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!

Evolving Teaching Strategies


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This past week I was traveling and was taken off guard when I saw a phone station. At first glance I thought this was a modern day phone booth. I looked for the phone, credit card reader, directions and buttons but couldn’t find anything. I actually looked a bit closer at the parts. There were only two.  There was a small partition and place to put your phone as you speak with people.  After a few weird looks from commuters I concluded this was a modern day phone station/booth.

It had me thinking of how the phone booth has evolved over time.  It had a purpose back in the past and seems it still has one now.

Examples of how products have evolved over time can be found just about everywhere.  This can be true for products as well as strategies/processes.

I believe the same can be said about instruction in schools. New research can impact the strategies that teachers use in the classroom. These strategies have also evolved over time. Marzano and Hattie are just two names out of many that have impacted the field of instruction and teaching strategies.  Some strategies have been proven to be more efficient than others.  Books, articles, administrators, coaches and other professionals often impact what new techniques educators utilize. How students respond to those strategies is important. Some of the strategies I used when I first started teaching continue to work and others were cut after the first year. Educators reevaluate tools and techniques in their classroom. I believe this reevaluation is a form of evolution that comes with experience and betters teachers and their students over time. Some of the strategies that I use stay the same from year to year while others change. I question some of the tools and strategies that are used or given to me. Are they efficient?  Do they provide opportunities for students to make meaning? Is this the best strategy for my students? Educators often adapt and evolve their teaching strategies to meet their students’ needs. Teachers evolve over time and this is a driving force that can impact students for the better.

Understanding Number Relationships

Grouping Strategies

Today I was able to dig a bit deeper into Kathy Richardson’s book. The first chapter was related to counting and critical phases that are needed as students develop numeracy skills.  The second chapter focuses on number relationships. In order for students to compare numbers they need to be able to distinguish between larger and smaller. Once at this stage students can recognize that numbers are found within numbers.  For example, eight is found within 10. When comparing numbers students generally start to identify differences between the original number and one.

Richardson states that being able to change a number by counting on or adding to a group is a Critical Learning Phase.  Counting on or adding to a group of numbers is a strategy students use when comparing numbers. I believe primary students might use this strategy to find out how many blocks are in both stacks below.


Assume that each block is the same size.  Now, how do you think primary students would count these two different stacks?  The strategy that they may use to solve this can tell  more about their understanding.  Are they counting each block individually or using the first stack to count on to find the second stack? While comparing numbers younger students often count each block individually.  The model below shows a different strategy.


In this case the student has taken the five and built upon it to find four more.  The five and four are nine.  This student didn’t count each stack individually.

I find this interesting as it may apply to other areas of mathematics.  After reading this I started to think of how increasing the complexity could apply to fraction concepts.  Specifically, I thought of how theses blocks and fractions are similar:


If the green stack is one whole what is the second stack’s value?  How would your students solve this?  In the example students may identify that each block is 1/5.  When looking at the parts on the right they might start off at 5/5 and add to that particular block line. Fractions can lead to confusion with a non-linear scale being present.  This is especially the case if students are always seeing 1:1 ratio when counting objects.

I thought a number line might be a better representations for a fraction problem. Richardson notes that number lines are only symbolic relationships.  She also states that when students use number lines they’re most likely not thinking of quantities, but more so using the line to find the solution. They’re using it as a tool to count on to find a solution.  Number lines are used frequently at the early elementary levels so this is something I’m going to keep in mind for the new school year.

Learning Number Concepts

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This summer is moving by quickly and thoughts of the upcoming school year are in view.  I’m in the process of preparing materials and the first few lessons.  This year my math sections are larger than before and it changes some of the ways in which I prepare. While researching a few ideas I came across a Tweet from Jamie.


I’ve heard of Kathy Richardson and her role in the math education world, but haven’t delved too deep into what she’s written.  This book interested me mainly because of the use of Kathy’s critical learning phases.  As students progress in school they visit different stages of mathematical understanding.  It’s not always linear, but these stages tend to follow each other. I wanted to learn more about this process.

So the book arrived yesterday and I was able reading through the first section. Kathy states that children learn number concepts in different learning phrases.  She coined the phrase critical learning phases to describe the stages that kids pass on their way to making meaning of the math they encounter.  The first section of the book focuses on understanding counting.  On first glance I thought this would be very basic.  Advertised and delivered.  It’s basic, but also intriguing and gave me a few takeaways.  After reading this section I started to draw parallels to how my own students make sense of numbers.  I then wanted to reach out to my colleagues to direct them to this section. Understanding counting, although basic, is a foundational skill that is built upon.  My paraphrased version of Kathy’s learning phases are below.

Counting objects

  • Counts with 1:1 correspondence
  • Knows “how many” after counting
  • Counts out a specific amount
  • Spontaneously adjusts estimates while counting to make a better estimate

Knowing one more/one less

  • Knows one more and one less in a sequence without relying on counting out
  • Notices if counting pattern doesn’t make sense

Counting objects by groups

  • Counts by groups
  • Knows quantity stays same when counted by different sized-groups

Using symbols

  • Uses numerals to describe amount counted.  Connects symbols to amount counted.


As I read through this I started looking through my school’s teaching materials for grades K-3.  Some of the materials follow a linear progression while others tend to favor spiraling.  I have a few takeaways after reviewing this first section of the book and looking at my district’s materials.

  • If counting is important than students will start to see why keeping track/organizing numbers is important.  If it doesn’t matter students won’t care whether they come up with a different amount when a specific amount exists.
  • Being able to “spontaneously adjust estimates while counting to make a closer estimate” is a skill that’s found as students progress through the elementary grades. This plays a major role in measurement as students are asked to estimate using non-customary  tools.  I also see a connection to Estimation180 as students might use proportional reasoning after initially counting to find an estimate.
  • Moving from 1:1 correspondence counting to group counting can be confusing for students. Understanding that counting by 2s, 5s, or 10s is a strategy that’s more efficient and that may be learned in time.  Students might not initially come to this conclusion and replace 1:1 with 2:1, 5:1, or 10:1 if they don’t understand the reasoning and if they’re taught in the same period of time. For example, I find this evident when there’s a disconnect between counting by 10s and grouping numbers into 10s and then counting the groups.





Proportional reasoning


This summer I’ve had opportunities to review math units that I’ll be teaching in September.  I’ve been beefing up the units with formative assessments and intentional questions that focus on math reasoning.  One skill that seems to need bolstering every year falls in the category of proportional reasoning.  This becomes quite evident when students encounter fractions and rates. Some students may use proportional reasoning,but it’s not necessarily identified as a strategy or communicated using that specific vocabulary.

I also picked up this book over the summer.  I read it about a year ago, but I’m finding so many gems in there a second time around. The authors reveal research that indicates teaching proportional reasoning has benefits.  The authors also showcase that proportional reasoning is difficult to define, but they can categorize what people can do with this type of reasoning. People that use proportional reasoning understand the relationships that numbers have put together and how they relate individually.  They can analyze numbers and look the difference (additive) between them and observe the ratio (multiplicative).

My takeaway from this section of the book comes from the authors’ five reminders.  These reminders come in handy when thinking of how to create learning experiences involving proportional reasoning.

1.) Use unit and multiplicative models.  Double-down on using the idea of a rates, which can be applied to the idea of a proportion.  Specifically, I can think of rate tables to be helpful with this.


2.) Identify proportional and non-proportional comparisons.


3.) Include measurement, prices, graphs, and geometry to show proportions. Proportional reasoning can be found in a variety of contexts.

hexagon-014.) Solve proportions using different strategies.  Focus on reasoning.  This may be ignited by planting questions that elicit different ways to solve the problem. Students should be able to compare and discuss what comparisons exist.  This can also be addressed through the use of “what’s my rule” tables.


5.) Have students recognize that short-cut methods such as cross-multiplication aren’t helpful in developing reasoning.

Being able to identify proportional reasoning can help teachers emphasize its usefulness. Having in-depth conversations about this type of reasoning has benefits.  I realize that this post is heavy on tables and that’s not the only form that proportions take.  I do feel as though the tables help students observe the relationships a bit easier since it’s organized. While exploring this topic I came across a MARS activity that I’m planning on using in September.

Inservice Days

Many district are is in the midst of planning their 2016-17 inservice/institute days.  These days, sometimes called PD days, often include communicating initiatives aligned to district goals.  Sometimes school goals are included in this process.  As far as I can remember inservice days have always been part of my school year.  The content is sometimes applicable to what’s happening in a particular school, other times it’s more aligned with a district goal. Most teachers have experienced successful and unsuccessful sessions.

Last night I came across this Tweet:

David asked an important question.  I’m not an expert in the field of PD, but I’ve experienced some amazing and not-so-amazing sessions in the past.  I’ve also put together plans for PD and other sessions.  Through this experience I’ve been able to evaluate PD sessions a bit better.  Below are four questions to consider before putting together a PD session:



Are there clear expectations?

Being intentional in communicating expectations is key.  I’m not necessarily talking about listing the objectives of the session. I’m more concerned in what participants should be able to do with the information after it’s been delivered.  How will this impact teaching and learning?  Having a clear understanding of what’s expected and a timeline can help avoid confusion.

Is there an explanation of why?

I think this is sometimes missing from PD sessions.  Why are we learning about guided math, reading workshop models, grading practices, etc.?  Giving the why can help people understand the reason for a particular session.  If it’s not explained than staff may feel as though the reason is directly associated with someone not in the school, which may or may not be a good thing.

Will there be opportunities to revisit this initiative?

Educators aren’t generally fans of participating in a PD session that communicates that what’s being discussed will be fully implemented but it doesn’t happen. If the expectations is that all classrooms need to do x, y z than that should actually happen.  Starting an initiative and abandoning it halfway through the year doesn’t help with rapport or climate.  A successful PD session allow opportunities for additional help and follow up as needed.

Is there a reflection opportunity?

This may be more of a matter of personal opinion.  I tend to learn best by reflecting on what I’m learning and finding ways to practically put it into practice.  That reflection can happen after the session but embedding it in the session can be a valuable.  Sometimes a reflection opportunity can reveal itself through follow up conversations.  It also keeps the conversation going to ensure that consistently is occurring in a school/district.

When creating a PD session I tend to consider the questions above.  The questions aren’t always applicable, but it’s a place to start.  Would you add any other questions?






It’s official.  The 2015-16 school year has concluded.  The final bell rang last week I’m starting to look at my summer book list. My reading takes on different forms during the summer.  I have a few books on hold at the local library just for that purpose.  I’m looking forward to digging into those later this week.  Before reading these I enjoy catching up on blogs that I missed during the last hectic month of the school year.  This year I’m also looking back at my personal goals for this past year.

As I reflect back on the school year I often categorize how classes went that year.  Were the classes successful?  How did students learn?  Did I create an environment that optimized student learning and their curiosity?  Did I leave a lasting impact that students will remember?  How many of these students will invite me to their graduation.  Okay, the last one was a joke.  Kind of.  I tend to reflect back on these questions as well as others.  Last August I wrote a post about the goals that I had for the new school year.  This post is designed to reflect on those goals.


1.  I plan on taking the first few days of school to engage students in community building activities. The class will be completing a “get to know you” survey and set expectations for the class. We’ll also be completing the marshmallow challenge and have some rich conversations around math and mindset. I feel like instructional strategies make little impact if students have a fixed mindset. The same could be said for teachers. Before delving into content I want to ensure that the classroom community is moving in the right direction.

Looking back, I was ambitious with my planning.  At the time I thought this was a realistic goal.  I started off the school year with community builders.  We completed the marshmallow challenge and other activities.  I didn’t actually survey the students.  Instead, students wrote in their journals about math experiences.  I reviewed their journal entries and had brief conversations with each student.  The students felt comfortable in the classroom and seemed to develop rapport with each other.

I didn’t get into the rich discussions about math mindset as much.  Having a growth mindset has been emphasized in my district but the practice of it in individual classrooms vary. This is also a byproduct of the mindsets coming from other students, at home and at school. Honestly, it was challenging to not dive into content immediately.   Regardless, the classroom community was set on a sound foundation.  That foundation played a pivotal role throughout the rest of the school year.

2. I‘d like to make learning more visible in the classroom. I’m planning on having students use math journals to reflect and document their learning journey. I’m also planning on using effect size data to show student growth over time. To do this I’ll need to create additional pre-assessments to analyze pre/post data. I’m also planning on moving away from letter grades on unit assessments. Instead, I’m going to have students reflect more on the skills being learned in class.  This is a change from past practices so a lot of modeling may be needed.

I had students use math journals this year.  I intentionally had students use them to reflect on assignments/projects throughout the year – more so at the beginning of the year.  I also dabbled with students using foldables this school year.  The foldables were used primarily for process-oriented skills involving conversions.  These were glued or taped into the student math journals.  By the end of the school year the math journals were thick and looked like scrapbooks.  I’m looking at changing this format next year.

I used effect-size with one of my classes this year.  Students took  a pre-assessment and explored a particular concept for around three weeks.  After the three weeks, they took the same pre-assessment.  I calculated the effect-size and placed the data in a spreadsheet that was shared with my teaching team and administrator. I felt like this was good practice as my district is moving towards effect-size next school year.  Students received both the pre-assessment and assessment back at the end of the unit to see how much progress was made.

My unit tests didn’t include letter grades on the top of them.  This seemed to bother some students as they wanted to know their exact grade.  By the end of the year, all some students weren’t as concerned about the percent/grade.  I emphasized, as much as I could, that the skills were the focus.  I believe progress was made in this area and I’d like to keep this practice intact for next year.

I tend to agree with the philosophy that deep reflection can lead to growth.  I’m looking forward to the new school year in August and have some new goals that I’d like to put in place.  For now, it’s time to reflect and recharge before the new school year comes around the bend.