All posts by Kristen

Math- to write or not to write?

 “Math and writing, like oil and water, seemed to have little in common.” ~Marilyn Burnsoil-water-immiscible_46d45cfae26322d3

Last week I presented on a topic that I, as a math teacher, finally figured out a few years ago.  When I had my own classroom, I was sent to a few writing workshops.  I usually entered any workshop/presentation with hope of coming out with one idea.  Luckily, the Write From The Beginning program was just what I needed to get a spark of an idea.

My middle school had been integrating performance tasks into our curriculum for quite sometime, however some of them always seemed incomplete.  Something more was missing.  It took a few trial and errors, but I started my students writing a few paragraphs on what they did.  I used the writing prompt “John Smith was absent yesterday.  Explain to him the activity and what we did.”   For an Angry Birds parabola project (teaching Algebra), I had them compare and contrast each of the methods used to find out the birds’ flight paths.  Students wrote 6- 8 paragraph essays—-IN ALGEBRA!  It was very successful!

A fourth grade teacher approached me a few months ago with the same issue.  She wanted to tackle writing in math.  I told her what I had done in my classroom and we planned ahead.  We started with a performance task (Stone%20Soup) and created a writing prompt to go with it.  After weeks of planning, I finally got to see it in action.

After watching a video about Stone Soup and reading through the performance task, the students got to work immediately.   The teacher, Mrs. P, had the students do all their brainstorming and work on a sheet.  It was there that they showed all the work and mapped out their thinking.

Once they finished and shared their work about question one, we all worked through the rest of the questions.   Not knowing how to show the work for all the veggies, I stepped into help.  We came up with a grid to show the total number of green onions, chopped meat, and baby carrots.



From there, the teacher had the students do a writing prompt.  She asked the students to write their own version of Stone Soup.  What ingredients would they include to serve Mrs. P’s class of 30 people?  The students were really engaged in this part.  She got all the students to plan out on their Thinking Maps.  The students wrote these creative stories involving some expected ingredients and also some unexpected ingredients.

During our debrief of the whole experience, Mrs. P kept saying, “WOW.”  I asked her if this was a good or a bad wow.  She exclaimed, “A good wow”.  She explained how she kept wanting to quit, but something in her told her to persevere.  And she was so happy she did.  Mrs. P couldn’t believe that she covered reading, writing, and math all in one assignment.  It was incredible.

In a future post…I’ll explain the different types of writing I’ve tried out in classrooms and what my thoughts are on writing.


Victories of coaching


Have you ever felt like this after coaching?


This is what I’ve felt for the past two days.  Proud, satisfied, exuberant, joyful, and just happy.  My work has been so fulfilling.  I’m one of those people who loves to put a smile on other’s faces, get them laughing, and realize that we have to enjoy life despite any hardships we endure especially in education.  We gotta have a laugh.

My victories will be written extensively in other posts, however I had to share right away.

Briefly…I presented on “Writing in Math” and it went extraordinarily well!   I was on Cloud 9!   Teachers who came were left with a lot of wheels turning.  Other ELA coaches were pondering as well.   More on that coming soon….(in another post).

Secondly, I felt like a proud parent/mama of some of these teachers because I’m seeing the “fruits of my labor”–for lack of a better term.  One teacher is facing her fear of math and becoming empowered, excited, and confident.  She loves the trust we’ve built with each other.  She knows I’m not there to judge her, but just have a professional conversation.  She’s brimming with ideas for us to do.  Yesterday, I came in to watch her do a numbers talk and then I did a division activity with her students.  By the end of the hour, I was jumping with joy (on the inside).  There was really rigorous work going on–not only by the teacher, but by the students.  It was amazing to see.  By the time I went back to my car, I was so overjoyed that I started to cry.  Tears of victory. Tears of joy.

And then today, we debriefed about the whole lesson.   The conversation was so rich.  Thought provoking questions.   Plans for the upcoming units.

But what really moves me is that the teachers that work with me value being teachers.  They are pushing their practice.  They want to learn.  They want to think outside of the box.  They want to try.  It’s nothing less than extraordinary.

However proud I am of my teacher(s) and the work I do with them, the victory isn’t my win.  The victory is theirs.

Number Talk Images

Can I just say that I can’t get enough of visual math routines?  Or do you call it a number talk image?

Some call it a visual number talk.   It’s a picture that’s shown with a known quantity.  Students may start by making observations and ask questions that are lingering in their heads (AKA Notice/Wonder–thanks Annie Fetter!)  Once their questions are answered, they may try guessing a number that’s too low.  Next they’ll try to guess a number that’s too high.  The last number they’ll write down is an actual estimation.

Why should we do this?

  • Develops students’ understanding of quantity
  • Give numbers meaning
  • Help students see the relationships of numbers to one another
  • Support an understanding of how numbers operate

The conceptualization of quantity is foundational to number sense. As students’ abilities to visualize amounts improve, their number sense improves. Their strategies and mental math become efficient and quick.

Once I was introduced to this routine, I was ADDICTED!  It became a mission of mine to find my own pictures.  My goal was to develop a collection of everyday items (thanks Target!) that any other ordinary human would pass up.  Well, this April Fool has you covered.  Every now and then, I stumble across something and take pics like a crazy person.  And yes, I will sit there and count.

So here is something I came across during the after-Christmas sales. How many storage boxes are there?IMG_5834

Just in time for Valentine’s.  How many hearts are on the front side of this bag?



If you are interested in more of these, I suggestion Andrew Stadel’s Estimation 180.  And if you are interested in more images ,Pierre Tranche’s Number Talk Images is really cool.


Oh…and not to leave you hanging.  There are 60 storage boxes and 388 hearts.



It’s “Nacho” Business

I have a son who’s 10 years old.  He goes to school in the district in which I work.   When he was in third grade, I was asked to volunteer at his school’s Harvest Festival.   The third grade team was selling nachos.  “Sure, not a problem.  How bad can it be?”

What I walked into was in one word–EPIC.  A math teacher’s dream.  I was scheduled to only work a half hour.  I stayed the entire night. 

6 crock pots of nacho cheese were brewing.  Bags upon bags of nacho chips.  It was quite a production.  Selling nachos was “serious business.”

And so a math problem unfolded right in front of me.   The team of teachers was selling  cheese nachos for $2.00 and nachos with cheese and jalapeños for $3.00.  By the end of the night, the nacho leader proudly informed me that they had made $700 which was amazing. But the question remained…how many nachos did they really sell?

Let me clarify something from these pictures.  There are 8 desks/tables filled with nachos. Being there the entire night, these tables were fully filled twice.  (27 bowls of nachos can fit onto 1 table)

Selling nachos with the third grade teachers
Selling nachos with the third grade teachers
27 nacho bowls can fit onto one table


I can’t eat, smell, or touch nachos without this experience being remembered.  My husband still has nacho burn marks on his hand.  However, we wouldn’t trade in that night for anything.