work in those situations

In recent weeks, I have been thinking about how we can still provide this level of differentiation with restrictions due to COVID.  Here are my ideas so far!  I am sure I will be refining and revising these as I start working with kids and trying them out.  If you have any to add please feel free to leave them in the comments below or head over to our Differentiating Math Facebook Group where we will be having these conversations a lot! 

- Offer kids partner games where each partner has their own supplies.  For example if kids were playing a game with cards to compare fractions, they would each have their own deck of cards and would play 6 feet apart from each other or on opposite sides of a partition and they would just pile their own cards into a win or lose pile.  

- Kids could have everything they need for menu/centers right at their desk.  Teachers could offer a menu packet that was a mix of games, review, activities with choices built in.j

- Offer more individual games, especially those that are self checking like this write and wipe factor game or these number puzzles that only fit together when they are correct. 

- Kids could have more online games offered during menu time.  We curate ours using a school wide math blog but building this into your Google classroom, seesaw, etc would also work and would make a transition to at home learning easier.  

- Choose games that require less pieces

- Have kids play the game with an imaginary friend.  They get twice the practice this way but don't have the benefit of actually working with another person!

- Choose dice games that are easy to level up and level down.  Most schools have plenty of dice in them!  Here are a few of our favorites

-Make each kid in your class their own deck of cards that can be used for lots of different games.  We do this often with 10 frame cards, 20 frame cards, numbers to 120 place value decks and numbers to 1000 place value decks.  It is some work to print and cut all the decks but they can be used SO MANY different ways! 

-Make each kid a math box!  I have many more posts to come in the next month about math boxes but they have been something we have been using for the last 5 or so years, have given us a ton of leverage with differentiation and made the transition from in school to at home learning a lot smoother.  I am working on a FREE ebook right now about getting started with math boxes so if you want to hear more about these, be sure to check back or head over and join our Differentiating Math Facebook group

-If your students have used math centers or math menu in the past, ASK THEM for suggestions on how you can continue to offer them voice and choice with the current restrictions in your school.  My students always have the best ideas and even though I can't ask them yet, I totally plan on including their suggestions.  The ultimate voice and choice! 

What ideas could you add to this list?  We would love to hear from you in the comments below or over on the Facebook group! 


Thursday, July 16, 2020

BIG Changes!

So I know we are in the middle of a pandemic and we have all made some big changes in recent months like helping our students learn from home and homeschooling our own children but I am in the middle of another huge change. My beloved elementary school that I have spent the last 14 years of my career in closed at the end of this past school year.  It was something that was planned last fall due to declining enrollment and consolidation but it was a tough pill to swallow then when schools shut down in March, none of us knew that our last day was our last day.

I spent a week at the end of June cleaning out my classroom, going through lots of memories and possessions that have accumulated over the past 14 years.  When I started at this school, I had a small room with one table, a second grader sized desk with my computer on it, a filing cabinet full of other people's old files and a huge bookshelf filled with leveled readers.  Because of declining enrollment and the wonders of time, I have a HUGE classroom filled with all kinds of things, some of which I use every day and many that I do not.  

Add to that my impressive collection of math literature and some of the professional development books I have read (I confess to also having a coffee table at home full of these!) I had a lot of things to go through.  I will be following almost all the students and some staff members up the road a few miles to a larger school where I will be working with more teachers and many more students.  Because this school is getting a large influx of kids all at once, they are creating several more classrooms which means my space will be a tiny room (it's not a closet because it has a window into the hallway!) that I will be sharing with a literacy specialist.  This meant I had to a DRAMATIC downsizing of my possessions.  I really pared things down to the things I use every day, the math literature books I look forward to reading to kids the most, the professional development books that I am always lending to other teachers and the math manipulatives, games and cards that give me the most bang for my buck.

Starting sometime this week, I will be going into the new school to get things set up and will be sharing with you some of my favorite things (aka the things I kept!).  If you have a small budget, are just getting started or are looking to downsize, these posts will be must reads for you!

I also have been working on lots of posts and a free ebook on math boxes.  I haven't shared much here on the blog about math boxes because there is so much to say and I have never been able to put a post together that says all the things but they are something we have been using every day over the past 5 years and they really saved us during the switch to online learning.  They are also a personal possession of kids and are used by one student so they are something that will work well for this crazy school year we have coming at us.  I have so much to say and share that I am working on a free ebook called Getting Started with Math Boxes.  I REALLY want this ready to share with teachers and parents during the back to school season but you know real life gets in the way sometimes. I am working on it in the in between hours when my kids are occupied or sleeping but after 4+ months home together 24/7 I get less time to work on my projects than I would like!  

I also just announced that my first book, the Complete Multiplication Workbook is ready for pre-sale and anyone who orders it before August 3rd will get a free copy of my very popular Multiplication Fact Deck and Activity Set.  You can check out all the details in this post

It has been 14 years since I have changed schools and I am doing it during a pandemic.  Nothing like lots of change at once!  I know there are not really pandemic experts out there yet but I bet some of you have a lot of advice for teachings changing schools.  I would love it if you could share some of that advice in the comment section below! 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Teaching Math With You Tube Videos: Subitizing

About 5 years ago, I started a very popular series on my blog called Teaching Math with Youtube Videos. I have posts about







Teen numbers

Area and perimeter

Addition facts

Subtraction Facts

 They are a great way to get a little movement break while still working on important math concepts. These little movement breaks have been super important as we have transitioned from summer vacation back to school 5 days a week. 

I try to keep these posts up to date and have deleted and added videos to each of them a few times a year.  They still get lots of visits each month and are a great way to have all the content from one topic in one area. I recently spent some time making updates to these posts and noticed that I don't have one dedicated to subitizing.  Since there are some fabulous subitizing videos on You Tube now, I thought I would share with you a few of my favorites!

What is Subitizing? 

Subitizing is the ability to instantly recognize quantities.  It is an important early math skill and a must master for kids in K and grade 1.  The ability to subitize can further be broken into perceptual subitizing which is the ability to instantly recognize small quantities and conceptual subitizing which is when you decompose the image into smaller parts and add what you see together in your head. 

We love using videos as a great way to practice this skill along with number talks, a few apps and our Movin' it math cards.

Start Out With Subitizing Quantities to 5

If your kiddos are new to subitizing, start with one of these!  Many of these can be done with perceptual subitizing which just a touch of conceptual subitizing required.  Work on subitizing to 5 first and move up when kids are ready!

Some have answers included (after a few seconds for students to answer first) and others are open answer (it never confirms the right answer).  We usually start with the original version and try the open answer as students are ready.  

Subitize to 10!

Lots to choose from here!  A note on pronunciation:  There seems to be 2 different ways folks pronounce subitize.  I say it [soob-itizing] but some folks say it a little different! 

Do you have a favorite subitizing song?

Are you a parent of a kiddo in grades 3-5?
You might want to check out this recent announcement from my Facebook page!
After a lot of hard work behind the scenes for the past several months, I'm so excited to finally announce that I have my first published print book coming out in just a few weeks, the Complete Multiplication Workbook.  Multiplication is a must-know skill and builds the foundation for future math success.  The Complete Multiplication Workbooks is the one-stop guide for making sure kids have a strong foundation in multiplication.  I would love you to support my first print workbook!  You can pre-order your copy here!

More sneak peaks inside coming in the next few weeks! 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

I Wrote a Book!

After a LOT of hard work behind the scenes for the past several months, I'm so excited to finally announce that I have my first published print book coming out, Complete Multiplication Workbook. Multiplication is a must-know skill and builds the foundation for your future math success. The Complete Multiplication Workbook is the one-stop guide for making sure 4th graders understand whole number multiplication. I would love you to support my book. You can pre-order your copy here!

Stay tuned for sneak peeks in the coming weeks! I’m so excited!

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


  • 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!

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!