Celebration: Half a Drawer in a File Cabinet

This week I am celebrating half a drawer in a file cabinet. What’s there is not as important as what’s not. Here is the photo of said drawer.

 Celebration: Half a Drawer There's a Book for That

These files (seen below from a different perspective) are all of the files I have at school. Just these. No others! Really!! Half the drawer is paper files. The other half contains 2 baskets of math related stuff for practice.

 Celebration: Half a Drawer There's a Book for That

What’s in these files? Strategy sheets and games. They are used and reused inside write on/wipe off sleeves that we use during math.

I love these sheets for many reasons. They are low risk, easy to use and fun for the students. For me, they mean less paper, less marking (I snap photos and record on information as I observe on checklists) and they eliminate the “I’m done,” phenomenon of a fixed page. One set of photocopies. Multiple years of use. We rarely (other than our notebooks) write on paper during math class.

 Celebration: Half a Drawer There's a Book for That

I also love them because they are useful. Well used. Supportive of learning. A way for students to represent their thinking.

But . . . I am getting away from what I am here to celebrate. I am celebrating that I have no other files. NONE. This is it. No files full of “I may one day need this” papers. No files of “I should keep this just in case” papers. So. Little. Paper. Hurrah!

These files are in a two drawer file cabinet that is turned sideways and used as my “desk” On the side I utilize the magnetic properties of the cabinet to post schedules and class lists/checklists. On top, my day plan. A basket of sticky notes. A jar of pens. And once the year begins, usually, a pile of books.

I do have some papers in a few other places before this looks strangely impossible.

Relevant student documents for current children in my room are kept in a binder. I also have 8 magazine boxes full of BLM sheets that I use frequently. For example, wonder webs, Fact/React sheets, recording sheets for various things in Reading Workshop, etc. I keep multiple copies so we have these on hand when we need them for a particular activity. School schedules are posted on the side of my file cabinet (hurrah for magnets) and information for a Teacher on Call is posted on the inside of a cabinet.

Right now I have no floating about papers that end up in my letter box and take much too long to deal with. It’s the beginning of the year. I have cleared a space for these on top of a cabinet and am hoping that I can deal with them in a timely manner so they don’t overwhelm me. Paper makes me crazy. I have heard in a few places that we are either “pilers or filers” (not sure where this originated). I am clearly a piler so files mean that I will put papers in a place and never find them again. My math center (half a drawer of files) will be different because I need these things throughout the year and it is only one filing system to keep on top of.

So, this week I celebrate this little half a drawer of files. I celebrate that I bravely recycled a bunch of other papers that I hadn’t looked at in years. I celebrate that I “get” my relationship with paper (only took 20 years of teaching!) and that I feel “paper free” and happy beginning this new school year.

Half a drawer in a file cabinet. My celebration of pared down paper. 🙂

Anyone else out there with “pitching paper” stories? It’s beautifully freeing!

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community! Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: The absence of tears

This may seem like a strange thing to celebrate – but this week I celebrate an absence of tears. Two days in a row my students worked on some challenging pentominoes activities. Working with new materials and exercising visual spatial skills was not easy for many of us. If we had tried this in the first month of school, yikes . . . Yet, instead of tears of frustration, pleas for help or giving up, the room was full of quiet, calm and determination.

Celebration:  The absence of tears There's a Book for That

The task? Create rectangles with an area of 20 square units (4 pentominoes) or 15 square units (3 pentominoes) and squares with an area of 25 square units (5 pentominoes).

Celebration:  The absence of tears There's a Book for That

The strategies? Perseverance. Talk. Trial and error. Time

Celebration:  The absence of tears There's a Book for That

Day 2 was easier than Day 1.

Celebration:  The absence of tears There's a Book for That

Slowly we began to get used to how the shapes fit together.

Celebration:  The absence of tears There's a Book for That

When we made a rectangle or square we recorded our results – listing the letters of the pentominoes. And then, often, we helped some others. Helping is harder than it seems. How exactly do you talk someone through placing these shapes together? Lots of new language and descriptive vocabulary was being shared.

“Flip that one over.”

“Rotate it.”

“Think of it like an “L” in the corner.”

“Remember each side has 5 squares.”

“Think what space you are missing when you look at pieces.”

“Shift it around.”

“Try a different orientation.”

“Can you visualize the pieces you are missing?”

Celebration:  The absence of tears There's a Book for That

In more than 30 minutes of “work time” each day, some students didn’t once figure out how to successfully make a square or a rectangle without some assistance. Not once. And yet, they kept trying. Continuously. Without complaint. Hopefully. Focussed.

30 minutes and still trying. Still trying when others are shouting, “Got one!” Still trying when you believe you have one too and then you don’t. Still trying when you do get one because you had some hints and then you try a different solution on your own and it just won’t work. Still trying because you believe that eventually you will be able to do it. Still trying because on Monday, you just might be able to . . .

Celebration:  The absence of tears There's a Book for That

I am celebrating that I feel June in the air. Not June as in warm afternoons, end of the year energy. No. June as in confidence. Risk taking. A learning community that embraces faith as much as skills.

I celebrate this perseverance. The absence of tears. The presence of effort – pure, supported, trusted.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community! Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: Starts with the letter R


Over on my class blog, Curiosity Racers, I shared what happened as a result of this tweet from author Aaron Becker.

It is worth checking out.


All of those delicious R words have inspired my celebration post today.

I celebrate:


My children had a Professional Day on Monday so they came to my classroom with me. This was a wonderful experience all around. They were great helpers and my students loved to interact with them. All my most precious children in one room! Watching the students share their love of books with my children who have been raised on books was a most rewarding experience.

Celebration: Starts with the letter R There's a Book for That


I love the restless energy of science experiments. Our favourite Let’s Talk Science volunteers came in on Thursday morning and led the students through some activities to learn about density. The excitement, the observing, the predicting, the confirming, the “Oh I get it now!” moments.

Celebration: Starts with the letter R There's a Book for That


In math, we are solving a variety of multi-step word problems involving multiplication and division. I have been modelling different choices around using manipulatives or 100 dot array charts to represent the thinking. Students have been working together to solve and write equations that represent their process. I love the confidence, the starting over, the talk, the thinking.

Celebration: Starts with the letter R There's a Book for That


Yes, the results of our #MockCaldecott are in! The winners are . . .

I hope to be posting more about this soon!

Celebration: Starts with the letter R There's a Book for That


We have some very passionate readers in our room. When this title by Mark Pett wasn’t one of the winners (it was so very close!), one super fan gave it its own medal!

Celebration: Starts with the letter R There's a Book for That

And author/illustrator Mark Pett approved 🙂


There was lots of gushing over favourite titles in this #MockCaldecott process. Everyone had a chance to write about the books they loved and why. Oh, the book love! Celebration: Starts with the letter R There's a Book for That Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community! Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks. Read all of the celebrations by following the links shared here.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction “on the go” in our room

There are many ways you might know that nonfiction titles are important and well utilized in our classroom.

First of all, there are the visual clues. Some are organized by me – like our new book shelf full of titles on display that I have recently read or book talked. We add books here frequently and then switch them out and make room for more. Some live here for a while because they are very popular and students want to be able to find them easily. Some live here for just a little while – they are added when a reference comes up in a discussion for those students who want to read more. Centipedes came out when I read about a centipede in a silly poem and we talked about how many legs a centipede actually has and whether or not it was an insect. We talked about the word gnaw in word work and someone talked about how beavers and rats gnaw on things. I put a book about beavers on display. Fantastic Feet was a book by Melissa Stewart that I bought for the classroom recently. Lots of kids read it and started talking about animal feet and then animal tracks. We added books on these topics.

You can see how this shelf is well used!

We have a shelf like this for fiction titles too. 🙂

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

We also display book titles we have read with key words used so we can refer to them later. I keep a list of words on a sticky note on the inside cover as we read. These are great for those few minutes of waiting for announcements or when lining people up. For example,

“Think back to the book Salmon Creek, who remembers what an estuary is. Tell the person beside you and then we’ll take answers.”

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

Some proof of our nonfiction love is highlighted by the students who find connections in the titles they are reading and want to share. This child thought that the African landscape in the book Giraffes was similar to the dry land in San Diego when Kate Sessions (from the book The Tree Lady) arrived in this seaside town and was shocked by the lack of trees.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

These boys were very excited to find blue footed boobies in two different nonfiction titles.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

But you would also know that we are a class who loves nonfiction titles because we have so many nonfiction read alouds “on the go”. Walk into our room throughout the day and you might find us engaged with a nonfiction text. Currently we are reading pages from . . .

Math Appeal: Mind Stretching Riddles by Greg Tang Illustrated by Harry Briggs

My students love to try and solve a few of these riddles right after recess as we are waiting for students to get to the carpet. It’s great motivation to be on time!

If you aren’t familiar with Tang’s books, check out a sample page on his website.

Math Appeal Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

Another math title we have on the go is Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animals’ Lives  written by Lola Schaefer and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

I read a page at a time and we try and come up with all of the questions we would need to ask to figure out how the statement was made. Lots of gathering of information via question asking. For example, we just learned that a kangaroo has 50 joeys in her lifetime. We came up with these questions:

  • How many joeys does she have at one time? Single birth? Twins? More?
  • How long do kangaroos live?
  • How old is a kangaroo when she can have babies?
  • How many babies does one kangaroo have in a year?

The detailed information in the back of the book gives us all of the answers and then we figure out the math!

Lifetime Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

Time to Sleep by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

We read this book every Thursday between Word Work and Reading Workshop. I read about the animal featured on the page and then ask the children to predict or infer to answer questions about the creature we are talking about. There is additional information about each animal in the back of the text. For example, we just read about how the flamingo stands on one leg to conserve energy. After we talked about how this is vastly different from the way we sleep, I then asked the children what they think flamingoes eat, where in the world we might find them and how tall they think they are. After they discussed their ideas with their turn and talk partners, I read the information in the back of the book. Listening for specific information is practiced as I share additional details.

time to sleep Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World by Steve Jenkins 

This is our current nonfiction read aloud that we are reading in depth. We are talking lots, learning lots of new vocabulary and writing some quick summaries of our learning. Our favourite thing? Getting out our rulers and figuring out the actual size of each creature depicted on the page! In the back there is information about the size of each animal talked about. We love predicting and comparing.

“Who thinks a garden snail is smaller than 10 cm or larger than 10 cm? Get ready to mark its length on your ruler . . . Here is its length: ______”

 Eye to Eye Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction "on the go" in our room There's a Book for That

Nonfiction read alouds are never rushed in our classroom. They are springboards for further learning and discussion. When a book is finished, it has become part of our shared knowledge and who we are as learners.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2014. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!


My goal is to read 65 nonfiction picture books for 2014. Progress: 132/65 complete! More than double my original goal!


Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Numbers Big and Small

It’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday! NFPB 2014 Numbers: Big and Small

I recently read this very exciting numbers book to my class: How Many Jelly Beans? A Giant Book of Giant Numbers written by Andrea Menotti and illustrated by Yancey Labat (published 2012)

Two siblings explore large numbers while talking about how many jelly beans they would like or might be able to eat. (1 000  in a year seems doable suddenly when spread across a yearly calendar = just 2 or 3 a day) The jelly beans are visually displayed on each page – 10, then 20, then 25, 50 . . . 100, 1 000, 10 000, 1 000 000!! Every time the number gets larger, the jellybeans on the page get smaller. Such fun! Especially the last fold out that really does show a million jellybeans. My kids all got up and gawked and oohed and ahed. It was a “math aha” moment. “So that’s what a million looks like!”

NFPB 2014 Numbers: Big and Small There's a Book for That

Sharing this with my class got me thinking about what beginning number books have been recently released to share with younger children. I remember that my own children used to love counting and number books and I have been planning to add more of these titles to our buddy reading collection for when the Kindergarten class comes up to read with us. Children love to count together and explore numbers. At my public library I was lucky enough to find . .

Baby Bear Counts One by Ashley Wolff (published 2013)

This title blurs fiction and nonfiction but I am including it here because it is such a delightful title. A beautiful counting book about forest animals preparing for the winter. Colourful pages with perfect counting opportunities. One woodpecker. Two squirrels. Three beavers. Four . . .

NFPB 2014 Numbers: Big and Small There's a Book for That

Numbers Everywhere by Elliot Kaufman (published 2013)

Are there numbers everywhere we look? This book shows us that there are – some in print, some in shapes, some in nature. Photographs of numbers everywhere in our world. Would inspire a number finding walk!

NFPB 2014 Numbers: Big and Small There's a Book for That

1 cookie, 2 chairs, 3 Pears: Numbers Everywhere (A Clever Concept Book) by Jane Brocket  (published 2013)

Count from 1 to 20 via bright and colourful photographs of everyday objects – some we encounter often and some more unusual. I like the way numbers are grouped to help us associate counting strategies (“Five is useful for counting how many toes on a foot“) Will invite lots of counting and grouping objects found on each page.

NFPB 2014 Numbers: Big and Small There's a Book for That

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2014! 

My goal is to read 65 nonfiction picture books for 2014. Progress: 67/65 complete!

Multiplication Strategies

This post has nothing to do with something new and brilliant I’ve discovered about helping students learn their multiplication facts. Instead, it is about my learning. About a year ago, I wrote this post: Times (x) they are a changing . . . .  It was a reflection on how and why I stopped doing timed multiplication drills. Back then, I learned from my students about what they needed. We began to work on our facts in a different way and I was excited about what I saw.

In no way did I throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still believe children benefit from knowing their multiplication facts. Especially if they know them “by heart” so the answer to 7 x 8 is as easily retrieved as a birth date. This allows them to use these facts easily and quickly as they work on more complex problems in the intermediate grades.

But one year later, what am I thinking? Watching my students approach their daily practice with multiplication facts, I remain absolutely convinced that timed drills are not the way to go. Why?

*The stress of “being timed” just completely shuts some learners down before they even begin.

*Timed drills have a “test like” vibe and everything gets quiet. The “talking through thinking” stops and often, so does the thinking.

*Timed drills highlight what you already know as a teacher. Some kids learn their facts almost instantly, some learn them with lots of memory work and some struggle no matter what. So why create a situation that highlights this? It doesn’t highlight learning.

*Creating a situation where memorization is the only route to success means not everyone has success

What do I do instead? 

*We spend a lot of time on the concept of multiplication. The symbol x is taught as “groups of” so we would read this math sentence 2 x 4 as 2 groups of 4. We draw pictures. We work with manipulatives. We play games. We build and draw arrays (with blocks, graph paper, rows and dots) We solve problems (using pictures or blocks, etc)

* We then move on to learning that there are strategies to answering multiplication questions – this comes from our observations, discussion and the patterns we notice as we go. I never teach “tricks” at this stage like “just add a 0 to the other number when you multiply by 10” I let students figure it out themselves so that the “trick” is connected to the concept. Not so it replaces it.  It sounds something like this: Student A says, “I was counting by tens to solve these problems (4 x 10 and 7 x 10) but then I noticed that all of the questions that are groups of 10 always end in a 0.” Student B concurs, “Yes! It’s kind of like because you are counting down the 100s chart at the end part where you are skip counting by 10s. So you can just put a 0 on the end of the other number.” Another child listens to this and looks confused. Student A and B get out blocks or the hundreds chart and show them with skip counting.  They try out a few more and boom, they have a strategy that now works for them. And, they all understand because they have made meaning together.

*While we continue using multiplication to solve problems and even move onto division concepts, we do a daily practice sheet that contains 16 multiplication questions. Students move through these sheets at their own pace. They can talk. They can ask for support. Some work with a partner. Some get out blocks and build arrays. Some skip count on their fingers. Some do what they know first and then add on another group i.e. “I know 5 x 6 is 30 so 6 x6 is 30 +6)

What is happening in the room that wasn’t back in the days of timed drills?

*Self talk. I often hear a child talking through the questions

*Talking together and building knowledge

*Discovering strategies and sharing them

*Recognizing patterns

*Time and space to think

*Confidence and competence develop together

*And multiplication facts begin to become known facts. For some it is many. For others,    just a few. Some children are working on learning the 6s and 7s. Others are working with 2s and 5s. Others know them all fairly well and get sheets with a variety of questions to practice. When they feel ready, they tell me they want to move on. Often it just clicks and a child ralizes that they “just know” many facts and they get very excited to learn more. The exciting thing is when they move on to a new set of facts and recognize that they already know many of them!

*Everyone is making progress and multiplication is something we feel confident about!

So fellow primary teachers, how do you deal with learning multiplication facts? Would love to hear how things work in your room.

Our week in pictures

Life has been busy at Seymour School! But lots of great learning and working together has been going on. Some highlights of the past week!

Buddy reading with our little buddies in Division 7 (K/1) is always a highlight of our week. This week we broke out the rhyme and repetition bin and enjoyed the repeating parts of stories we could share together.

Sometimes books call to you, "Come into the story!"

Sometimes books call to you, “Come into the story!”

In math we have been working on skip counting. We find that physically moving numbers into sequence helps us practice the patterns really well. With 25s, we chanted “25, 50, 75, double zero!”

Follow the pattern!

Our reading group shared a fantastic book called Clever Beatrice written by Margaret Willey and illustrated by Heather Solomon.

Clever Beatrice

As we read, we charted the character traits we noticed in Beatrice and at the end of the story, took turns sharing examples from the text that illustrated each point. Soon, we will be doing this with a partner and then eventually, on our own,  as we read a picture book.

Character Web

In Science, we have been studying structures. Today we learned some new vocabulary to help us talk about bridges: approaches, foundation, supports and span. The task was then to build a bridge using just blocks and rulers.

This group attempted to make the longest bridge possible and even test drove matchbox cars up the approaches and along the bridge.

Straight and long!

Another group wasn’t interested in the longest bridge, they were all about interesting! This bridge had multiple approaches and reinforced supports. (And options for multilane traffic)


All over the classroom, bridge construction and team work could be observed. The adults loved listening to small group presentations about bridge design and how the groups worked together. One self assessment: “Next time, I will work harder at team work.” We really do depend on each other!

Bridges everywhere you look!

The Lion’s Share

One of our read aloud stories this week was The Lion’s Share – A Tale of Halving Cake and Eating it, too written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott

A little ant is invited to a special dinner hosted by lion and she wants to make a great impression. She is appalled by the manners and behaviour of the other guests who all arrived late and ate their way sloppily through the meal. After dinner, lion brings out a large iced cake and tells his guests to help themselves.

Students were suspicious. “He is just going to fatten them up and then he’ll eat them all,” suggested Jeremiah. Ricky agreed but added, “He will need a pack to bring down that elephant!”

The animals each took half of the cake and passed it on. The pieces became smaller and smaller (1/2 became 1/4 then 1/8 etc.) until the ant received her piece and crumbled it while attempting to slice the tiny sliver into two. The animals all appeared offended, accusing the ant of not sharing. The ant, wanting to make up for her supposed transgression, offered to bake a special cake for the lion. Well . . . none of the other animals wanted to be outdone by the ant and begin to promise cakes as well – each offering to bake twice as many as the last offer.

“Wow! This is like math!” exclaimed Jenny as students began doubling the numbers to predict what the next offer would be. After each animal had made his or her offer, we added all of the promised cakes together using a variety of addition strategies. 511 cakes! (1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256)

“Why was each animal promising to bake twice as many?” someone asked. (It’s great when students get to use math vocabulary in a meaningful context as it is often the language and not the operations which throw them with word problems)

Students answered. “To show off.” “To beat the others.” “They are competing.”

“But the ant was just calm.” said Scott.

The rest rushed it and the ant’s cake was the best.” observed Kevin.

“The ant wanted to make it special but the rest were competing.” Jena agreed. We had a great conversation about quality vs. quantity.

Then the math thinking just began to flow. Alyson noted, “511 cakes would take more than a year to eat if you ate one cake a day.”

“But less than 2 years,” said Ricky. “Because if you double 365 and you get 300 and 300 – that’s 600 so you already know it is more than 511.”

A lovely read aloud that led to some spontaneous math thinking. Fractions. Doubling. Addition. And some pointers on table manners! What could be better?

Highly recommended.

It was spatial awareness day! How did we do?

Part 1

First, it was all about fractions. These activity sheets are from Math to the Max 3.

P1020905We have continued using pattern blocks to cover figures on the page and then trace what we’ve done. Students are being asked to think of covering a figure with blocks that represent a specific fraction but this doesn’t mean you can tell from the fraction how many of each block you will need. It is necessary to visualize the figure in thirds to complete this task. Look closely.

P1020910On this page (pictured right) students were asked to visualize the shape split in half. If a figure is half blue and half green, it might be one blue block and two green blocks, because two green blocks cover one blue block. When adding a red block, you then must add three green. So a figure can be covered in two red blocks and six green blocks and be 1/2 red and 1/2 green. Some of these took multiple attempts before they were figured out.

Part 2

Then, in the afternoon, we moved on to making a maps. The task? Create a map of the school yard from a “bird’s eye view” perspective. The criteria?

  • work cooperatively within a small group
  • use any flat objects you can find in the classroom to represent buildings, places, objects (Students used paper, base ten materials, rulers, pattern blocks, lego, etc)
  • no pencils or crayons allowed
  • be prepared to explain any parts of your “map” at any time
  • anything you take out, must be put away at clean up time
  • have fun!

The results were fascinating!

P1020938These students were able to “visualize” certain areas of the school grounds very easily. In the foreground of this photo you can see their earthquake shed, the garden, the garden bench.

The only problem? They couldn’t orient themselves clearly. Their garden area is actually where the brick building should be and on the other side.

There was lots of talking, lots of discussion, lots of flexibility around new ideas within this group but nobody could get a vision happening that everyone could understand. This task was harder than it first seemed!

P1020929This group worked very well together. If you listened to them, they kept cheering each other on. “We have to really work together here!” “Good idea!” “Why don’t we try . . ?” In this picture you can see that the pieces of paper represent both school buildings and the large grey paper represents the gravel field complete with goal posts.

P1020936Here is the same group again from a different perspective. These students had thought out breaks in the fence (for entrances, parking lot, etc.) They had included the playground, the basketball court, the concrete soccer area, the stairs to sit on and watch, the spinners, etc. etc.

Anytime somebody said, “What about. . .?” everyone stopped and figured out a way to adjust the map. This was the beauty of building this rather than trying to draw and continually erase.

This group even cut out green circles of paper to represent trees as they would look circular from above. Clever

P1020940I love this version of a parking lot spaced out using lego pieces. The problem for this group is that it was too big compared to the scale of their buildings, etc. How could they take this idea and modify it? Unfortunately we ran out of time before they could think this through. The little green triangles represent the grass on the sidewalk surrounding the school.

Why did we do this? Well, for many reasons. We are beginning a mapping unit to look at Canada in North America. I wanted students to understand that the drawing on a paper of a map is a representation of the world we actually live in. This is very hard for some students to grasp because of course we don’t inhabit a flat two dimensional world. I thought if we tried to represent our “little world” of Seymour School on a map (built, not drawn and from a bird’s eye view perspective) it might open up our thinking when we try to visualize how a map represents places we live. If nothing else, it was an awesome hands on, creative, student centred activity. Lots of thinking. Lots of discussion. A little bit of arguing (of course 🙂 ) Some new perspectives. Well done Division 5!

Times (x) they are a changing . . .

Times Tables

Multiplication facts

No matter what you call them, knowing them helps as we move up the math concept ladder. I use multiplication facts frequently in the “real world” and knowing my facts helps make my problem solving faster. At the grocery store – 3 kiwis for $1.00 I have $5.00 with me So . . . I want about a dozen. If I buy 12 (3 x 4) then I’m going to have enough money (4 x $1.00) Yes, I need to understand a few things to do this mathematically but knowing 3 x 4 and the rule about multiplying things by multiples of 10 and 100 helped me solve this much more quickly.

In the primary grades we begin to explore the concept of multiplication. I often start the unit with a game of Noodles and Plates (Math to the Max Grade 3 Number Operations) I don’t tell students how to solve the equations. I just explain the rules of the game and let them get started.

P1020690The game is lots of fun. You need dice (I like the soft foam ones to cut down on the noise), pencil and paper. Player 1 rolls one die and draws that many circles for plates (if you roll a 4,  draw 4 plates) Player 2 then rolls and draws his/her plates. Then player 1 rolls again and this role determines how many noodles go on each plate (some kids drew tally marks, some drew numbers) Player 2 does the same. Then write a math sentence to represent your turn. (i.e. 2 x 6 = 12) Whoever has the higher total wins a point. Start again. We could have played all day. Everyone was on task, partners were helping each other solve the equations. Lots of math talking! Full on engagement.

To make this more complicated for higher grades, roll both die!

By the time we have played this game for a math period, many kids totally “get” groups of (which is how we read the math statement 4 x 2 is 4 groups of 2) and have started applying repeated addition and skip counting without me telling them to. We then practice more – linking repeated addition (5 x 3 is 5 + 5+ 5) , skip counting (5, 10, 15), working with arrays, understanding that 2 x 3 is the same as 3 x 2, understanding that 4 x 3 is the same as 3 x 3 + 3  etc. Building strategies and understanding through hands on activities, drawing models, looking at pictures, etc.

But how do I help them start committing these facts to memory? Next year’s teachers want them to know their facts. Knowing their facts helps make more complicated problem solving easier (well at least faster). Yes, there are calculators and computers and all but sometimes we won’t be carrying a device with us. What to do?  I had been doing drills – many kids loved them! Math drills. Yippee! These are the kids that have “number sticky” brains. They just know math facts – they stick in their brains and don’t leave. I was one of these kids. I still remember correcting my Grade 3 teacher’s math drills on the board (“You already put 5 x 6 for question 3“) She always gave me that Aren’t you a delightfully annoying child? smile and got up from her desk to fix it. (How did she ever have time to sit at a desk?) But not everyone has those sticky brains that facts just stick to . . .

The other kids tolerated them. We would answer 16 questions in 90 seconds – each child working at his/her level (once you had 3 16/16s in a row you would move on) So some kids had worked their way up to the 7s and 8s. Some were still on the 2s and that was okay. There was progress. We did math drill corrections. We trudged along.

But this year a few things changed. We started this process and it didn’t go so smoothly. I still had the celebrators and the tolerators but now I had a few rebellors (is that a word?) Some kids just wouldn’t do it with the timed aspect etc. And you know? I kind of respected them for it. Then I lost my timer (or maybe it walked away?) This was a sign. It just didn’t feel right. So we stopped for a few weeks.

But I got back to thinking about it. Do we need to memorize? Isn’t process as important as product. Don’t I need to allow students to begin developing and shaping their own learning?

The answer? Not sure. Here is what I am trying. We are going to still work on these 16 questions a day at our individual levels. But I’m removing the timed component and therefore the “drill” aspect. Instead, I pass out the sheets early in the day and students try to finish them by day’s end. Some finish in 16 seconds truthfully because they have “math fact sticky brains” Others take all day (working on the questions at various down times). They are noticing patterns, they are applying strategies, they are talking to others and asking for help (yes that’s okay and even encouraged) math peer tutors (self-appointed) are talking them through it (“Remember you can skip count” “You already did 3 x 6 so 6 x 3 is . . . “) Then I ask them to tell me when they are ready for the next level. Because, (really what was I thinking before?) they know better than me. Self directed learning. Student ownership. And what do I do? Guide, mark, respect, give feedback, smile and count up my celebrators 2, 4, 6, . . . 14, 16 🙂

P1020712Working on questions together allows for all of that fantastic “talk” time that is necessary in math. Not talking by me but talking by students. I can confirm “Ms. Gelson, if I want to answer 7 x 2 – that’s like 7 + 7 right?”

“Yep.” and move on. The child is on a roll, I am not needed.

Peer teaching is some of the most powerful teaching in the room!

P1020708So I asked the students what they think of this new system.

They were happy to share.

“When you are rushed, it confuses you. When you take your time, you learn it better.” That timer will not be coming back!

I don’t feel so much pressure. It’s better.”

“Now we have time to draw out the ones we don’t know.”

Look what happens when you ask!!



So now I am getting drill sheets handed in with little notes like the one on the right: “I’m redy to move up.”

“Can I move up?”

“I wanna move up.”

“I can do the next.”

If they are writing me these notes and still making errors, I let them know and we practice a few more times. If they are consistently getting perfect scores and don’t tell me they are ready, I offer encouragement.

The big thing here that I’ve learned – communicate with your students about their learning. Watch for the signs they are giving you. Listen . . . and you will learn.