Category Archives: Math

Standards of Math Practice in Report Cards??

Today I was at a day long meeting on report cards.  Our district is looking to align our report cards to Common Core.  I was brought in to sit with the 6th grade team.  We have 3 elementary schools that have 6th grades at their sites.  We also have 2 middle schools with 6th grade.   This year, my 6th grade elementary teachers are becoming aligned with the 2 middle schools.  And because I’m from the middle school genre, I’ve been an integral part of the transition.  Same textbooks, same curriculum maps, just different locations.

Back to the report cards….so coming into today, I knew my teachers wanted to do whatever the middle school was doing.  And I was there to advocate for them.  Game on!

We first made a “hopes and dreams” list.  They wanted consistency with middle schools, letter grades, and simplicity.   But then we looked at report cards from surrounding districts.  We realized that not many surrounding districts have 6th grade at their elementary schools.  However, one particularly interested me and it looked like this…..

IMG_6112And this is started a lively discussion.  Should the standards of math practice be on a report card?   Why are they on a report card?  How does this district formally assess for this?

One of the team said that it seemed similar to “math reasoning.”  I asked them how they graded for that.  They told me it was dependent on word problems and application.  Interesting.

And then I took to Twitter.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.54.32 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.56.21 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-10 at 7.11.11 PM

Loved the feedback.  And all of the tweets validated my initial gut reaction.  I don’t think the standards of math practice should be on report cards.  Report cards are designed as a communication tool for parents to see academically how their child is progressing.   The content is what I (as a parent) would be concerned about.  The SMP’s  or the “how” they are taught/presented is for the teacher’s use.

Agree/Disagree?  Please feel free to share your thoughts.



Kindergarten Rocks!

Today I spent some time in a kindergarten classroom.  Those tiny humans are inquisitive, direct, and full of spunk.  What I love about them is that there’s a whole world of wonder waiting for them and they’re ready to soak it in.

And let me tell you something about the kindergarten teachers.  They are ROCK STARS!  Especially the one I worked with today, Mrs. Z.  We spent sometime last week planning for a lesson.  She had given me a list of topics they were covering and she wanted my help to plan something.  During our planning time, I introduced her to Graham Fletcher’s 3 Act Lesson and Which One Doesn’t Belong.  We also read Joe Schwartz’s blog on the same 3 Act lesson pertaining to Shark Bait.  She was totally thrilled, but wanted to  plan her own 3 Act lesson.  Now it was my turn to be totally thrilled!

Here’s how the lesson went.

As a warm up,  Mrs. Z started the class with Which One Doesn’t Belong….except she did it Kinder Style!  What’s Kinder Style?  Kinders work on sorting by attributes.  So she posed the question “how would you sort these?”

These smart little people came up with 5 different ways to sort these dice.  There categories would be color, size, shapes (Numbers versus dots or circles), corners (big and small), and the number 5.  They were absolutely engrossed.

Next she started the 3 Act lesson that we designed.  Act 1 – She introduced Alex the Alligator (alligator – K). We needed to find out how long Alex was.   She took some guesses (which varied from 8 cubes to a million!) And then the students got to work.IMG_6029

Act 2 – We handed out the clues.  We made sure to keep grouping the colored cubes in 5’s so that they could practice their counting and cardinality.

The students vigorously got to work.  The hunt was on to find the correct number of cubes and the correct color.  As Joe Schwartz noted, it was important to print out colored context clues for those students who couldn’t read yet.

Once the students were finished, we compared cubes on the carpet.  Mrs. Z reviewed their estimations and revealed the answer on the Powerpoint.  She also went over which estimations were the smallest and the largest.

Act  3 Once the estimations were finished, she asked the students to draw their own Alex the Alligator and show how the alligator was 18 cubes long.

Nathan drew blocks around the number 18.


William drew 18 blocks on the bottom.
Those are some ferocious teeth.  18 dots represent the cubes.

Final thoughts….

Mrs. Z and I did debrief (my favorite part) at the end of the day.  We both agreed that kinders need a story to go with the 3 act lesson.  They need context to wrap their heads around why they are finding the length, height, etc.    She also wants to create 3 act lessons that have 10 solid colored cubes plus a few more so that she could start addition problems with the kinder.

My favorite part of our debrief (and I’m paraphrasing)–

Mrs. ZI’m so glad you are helping me.  I don’t want to be that teacher that just hands out a worksheet.  I want to be better than that.  I want to keep learning.  

Well put, Mrs. Z.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.


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.


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.