Focus on Math

Helping children become mathematicians!

Add Math to Your Open House September 18, 2014

Filed under: General Math — Focus on Math @ 10:09 am

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 9.55.22 PMBack-to-school usually brings with it an open house for parents and guardians to come in meet the teacher and see the classroom. As a classroom teacher I always encouraged the students to come to the open house along with their parents*, giving the students the opportunity to act as docents or guides for the occasion, taking their parents through the various stations (usually 5 or 6) set up around the room.**

Before the event we practiced the proper way to conduct introductions, and the students would put that into practice at the open house. Introducing their parents to me, the teacher, was the last station to complete for the students to complete.

I always included one or more math components in the event, most regularly a graph. Earlier in the day or week the students and I would make a graph of an opinion question (e.g., favourite pasta, sport, or singer). Once the graph was created we would use math to investigate the data (math applicable to the grade level of the students: from simple “How many more…?” and “Which was preferred most?”  kinds of questions for younger students to “What percentage of students preferred…?” kinds of questions for older students.)

The graph and what we learned from the data would be displayed at the open house, and the students were to discuss it with their parents. Additionally we asked the parents to participate in creating a new graph — we put the same question put to them. I always asked the students to predict ahead how they thought the parents’ graph would be similar to the students’ graph, and how they thought the two would be different. The day after the open house we would investigate the data again and compare our predictions.

*note: All my experience as a classroom teacher was in schools designated “inner city” with a transient student population. I always invited my students to come to the open house on their own, even if their parents/guardians could not come. I also made sure a few of my own friends were there that evening, near the classroom, so that any student who had no adult with them could still have the experience of acting as docent to one of my friends.

** note: Other stations set up for the evening included things like these: explaining our classroom behaviour contract; discussing our goals for the year; demonstrating some of the math “thinker tools” (manipulatives); demonstrating a simple science experiment.

I hope you will try making your open house an interactive experience!
Mathematically yours,


Welcome to SUCCESS! July 31, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 12.36.30 PMAs I write this the summer is half over — at least for students and teachers in BC, Canada. Schools are generally out for July and August, and then begin after Labour Day in September. I know in other places school will resume in mid- or late-August.

Whenever it begins for you, my question is this: what tone do you set in those first days/weeks of school? What is the most important message that you relay to your students?

For me it was simply this: WELCOME TO SUCCESS!  I had cut the letters for that saying out of construction paper 12 inches high (one letter for each page) and I stapled the message above the chalk board at the front of the classroom.

I talked about student success many times each day for the first few weeks. I basically inundated the students with the message that they would succeed in my classroom because I would not let them fail. I would do whatever it takes to work with them to be successful throughout the year. Failure was NOT an option — this was a classroom of successful students! I even went so far as to tell them that it was their lucky year getting  me for a teacher! Oh, there would be work involved along with lots of learning, talking, thinking, wondering, solving, thinking, testing, proving, thinking, recording, demonstrating, thinking… But we would be working together as a class and each and every student would be successful.

I was especially vocal about success in mathematics. I was teaching grade 6/7 in the early years of my “WELCOME TO SUCCESS” campaign, and it was clearly evident that a large proportion of the class came to me telling me they did not like math and that they were not good at it. I knew the real story was that they did not UNDERSTAND the math and they were not good at remembering all the rules. My plan was to work continually with the concepts in the mathematics knowing that once they understood they would get better and be more confident. My promise was to help them be successful even in an area of study they thought they could not be successful in.

The wonderful things was, of course, that my statement of declaration proved true year after year. All of the students WERE successful! They believed me when I declared it (I guess I said it and they read it so many times that they could not help but believe it!) and ultimately their personal belief regarding their personal success was a turning point for them.

I will ask my question again: what tone do you set in those first days/weeks of school? What is the most important message that you relay to your students?

Mathematically yours,


Math in Nature July 15, 2014

Filed under: General Math,Parents — Focus on Math @ 3:03 pm
Tags: ,

Pinecone fib pic 1When you are spending time in the outdoors, one of the mathematical things you can look for is the connection in nature to the Fibonacci number sequence. Of course, one must know the sequence in order to recognize when it shows up in nature, and it is as follows:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…
Do you see the pattern? It begins, with 0 and 1, and after that each successive number is the sum of the two previous numbers. Thus the number after 34 is 55, derived by 21 + 34 = 55.

The sequence shows up in nature in a variety of ways. For many flowers, the number of petals that they have is a Fibonacci number. Looking at the bottom of pinecones, the number of spirals formed, whether left spirals or right spirals, is a Fibonacci number. This is true for pineapples and sunflowers as well. The number of seeds found in fruit is often a Fibonacci number. The next time you are eating an apple or orange, or squeezing lemons for lemonade, stop and count the seeds! Even when looking at how plants branch off a stalk or grow their leaves we can see the Fibonacci sequence.

Click here for one great site for delving into this further— there are many others out there, too!
Happy number hunting!
Mathematically yours,

Pinecone fib pic 2  tree branches Fib pic


GPS: It’s All Based on Math! June 12, 2014

Filed under: General Math — Focus on Math @ 12:55 pm

Ever wonder about how a GPS works? It is all based on math — lots of math, in fact! Here is a delightful explanation of how it works that was shared with me recently. I enjoyed watching it — I hope you do to!

Mathematically yours,


Breaking Apart Numbers: Practice Sheets May 27, 2014

Screen shot 2014-05-27 at 10.57.33 AMI have mentioned before about the importance of breaking numbers apart, of having students understand that every number can be broken into smaller numbers. I have included this practice on all of the Number of the Day sheets (level l, level ll, level lll) that I have posted, but it warrants adding these other sheets that focus on this Whole-Part-Part number relationship.

Regularly practicing this skill can change students’ thinking. They will be much more likely, in any given situation involving numbers, to look for alternative ways of thinking if they have spent time pulling numbers apart in many ways.

Remember, the students are not starting with a new number in every circle. Rather they are using one particular number for a line or for the whole page! In different situations it may be more beneficial to break a number apart in one way than it is in another way.

Mathematically yours,


download the breaking into two parts sheet here

download the breaking into three parts sheet here

Screen shot 2014-05-27 at 10.57.53 AM


Mathematics is Much More than Numbers on a Page May 22, 2014

Filed under: General Math — Focus on Math @ 11:34 am
Tags: ,

Screen shot 2014-05-22 at 11.27.16 AM One of my favourite quotes about mathematics: “Mathematical notation no more is mathematics than musical notation is music. A page of sheet music represents a piece of music, but the notation and the music are not the same; the music itself happens when the notes on the page are sung or performed on a musical instrument. It is in its performance that the music comes alive; it exists not on the page but in our minds. The same is true for mathematics.” — Keith Delvin

Are your students really DOING mathematics, or just working with notations on a page?

Mathematically yours,



Carollee is Retiring –from SD#60 but NOT from math!! May 21, 2014

Filed under: General Math — Focus on Math @ 2:10 pm

Screen shot 2014-05-21 at 1.52.20 PMIt is with great delight that I let you all know that I am retiring from my position here at School District #60 Peace River North. I am off to live in Comox, BC, on Vancouver Island, near my daughter and her family. I will be leaving The North in just a couple of weeks after being here for many, many years.

I will NOT, however, be retiring from MATH! I will certainly continue with this blog, and I will continue to work with schools and districts to work toward better math instruction and learning. My time for such involvements will be much more flexible and I am looking forward to new endeavours.

If I have had an impact on YOUR teaching, thinking, etc., or if you are just wanting to send good wishes, feel free to contribute to the google presentation that will be shown at the retirement tea on June 3. (I am under strict orders to NOT visit that site so as to be surprised at the tea itself!)

The google presentation site is this:    (You will have to copy and paste this one as I do not want to open the link myself LOL).

This has been a great journey, but it is time for a new chapter.

Mathematically yours,


PS: The poster is the handiwork of my colleague and friend Toni Thompson.



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