Angle Relationships


My fourth graders are just about finished with their unit on geometry and measurement.  They classified angles earlier in the week and are now looking at angle relationships.  This is one of my favorite topics to teach as it involves logic and an understanding of basic geometry.  I’m finding that students are becoming better at measuring angles using a protractor.  Using Angle Tangle has helped in that process. They’re able to identify and measure acute and obtuse angles comfortably.  Reflex angles still give them issues, although this is improving as students are able to subtract an acute or obtuse angle from 360 to find the measurement.

Students then moved on to angle relationship skills. When asked to find the missing angle in a triangle they immediately started to look for their protractor.  Students wanted to find the actual measurement without looking at what types of relationships actually exist and if a protractor is needed.  So on Tuesday the class reviewed interior angles.  Students found through patterns that they could split a convex polygon into triangles and find the sum of angles.  This was eye-opening for some students and you could tell that they were relieved in seeing that they wouldn’t have to measure all of the interior angles.

One of the assignments called students to create  polygon and find the sum of angles without actually measuring each interior angle.  Some students were stumped while others students looked at how a triangle’s sum can aid in finding the sum of other polygons.  The student projects turned out well, although some had to redo them as the drawing actually started to get in the way of creating triangles.  This is one of the better projects.



I could tell that students needed a bit more practice with using angle relationships to their advantage.  On Thursday I asked students to create a qudrilateral using a straightedge.  Students drew arcs to indicate the angles on each vertex.  The quadrilaterals were cut out and the sides of the shape were torn off.  Students lined up the sides and the class had a brief discussion on what they noticed.


Right away, some students noticed that the arcs didn’t line up.  They also noticed that the four corners actually created a circle. Some even said that the total was 360 degrees. Students checked their work by using a compass to add all of the angles together.  Their prediction rang true.  This was a winning moment as I could tell that students were starting to grasp this concept better.  I gave each student some tape and they tapped together their circle to their folder.  I’m hoping it stays on their folder and in their memory banks.




What’s My Rule?

My third grade class ended their unit on data analysis and computation last week.  We’re now onto our next adventure of exploring patterns and number rules.  This last week the class started to identify number patterns.  The class observed how they could develop rules to find the perimeter of connected squares.  This was a bit of a challenge because students had to combine two different operations to find the actual rule.

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What’s the perimeter for three connected squares?

We used this activity that I discussed a bit more in detail last year.  They looked for consistency and investigated with trial-and-error what the “rule” might be.  The class used a Nearpod presentation to see how a function machine transforms numbers.

Click for presentation

Eventually the class moved towards creating their own rules using dice and a whiteboard.  It was during this time period that students started to dig a bit deeper into how rules impact a table.


One issue came up with the consistency of the numbers on the “in” side of the table.  A few students were confused with the idea that numbers didn’t necessarily have to be in order on the “in” side of the table.  A few examples helped address the issue but I thought it was interesting as most students are so used to a specific 1:1 scale.  I wonder if this is something that’s emphasized more at the second grade level and it just continues with our third graders.

Later in the week I brought out a digital function machine.  The kids had a great time placing numbers in and watching at they transformed into something different.



I highly recommend the PheT simulations. Feel free to check out other simulations that they’ve developed.  Next week the class will be working on creating and identifying true or false number sentences.

Data Landmarks and Spreadsheets


My fourth grade class reviewed data landmarks this week.  On Monday the class explored examples of the maximum, minimum, median, mean and mode.  I had to review the terms multiple times throughout all of Monday.  Kids kept on asking about the difference between median and mean.  During this process I was finding that students needed additional practice with the terms.  They seemed to need another way to remember the difference between the data landmarks.  After contemplating a few different review lessons I decided to check out my school’s laptops.  I vaguely remember reading about a teacher that used spreadsheets to reinforce math terms.  I decided to go that route for Tuesday.

So Tuesday arrived and students received their laptops.  I modeled the different components of Excel.  This took more time than I thought it would.  I reviewed the idea of a cell and the components of a spreadsheet.  During this time I had a lot of hands fly up in the air with questions.  The questions revolved around how to change the column/row size, what a cell is, where’s the formula bar and many others.  To get the ball rolling I had the students take some personal data and use it for this project.  The class formatted the spreadsheet and we were about ready to start putting in formulas and then … class ended.

We started back up on Wednesday and began the lesson by explaining how to use formulas in Excel.  I modeled the first formula of how to find the maximum of the data set =maximum(b2:b14).  Students followed the example with their own data.  We then moved on to minimum, which they easily constructed.  Median and mean were a bit more challenging but the students explored and found the formulas using the first example. The magic started when students were asked to manipulate the data in the non-formula cells.  Students started to observe how the data landmarks change when the data changes.  This sparked a classroom conversation on the difference between the mean and median and which indicator might represent the data better.


Afterwards, students were able to print out their creation and take it home.  The class will be discussing this in more detail next week.


Meaning and Algorithms

My third and fourth grade classes are exploring computation algorithms this week. Taking apart and putting together numbers is one of the skills needed to tackle higher level math concepts. I find it interesting when this topic is brought up as I sometimes hear students commenting that they already know how to add/subtract. Many of my students have been instructed to use the traditional algorithm to add large numbers.  After digging a bit deeper I started to see students falter with their explanation of the traditional method.  I asked them to explain their thinking. I found that their reasoning started to turn into comments about the process. Students explained the steps involved to find the product.  One student told me about the example below.


The process, although important, doesn’t reflect mathematical understanding. Students didn’t mention place value at all.  Place value within the traditional method is evident, it’s just that the students weren’t able to explain it with confidence.  It reflects more of an understanding of the procedures required to find a solution. Most of the students that I see are used to adding/subtracting numbers on a number line. They can hop up and down the number line with ease.  Once they feel comfortable with that, parents or others start to show students the traditional algorithm. Students become familiar with the terms carry, borrow, cross-out, add a zero, and others without necessarily knowing the reasoning behind the process.

This past week I introduced the partial-sums algorithm. This is one of my favorites as students start to see the reasoning behind the process that they’ve been following for years.  Although at first it can seem clunky, students started to see how place value can be a key indicator in determining the sum. That’s an #eduwin in my book.


Later that hour students were given an assignment where they had to find the sum using the partial-sums method. Some students struggled a bit to move out of the traditional algorithm process and move to a different algorithm. Afterwards I gave student the option to use whatever method best meets their needs. It’ll be interesting to see the progression that students make as they decide on an algorithm. When asked about how and why the algorithm works I’m hoping they’re able to confidentially create their own proof.

We’re making progress!

Math Puzzles

My students enjoy puzzles. It often doesn’t depend on the type of puzzle. They like the trial-and-error of attempting to find patterns and eventually solutions. In math class these puzzles take on many different forms. I believe that patterns and puzzles play an important role in the math classroom. Some skills are more aligned with using puzzles than others.

Puzzles offer learners multiple entry points. Students have the option to look at a puzzle and decide to start in one section while another student decides to start in a different section. One puzzle that’s been thrown around the Internet is below.


I gave this puzzle to my fourth grade students. Students started to calculate how much each horse was worth and worked from there. I had other students that immediately looked at the horseshoes and found that the total worth would have to be divided by two. After working with each other the students then conversed in groups. The discussion was fabulous. Students started to identify where a mistake was made and corrected their papers as needed. During this time students were engaged, using math vocabulary and practicing skills that they will see again throughout the year. What I found interesting was that zero students had the correct answer the first time. It took perseverance as well as a thorough amount of collaboration to get to a consensus. The class had a conversation afterwards.

The key I find is connecting the puzzle to the skill/standard. Afterwards, students understand that this was a fun problem, but was the puzzle connected to a certain skill? Connecting the puzzle to prior skills not only shows how this fits into a continuum, but also gives students a picture of what skills are being addressed. Maybe the skills can be introduced after the lesson. I know that the exploration that students participate in is a valuable piece in the learning process. What are students exploring as they unpack the problem? The objective isn’t to just solve the problem. The bulk of the student learning experience is using the substitution process to find a solution.


After discussing the solution I drew the picture above on the whiteboard. Through this I attempted to bridge the puzzle to more of an abstract model. This made sense to some students while others were debating on whether this matched the earlier puzzle. Regardless, the transition seemed beneficial in having students use substitution to find a solution.

Next week the class is tackling a different problem.


I’m already looking forward to using this with my students.

Working Towards Mastery

The last five days concluded the first full week of school with students.  This past week teachers started to dive into content and policies were in full effect.  My school had its curriculum night on Tuesday and Wednesday.  It was there that many teachers explained their expectations, homework and grading policies to parents.  My presentation was similar to last year, but I added a brief component related to grading/feedback.  This part of the curriculum night presentation stemmed from the events in the paragraphs below.

Earlier in the week I spoke with my classes about giving them chances in class to review feedback and redo assignments.  I told them that students are able to do this when the environment allows for second chances exist. This year assignments completed in class will note a NY or M near the top of the paper.  I’m actually borrowing this idea from a class I took years ago.  I introduced this process to students earlier in the week using an anchor chart.

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The NY means that the student isn’t yet meeting expectations for that particular skill.  Students are asked redo any assignment that includes an NY.  They don’t need to necessarily redo the entire assignment.  Instead, I’ll highlight a certain section that needs to be changed.  Students then redo and return that assignment.  An M indicates that the student met the expectations for the assignment. Ideally, the NY papers eventually turn into M papers. So far the process is working well.  I’d say the majority of the NY papers that are returned have turned into papers that meet the expectations.

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Management is something that I’ll be looking at improving.  Finding time for students to redo the projects hasn’t turned problematic, but I’m looking at designating a certain time in class for students to work on the NY papers.  I haven’t yet set a deadline to when I’ll accept all the redo papers. It’ll most likely be a week for the trimester ends, but that decision hasn’t been set in stone.

Currently, I’m only using this process for projects completed in class. The good news is that students are starting to redo and turn the sheets back in.  Another positive is that students aren’t focusing on the grade on the project.  They’re looking at what concept needs strengthening, asking for help when needed and redoing the project.  In doing this students are working towards the mastery of concepts rather than focusing entirely on the grade alone.


First Day Plans

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Welcome Back!

Students started their first day of the 2016-17 school year this past Thursday.  The school busses rolled up to the school curb around 8:15 and dropped off their students.  Excited and anxious students came off the bus and directed themselves towards their teacher’s line. Teachers stood with clipboards ready to meet students and match a name with a face.  Some students knew exactly where to find their line while others were confused because this was a brand new experience for them. Teachers came to the aid of those students that needed help to redirect them to the correct teacher line.  High-fives and hugs were prevalent as teachers and students started the year off by making meaningful connections.

There’s nothing quite like the first day of school for students and teachers alike.  There’s a sense of optimism and a fresh slate.  This is part of the uniqueness of being a teacher.  My first day plans seem to change every year.  The changes are small, but I’m always looking for ways to optimize that first day to start off the year on the right foot.  The emphasis is always on building a classroom community.  This emphasis continues throughout the school year, but is much more prevalent during the first week of school.  As students entered my class they saw the slide below.

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Students generally find their own seat.  This year I had students use a sort to get to know each other and what they did this summer.

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I gave students around three minutes to find matches.  Afterwards the class discussed anything that surprised them.  I had a few volunteers add to the discussion.  I introduced myself to the students.  The majority of them know about me as they see me in the hallway of the school or they’ve had me in another class.  I intentionally spent some time to describe my family and hobbies.

After about 10 minutes the class moved on to the next activity.  I borrowed Sara’s 100 task activity. Feel free to check out the link for exact directions and make sure to follow her @saravdwerf. Basically, students are placed in groups and asked to find 100 numbers in sequential order.  Students are given three minutes for the first trial.

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Teams have to work together to find the numbers.  After the first trial most groups found between 10-20 numbers.  I asked the groups to discuss strategies and gave them a second trial.  During the second trial students identified 30-40 numbers.  After the second trial students were given more time to discuss strategies needed to accomplish the task.  I then divided the board into quadrants.  I didn’t give students any more specifics and let them discuss strategies.  The majority of the groups were able to find all 100 numbers during the third trial.  During that time I took pictures of the groups and then the class created an anchor chart on what quality collaboration looks/sounds like.  The chart is not complete as the class will add more details next week.

Afterwards, students started to fill out their ‘about me’ puzzle piece.  On each piece students wrote specific information about themselves.  Eventually the pieces will be posted in the classroom.

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Students didn’t finish their puzzle piece but that’s fine.  They’ll continue working on that during day two.  We didn’t even open up our math journal for the first day and that’s also fine. Building a classroom community is important and that’s our focus for that first day.  These relationships will be foundational for this school year.  Next week the class will be discussing how to have a growth mindset and we’ll be starting Number Talks.  I’m looking forward to the adventure!