Fraction Blocks and Strategies – Part 2


Last week my second grade crew explored fraction blocks.  They cut out and used the blocks to compare fractional pieces.  Students enjoyed the trial-and-error component and they started to visualize fractions in a different way.

I decided to use a similar activity with my third graders. Instead of labeling the bars, I decided to leave off the label. This initially confused the students as they expected to see the label. Students moved beyond the confusion when they were given the value of one of the blocks.  They then used that value to compare all the other blocks. Students were asked to cut out the blocks and start comparing them.  I didn’t give them any directions beyond that.  After about 4-5 minutes I placed the sheet below on the overhead projector.


We completed the sheet as a class.  I used the document camera and students compared the pieces on their own desk. It took multiple attempts and a number line, but eventually the class was able to finish the sheet.  Students were then off on their own to find the whole or part of certain blocks.  Students used many different strategies since they couldn’t rely on the label.  screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-7-53-24-am

While the students were working I went to the different tables and observed the strategies. Almost all the students compared the shapes to one another to find one whole.  Other students created a number line and placed where they thought each shape would be located.  I had a few students take out a ruler and measure the blocks.


I collected the sheets once everyone was finished, marked them up with feedback, and returned them the next day.  I used the NY/M model for this assignment. Every student in the class needed to make some type of correction.  After a brief review, I gave the students back their sheets and they made corrections.  There were few perfect scores after the second attempt, but everyone improved – an #eduwin in my book.

Download the file for this activity here.

Next week we’ll be learning about equivalent fractions and how to find common denominators.

Fraction Blocks and Strategies


My second and third graders started a unit on fractions last week.  Students are used to identifying typical pie fraction pieces.  Generally, I find students are introduced to fractions using this type of visual representation.  Students then count the amount of pieces and place that number as the numerator.  I find moving towards mixed-numbers has some students changing their strategy as they can’t just count the pieces, but they have to recognize that a certain amount of equal parts are one whole.  Based on their pre-assessment results, it seems as though my second grade and some of my third grade students are at this point.

Using a number line has helped.  Placing the fractions on the line has brought a better understanding of the placement of fractions in relation to a whole number.  Currently, students can identify certain benchmark fractions on a number line.  We’re working on bolstering this skill and connecting it to fraction computation in the near future.  Before that happens I want to ensure that they have a decent understanding of mixed numbers and where they fall on a number line.

On Thursday and Friday I introduced students to a fraction block activity.  Students were given a sheet with fraction parts.  Each block was split into a certain amount of equal square parts.

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Each student was given an envelope to put their pieces in once they were finished with the activity.  Students cut out each block and were asked to put them in order from least to greatest value.  Students were able to complete the task.


We then had a conversation about quarters, halves and wholes.  I then gave each student the card below.

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Students placed the A block near the top of their desk and started comparing the different blocks.  The class completed the first question together.



I then gave students time to work on the rest of the problems.  Students were then given time to use trial-and-error to find which blocks worked for each problem.  I went around to the different table groups and asked students questions about their strategies. Students ended up matching the squares with other shapes to determine what was a quarter, half, almost a half, and what happens when you combine shapes.  After about 10 minutes the class reviewed the sheet and found that some problems could be answered with multiple solutions.  Students put the sheets in their envelopes since we ran out of time.

The next day students completed some more challenging half-sheets involving their blocks.


Students struggled a bit with this as they had to look at A as half instead of one whole.  This changed the value of all of the other blocks.  I allowed students to work in groups for about five minutes and then independently for another five.  This gave them an opportunity to gain another perspective and a different strategy.  Afterwards, I reviewed the possible solutions with the class.

Next week I’m taking this activity one step further and using the blocks without markings.  I’m borrowing this idea from Graham’s post on defacing manipulatives.

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Students will complete similar half-sheets, but without the evident markings. I’m looking forward to seeing how students’ strategies change and the math conversations that follow next week.   Click here to download the activity that I used.


Reasonable Solutions



I believe teaching multiple grade levels within the same day has value. Being able to observe how students think about numbers and the strategies that they use over time gives teachers a different perspective.  It also shows some of the linear progression of math skills and strategies. I found this especially evident as I read through Kathy Richardson’s book during July. I currently serve as a math teacher for students in grades 2-5.  I get to see how students progress over time and what tends to trip them up.  I also see the problems that emerge when students start to rely on tricks and formulas before having a deep understanding of a particular concept.  One thing that I also continue to observe is that students sometimes struggle to be reasonable with their estimates. Part of that may be due to an over-reliance on algorithms and the other part may relate to exposure. Students aren’t given (or take the) time to reflect and ask themselves whether the answer truly makes sense or not.  This tells me that students are relying on a prescribed process or algorithm and reasonableness comes second.

In an effort to move towards reasoning, I’ve been using Estimation 180 on a daily basis.  I feel that the class is become better at estimating and their justification has improved.  Making sense with number puzzles also seem to be helping students create reasonable estimates and solutions.  Basically, students are given a story that has blanks.


Students are then are given a number bank. Sometimes too many numbers are in the bank.


Then students have to justify why they picked each answer.  This can be completed in verbal or written form.


Usually I have students explain their reasoning with a partner.  The class has completed a number of these types of making sense with numbers puzzles.  I can say that students are now looking more closely at the magnitude of the actual numbers before estimating or finalizing an answer. That’s progress and I’m confident that students are more willing to use that strategy along their math journey in the future.

We’re Back in Business


Students are scheduled to enter my school tomorrow morning.  It’s been a whole two weeks since I’ve seen my students.  Tomorrow, routines will be reestablished, backpacks will be filled, students will be chattering about their break, and students and teachers alike will get back into school mode after a brief hiatus.  As  tomorrow approaches, I’m reflecting on what my classes have accomplished and what still is on the plate ahead of us.  I spent a good amount of time yesterday planning out the next week of instruction and it confirmed my anxiousness to know that the school year is over half-way completed.  As I look over the next few months, I’m finding curriculum pacing guides, standardized testing, school performances and field trips all impact my instruction to a certain degree.  This happens every year and it has me thinking of what time I truly have left with the kids. I’m also aware that these next few months directly impact students in meaningful ways.  For some, this will be my last year with a group of fifth graders that I’ve seen since they were in second grade. I want to ensure that I make the most of that time remaining.  That doesn’t necessarily mean speeding through the curriculum.  I’m hoping to gives students opportunities during the next few months to make connections, reflect and set goals.  As we all come back tomorrow, I want to communicate the following to my kids:

1.)  The learning experiences that you’ll encounter in the next few months are intentionally designed for you to make meaningful math connections.  Perseverance will be key in helping you create these connections.  You might find that you don’t understand a particular concept when we introduce it.  That’s okay.  Learning is a process and we’re all in this together.

2.)  Group projects, individual assignments and standardized tests are on the calendar and will be approaching in the next few months.  Keep in mind that I believe you’ll will show your potential on all of these. The scores and marks will help teachers and your parents have a better understanding of your strengths and areas that might need to be bolstered.  Also keep in mind that the scores are a number and don’t represent who you are as a person.

3.)  Let’s celebrate a milestone.  We’ve worked hard and have made significant progress since September. Each student in here has made gains and I want us to reflect a bit on our success. There’s more to accomplish, of course, but reflecting on our past growth can also encourage us to move forward with additional confidence.

I’d like to communicate this to all my classes at some point tomorrow.  I won’t necessarily read off a script, but I feel like flushing it out on here is a decent starting point.

It’s time to get back into the routine of setting my alarm clock to wake up extra early.  I’ll be joining the trove of educators heading back into their schools this week.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

Random Sampling

Before break my students tackled the challenging topic of random sampling.  I feel like it’s challenging because some students tend to view their opinion as one that applies to other people around them.  It can be a tough concept for students to wrap their heads around. When I introduce this topic students have many questions.  Usually they follow along the lines of …

  • why can’t you ask everyone?
  • who determines if the random sampling is accurate?
  • how many people do you need to ask?
  • is their always bias involved in random sampling?

Some of these questions are more challenging than others.  Some I don’t even approach and let students make their own determination.  In the past, I had students create questions and ask a random sampling of students.  Students would then create charts and indicate whether they truly sampled the students fairly.  For the most part the activity hit the objective, although the sampling available at my school was minimal.  Students were able to ask questions about our school and students within.  Issues came up because of the lack of age groups and diversity.

Last Monday I participated in #msmathchat.  The conversation surrounded the topic of teaching about data and statistics.  Elizabeth sent out the Tweet below.

I saved the Tweet for later as my students are in the midst of their data unit.  I looked at it later that evening and thought I could immediately use it with my kids.  I put together a template that students could use as they progressed through the site.

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The next day students started at the skate park activity and used three random sampling techniques.  Afterwards, students were able to see the how their actual results compared to the entire population.  Students then moved on to complete the rest of the scenarios.  For the most part students started to change the way they asked the questions to get a better estimate.  This was a better activity than what I’ve used in the past.  The students responses to the last question brought a better insight to how students perceive random sampling.  I believe they’re making headway.  I’m hoping that the class can reflect back on this activity after break and they can take the benefits of that experience moving forward.

Two Different Camps


My school has six days of school left before break.  Between now and then I’ll be giving a unit assessment to my fifth grade crew.  We’ve been studying angle relationships for the past few weeks.  To be honest, it’s been a great unit but it’s also been challenging.    There’s been a good amount of struggle in this unit. It’s the good type of struggle.  Right now I feel like students are in one of two camps.

One camp is focused on the measurement and precision component.  When given a question about angles they want to take out a protractor and start measuring.  They want to be precise and get an exact answer.  I’d say that some in this camp perceive this type of geometry as a measurement skill, rather than a looking at it as a problem associated with angle relationships.

Where’s my calculator?

The other camp is all about looking at the angles and the relationships that exist.  They’re at the point of not even bothering to use their protractor.  They also look at the lines, rays and line segments that make up the construction of a shape.

A quadrilateral is 360 degrees and a triangle is 180 so …

Getting both of these camps on the same page has been an interesting adventure.  Both have positive aspirations and have been showing a tremendous amount of effort. I believe it’s important for students to use mathematical tools to solve problems, but that’s not what this unit is about.  For so many years students have been asked to be specific and precise when calculating and finding math solutions.  This is still the case, but students are now asked to use their understanding of angles and shapes to come to conclusions.

We had a classroom discussion last week about this very issue.  I asked students to put away their protractors and calculators.  They were asked to identify specific shapes and describe the characteristics of them in detail.  The class then explored the different polygons on the Illuminations site.  Click on the image to visit the actual site.


Students were allowed time to play and create connections.  The focus of the exploration was targeted towards sum of the angles in polygons.  The students in the first camp started to put their protractors away while the students in camp two looked at how the angle measurements changed when the triangle was stretched.  Looking back, this was such an important period of time.  Afterwards, students were given time to review angle relationships without using a measurement tool.  They were using their prior knowledge of shapes and relationships solve problems.  This was a bit of shift.  So, I decided to build upon the first task and added a reasoning component.

Getting camp one and two on the same page

I’ll be grading the task above tonight.  Including an “explain your reasoning” component added a bit for vigor to the task.  Based on the class conversations I heard today I’m thinking that students looked at precision as well as angle relationships while tackling the problem.  After grading them at some point tonight, I’ll review the results with the kids tomorrow.

Coding and Positive Changes

Our school is in the midst of the Hour of Code.  This year more than ever, I feel like there’s more of presence of how technology, coding and the curriculum are connected. This is due to a number of factors.  A new superintendent, technology coaches and additional teachers are all playing a positive role with this connection.

This year I intentionally looked for ways to incorporate coding into my math classes.  In the past, the coding was fun and beneficial, but it felt as though it was disconnected from the actual scope and sequence of the curriculum.  It was great during the Hour of Code, but then the whole idea faded once school hit winter break.   While searching for curriculum connections, I came across Brian’s fantastic blog.  I started to find direct curriculum connections that I could use for the Hour of Code.  The two different videos that I used are below. Both were used for a fourth and fifth grade classroom.

Both were great in connecting basic coding and measurement skills.  It was interesting to have kids use their schema, as well as trial-and-error to find out how to calculate the area and circumference.  I gave students an overview of the Scratch blocks and let them figure out the solution.

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I feel like this was useful as Scratch helped reinforce skills that we’re exploring in class.  I look forward to incorporating it a bit more as this week progresses.

Side note:  Earlier in the day one of our technology coaches sent the elementary teachers a Google Doc of different coding QR codes (first and third) that can easily be used with an iPad.  This information is available for all teachers to use as needed.  Some teachers need a starting point and this may provide just that. This is one of the positive changes that I noted above.