Guided Math – Math Literature Stations

Math Literature
Integrating Math and Literature

About a month ago I attended an educational event hosted by a district in Downer’s Grove, IL.  The event, Playdatedg58, encouraged attendees to learn, create, and collaborate with other teachers in the area.  I was able to attend many sessions, but missed one of the sessions called Math Literacy.  Fortunately, I was able to find a Prezi that was created for the presentation after I returned from the trip.  After reviewing the presentation I started to think of how I could incorporate more math dialogue in my classroom. I believe that students need to be able to talk through their mathematical thinking and be able to communicate this with others.

There’s no doubt that language arts/reading plays a significant role in just about every subject area.  For math, students need to be able to read directions carefully, understand context, understand if an answer is reasonable, and use vocabulary appropriately.  These are all important skills to have and can be reinforced through math literature. Most of these tasks generally fall in the realm of language arts/reading. Moreover, these skills will help students develop skills that will benefit them long-term.

So I’ve decided to incorporate more literature in my math classrooms this year.  Specifically, I’m using more literature during my guided math group stations.  Generally, students end up spending about 10 – 12 minutes per station, so you can infer that the reading is fairly short. There are about 4-5 students at each station so the comfy math literature station isn’t busy with shuffling papers. The small group also gives students opportunities to choose a book on their own without too much interference.  The books that I’m using are primarily for elementary students and emphasize the number sense math strand.  Number sense seems to be the strand of mathematics that needs an enormous amount of support, especially at the younger elementary level.  The books generally emphasize taking apart and putting numbers back together.  Place value and computation are two consistent areas of focus for younger elementary students. Below you will find a picture of the math books that I’m using during math stations.  Click the picture to enlarge and see titles/authors.

Math Literature Station
Math Literature Station for Elementary Students

While in the groups, students answer questions related to the book that they’re reading. Some of the questions are generic while others are more book specific.  Depending on my inventory, (which I hope to increase substantially) most of the books that I use are vocabulary rich and provide critical thinking opportunities. Some of the books offer number puzzles where students can check their answers in the back of the book.  Each student completes a “math think sheet” which records what book was read, the pages read, math vocabulary, and concepts covered.  Students keep track of their time in the station and write as they read.  In the future I may have the students work in partners and read the books together.  The class could then have a math book chat and record all the books that we’ve read throughout the year.  These are starter ideas, but I’m definitely encouraged when I see disciplinary lines blend as students observe that math and literature are connected.

photo credit: Eric Fischer via photopin cc

Guided Math: What About the Other Groups?

Guided Math

I’m using a guided math model more often this year.  To be honest, I’d say that I’m using more of an adapted guided math model because it’s still and will always be a work in progress. Similar to guided reading, an emphasis has been placed on meeting with smaller student math groups. After attending a few different math sessions with Laney Sammons last year, I continue to refine the model within my own classrooms.  I’m currently utilizing the model approximately 2-3 times per week.  Students are meeting in three different groups throughout the 60 minute math block. Generally, one of the student groups is with the teacher, while the other groups are working on various activities throughout the room.

I understand and see the benefits of having a guided math model, although I’m a bit unsure of the effectiveness of the other groups that aren’t directly with the teacher.  That uncertainty led me to research few options for the other math groups.  I don’t want their time to seem wasted and I believe there needs to be some type of documentation embedded.  What could, or what should the other groups be doing?  This year I’ve experimented with a few different options and have found the options below to work with my group of students.

Adaptive apps – Programs like MobyMax, IXL, and Scootpad can be used to bolster skills that need strengthening.  This station is usually fully supplied with whiteboards for students to show their work.  Many of these apps are free and can also be used at home for more practice/extension.  An 8 – 12 minute station can be a perfect amount of time for theses types of apps.  The apps also provide documentation that indicates questions correct/incorrect and progress made. I’ve compiled an Edshelf this year to showcase some of the apps that my students use during guided math.

Journal Activity – Students follow a specific journal prompt given by the teacher.  The journal entry is most likely related to the standard that’s being explored.  Students paste certain artifacts in their journal, such as work, explanations, and sheet-based manipulatives to show their mathematical thinking. The math journal could also be used as a reflection piece.  For a large list of possible journal prompts click here.

Games Games can be a great way to practice math skills and encourage collaboration with peers.  Dice and playing cards can play a role here as many elementary games use these and multiple outcomes exist.

Puzzles –   I generally have students work in pairs or groups to complete these types of math puzzles.  I tend to use an envelope system. Students complete the puzzle, take a picture of it using the iPad and then put the puzzle back in the envelope.  Using Tarsia has opened up many different possibilities for using puzzles during math groups.  This has been a staple station during an algebra unit as students match the equation with variable solutions.

Educannon – At first glance this looks like a flip classroom program. I actually heard about this from Mary and I’m using it this year to reinforce math skills at home or in stations.  Here’s a quick subtraction Educannon that I made for a second grade classroom.

Content Creation – Students use the apps Educreations, Haiku Deck, Explain Everything, and others to create digital content that can be uploaded to the web later.  Moreover, these types of activities can be included in a student portfolio system for later use.  Students follow a rubric to create a presentation that explains (example) a particular math concept. This station is sometimes used during consecutive days because of the time commitment needed to produce a quality product.  This is by far the most requested math station that I use.  The class has informally dubbed this the Explanation Station.

QR Code /Augmented Reality – Students complete activities related to the concept being taught and check their answer by scanning the QR code.  I’m experimenting more with augmented reality this year and am looking for ways that students can be part of the creation process.

Math Manipulatives – Manipulatives can be powerful in the learning process.  Specifically, I’m thinking of pattern blocks, fraction tiles, base-ten blocks, etc.  Many of these items can be accompanied with a sheet asking students to show what they created/explored.  Giving time to explore and come to constructive conclusions can also aid in foundational understanding.  The Virtual Manipulatives app can be helpful for this station.

Math Literacy – Yes, reading and math can be combined! I’m currently compiling books in one of my stations that are dedicated to the current math strand that we’re emphasizing.  The Sir Cumference series currently resides in this math station as well as many Greg Tang books. Many of the books come with questions that students could answer. I think this station has a lot of potential I just need to expand my inventory and find some type of Scholastic discount.

* Photo credit: Adapted from Rojessa Tiamson-Saceda (EQuALLS2 Project)

How do you use guided math stations?

Math and Puzzles

Math Puzzles

I’ve experimented with using more math puzzles in the classroom this school year.  I continue to find that games and puzzles have the potential to engage students in meaningful ways. Similar to games, puzzles can encourage collaboration and perseverance skills that will help students long-term.

About a month ago I came across a free puzzle maker called Tarsia.  Tarsia is a program for PC users that allows the creation of different types of digital puzzles that you can print out. There’s a large database of math puzzles that are compatible with Tarsia here. A colleague and I have used them during our math station activities.  Students work in collaborative groups of 2-3 to complete the puzzles.  Last week I heard students having math conversations about whether a specific piece fits or not.  Hearing students confirm their reasoning for putting a piece in a particular place can be useful in seeing if a student is understanding a particular concept.  I feel like the puzzles have been especially beneficial in reinforcing many math concepts.  They are reusable for station work and could be used in conjunction with a student math journal piece.

Station Work

Keep in mind that I only use these types of puzzles for stations about once per week. Moderation is key with these types of puzzles.  I also found that cutting and bagging the puzzles in advance saves time.   In addition to the puzzles, I’m using math card games, technology tools, and self-directed learning activities for math groups that don’t directly meet with the teacher during guided math.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the puzzles continue to impact student engagement and learning in the classroom.

QR Codes and Math Stations

Providing feedback to students is important.   I find that the more specific the feedback is, the better.  Teachers use many ways to give feedback, whether that’s verbally or through written form.  Ideally, I’d like to be able to meet with every student in my class and offer them undivided individual feedback to improve understanding and enrich.  That’s not always possible so stations or workshop models become part of the classroom norm.  Math workshop models can improve opportunities to give 1:1 feedback.

During the past two weeks I’ve been using QR code activities (1) (2) for one of my math stations.  One of these activities can last 3-4 math sessions depending on the math concept being covered.  These types of stations involve questions that I’ve found through my PLN.  Some of the QR activities that are used involve scavenger hunts.  Students answer questions in groups or individually and check their answers by scanning the QR Code.  The QR code is unlike the actual teacher’s manual as student’s can’t immediately peek over to see what the answer is.


Instead, students have to scan the code to check their answer.  Students then document and turn in a sheet that indicates whether the students answer was correct or what mistake happened.  I’m looking into creating feedback codes that help students with common errors  with particular problems.  Students are also asked to write in their math journals about problems that were incorrect.  I’m using  this site to create the codes as SMS messages.  If used correctly, QR code activities can increase student reflection opportunities and engagement.  For more information or practical ideas on how to use QR codes in the classroom check out Denise and Edutopia‘s resources.

On a side note, I’m looking forward to using the idea of clickable paper in the classroom at some point.

How do you use QR codes in the classroom?

Math Games in the Classroom

Math Games

This post relates to #MTBoS assignment four.  For this mission I decided to listen to one of the Global Math Department‘s webinars.  I came across GMD about a year ago and look back occasionally at the webinars that I miss.  While reviewing I found the math games webinar back in January of last year, so that’s the one I picked for this mission.  Plus, I’ve always enjoyed using math games (1,2,3) to review and believe that I can always improve in this area of my practice.

Math games have always been a part of my own teaching practice, but I want to learn how to use them more effectively.  I’m fortunate to have a curriculum that highlights the use of math games in/out of the classroom.  I use math games with my classes approximately once per week and primarily use them during math stations. Most of the math games that I use deal with dice, cards, and/or some type of online component.  For me, the reason for using the games goes back to the concept of learning and engagement.  I believe engagement can be heightened with the appropriate use of a math game.  Math games also allow opportunities to develop skills related to critical thinking and problem solving.  Also, guided math has played a role in how I use math games in the classroom.  With a push for guided math at the elementary level, students that are not immediately with an instructor need to be able to engaged in mathematical thinking, self-govern themselves, and use their time wisely.  Math games at a particular math station provide an opportunity to do just that.

Understanding what makes a good math game is important.  Ensuring that the students are engaged is key.  Students that drift their attention in and out of the game can cause issues; especially if the teacher isn’t directly at that particular math station.  As I watched the webinar, I began to see affirmation and areas where I need to start thinking more critically about how math games are used.

A few takeaways/questions from this webinar include:

  • Always start with the objective
  • Does the math actually interrupt the game/fun?
  • Is the math action the same as the game action?
  • Time limits can encourage math anxiety
  • Games can be used to introduce concepts, not just for review
  • Games can encourage math exploration
  • Inferencing, prediction, critical thinking and logic reasoning can all be part of the game
  • Rote mathematics doesn’t have to be the emphasis of game
  • Math games can reinforce gamification thinking
  • Keep in mind the game design process

How do you use math games in the classroom?

Dice and Math Computation

Dice and Math

Since the beginning of the school year I’ve been searching for different ways to incorporate guided math in my classroom. Guided math has many benefits although organizing the groupings can bring a few challenges.  Guided math looks different depending on how the teacher implements the structure.  For example, one math group might be working with the teacher while two other groups are using math games or participating in problem based learning activities.  The groups will rotate according to a specific time schedule.  I’m finding that groups that are not with the teacher need specific instructions and expectations.

For the past few months I’ve been using dice games to emphasize number sense skills.  These dice games have peaked student interest and work well in increasing computation fluency.  I decided to collect multiple formative data pieces to validate whether the dice games were contributing to student success. By analyzing student data and observing over a period of time, I found that students were  becoming more fluent in adding, subtracting, and multiplying small/large numbers.

The games have worked for me, so I’m passing it along to others that might find it useful.  Needed materials and pdf files are below.


A variety of dice (6, 10, 20, 30, etc. dice)  Here are some examples:

photo 5
Click to Enlarge

Templates (in pdf form)

Roll to 150 (multiplication)

Roll to 125 (addition)

Roll to 100 (addition)

Roll to 45 (addition)

Roll from 50 (subtraction)

Roll from 95 (subtraction)

Roll from 35 (subtraction)

iPad Apps for Math Intervention

IPad Apps for Math Intervention

Over the past few months I’ve been experimenting with guided math strategies in my classroom. One station in my classroom has been dubbed as the technology table. This table has been primarily used to differentiate  instruction to improve students’ understanding of mathematical concepts.  I’ve been using the tech table for the past few months with great success. There are five iPad apps that are used at this table.  Unlike many math apps that offer only demo versions, I’ve found the below apps to be useful in the classroom.

5 Dice

This app is the newest addition to my iPads for intervention list.  This app emphasizes order of operations for upper elementary and middle school students.  The game encourages students to use multiple dice to find the “target” number.  A whiteboard is built into the game for students to work out problem.  Progress reports can be emailed to the teacher for formative assessment data.

photo (1)

Splash Math – Grade 3

This app is used to differentiate math instruction and assigned practice.  What I like so much about this app is the variety of concepts that I’m able to individualize.  For example, if a student needs additional work on the concept of time, then I can setup the app to only give questions related to time. Questions first appear simple, but then become more challenging as questions are answered correctly.  If you prefer, Splash Math will send you a weekly update indicating the progress of each student.

Math Blaster Hyper Blast 

This app is used to improve computation fluency.  This interactive app has a quick tutorial to teach students how to move the main character through a variety of mazes.  Students control a space vehicle that inevitably encounters an octopus type of creature.  Students must answer computation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) questions to defeat the boss.

Factor Samurai

Factor Samurai is an app geared towards emphasizing the concepts of prime and composite numbers.  Basically, numbers fly into the air and the student is expected to slice the composite numbers with their fingers.  If it’s a prime number, then the student leaves the number alone.  Some composite numbers can be sliced multiple times.


ScootPad can be used to individualize practice in your classroom.  I’m able to assign specific students certain Common Core objectives to practice. After a student completes an assigned section, they are allowed to see all of the correct answers.  Scootpad will also send the teacher a statistical report of the progress made by individual students.  I’d also like to note that Scootpad can also be used on a PC or MAC.

Honorable Mentions: 

 Math 7

 Sail Through Math

 Divisibility Dash

Equivalent Fractions

Rocket Math

update:  02/03/13

I’ve been asked by a number of people what apps I would recommend to an elementary teacher.  I decided to create a quick chart to help.

Elementary Apps

So, what math iPad apps do you use in your classroom?

Still Exploring Guided Math

Still Putting the Pieces Together

I recently participated in an afternoon professional development session led by Laney Sammons.  The session focused on how to implement guided math.  I’m still understanding the guided math process, as you can tell by the picture above.  I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in guided math, but I’m starting to use a few strategies that Laney discussed today.

A few takeaways from today …

  • Guided math can be similar to guided reading
  • Math games can be used in stations
  • Groups should consist of no more than six students
  • Groups can be used for informal assessments
  • There isn’t a “one size fits all” model for guided math

After the session I decided to explore guided math a bit further.  The links below have been vetted and may help shed additional light on guided math in an elementary setting.

Feel free to share any links or blog posts that you find relevant in the comments section.  Thanks!

* Picture credit to Janoon28

Reflection Journals in Math Class?

Image by:  Samana

In the past, I’ve used reflection journals for language arts assignments.  Allowing students to reflect via journaling was one way that I could informally assess whether students were making connections to the literature.  After utilizing the idea of journaling for my language arts class, I thought that it might be useful to integrate this strategy with math.  Before starting this adventure I decided to complete some homework on the idea of math journaling.   In the past I’ve used standard reflection sheets.  While collecting ideas, I also looked for math journal writing prompts and rubrics 1 2 3 .  I found many ideas and strategies for math journaling here and at Monica’s website. If you’re unsure of how to introduce the topic of math journaling, this Word example may help.  If you’re curious of where to start, I’ve found that this site provides terrific examples.  So, after researching a few options I decided to label all of my journals and prepare for uncharted territory.

After giving a unit assessment, I gave my first math writing prompt:

  • How do you feel about your performance on the last unit assessment?  
  • What type of math concepts do you find interesting?  Why?

Students were also asked to include a picture with their response.  Why a picture?  I thought that allowing students to draw a picture may portray how they feel regarding their performance.  Some students decided to draw more of a picture, while others decided to write more with words.  Allowing this type of flexibility gave students an opportunity to communicate their response to the writing prompts differently.  The students then turned in their journals and I wrote a short response to each individual response.  I feel as though the students really enjoy the fact that I personalize my response to each student. I also feel as though this builds a positive classroom environment, as each student is shown that their opinion is valued.  The journals can also be used during parent teacher conferences, although it might be a good idea to disclose this to the students before they write.

What happend?

After completing a plus/delta chart, students thoroughly agreed that the math journals enabled them to reflect on how they are doing in the class.  Some students even communicated that the journals were a way to set specific math goals.  Currently, I give students an opportunity to complete a journal entry approximately every two weeks.  A byproduct of using the journals may also lead to personal goal setting and more academic involvement from the student.

What’s next?

I would like to incorporate the idea of utilizing specific math vocabulary in the journals. Not only should the math journals be used for reflection, but they can also be used as another opportunity to practice mathematical concepts.  As an elementary school teacher, I think it’s important for students to have a solid understanding of math vocabulary at a young age.  Having consistent definitions is also important. Certain math vocabulary words that are utilized in first grade will accompany a student throughout their entire life.  For example: multiply, divide, sum, fraction, etc.  Overall, I feel that students will become better at understanding math vocabulary and reflect on their learning through the math journals.  The journals will be used consistenly, so students will observe the progress that they have personally achieved throughout the year.

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