Focus on Math

Helping children become mathematicians!

Student Participation: Using Technology to Choose the Next Speaker January 30, 2014

Screen shot 2014-01-30 at 9.57.22 AMI do an extensive amount of problem solving with students, and part of each such lesson is devoted to sharing strategies for solving the problem. As teachers, many of us have looked for ways to give “equal opportunity” for all during sharing (which also ensures that no students are “coasting” and never choosing to share an answer, a strategy, or an opinion).

There are some “low-tech” ways to accomplish that, such as to write the name of each student on the end of a popsiscle stick, place all the sticks in a jar or can, and then pull the sticks out of the container one at a time. When a name is called the student is asked to share something.

I have recently learned of an app for iOS devices that can replace the popsiscle stick jar (or any other low-tech method you may be using).

iLeap Pick A Student is a simple app designed specifically to help teachers pick students to help or participate in class. It supports multiple different classes and various options to choose students. Choosing a student randomly will pick any student from the class, and using turn based selection every student will be picked before any student is picked again. It requires the teacher to input the class list (or multiple class lists), and the rest is easy.

Pick a Student is available to download for free on the  iPhone App store.  It can be used on iPhones, iPads, iPods, and other such iOS devices. You can find out more about the app here:

Happy Problem Solving!

Mathematically yours,



Kindergarten Collaboration: Synergy at Work January 29, 2014

Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 1.34.19 PMMany thanks to the three K teachers at Bert Ambrose Elementary School who invited me to participate in their math collaboration afternoon. It was wonderful to see what two hours of “math chat” did to energize and inspire them. One of the teachers admitted right at the beginning that when he saw me, he felt he ought to do a “woohoo!” (since that comes out of me so often regarding math) but that it just wasn’t in him. By the end of the collaborative session the “woohoo!” was back and he and the two others were excited to go back to their classrooms and integrate more mathematics into both “centres” and the “free play” parts of the school day.

One of the things we talked about was the need for kindergarten (and pre-K) children to count. Saying the numbers in order is important, as is counting in a one-to-one correspondence (one count for each item).  It is also important for children to realize that the last number spoken names the number of items in the set (a principle know as “cardinality”).


Here is one way to give students the opportunity to practice counting. Place at the centre several containers of things which can be counted. These can be blocks, large beads, erasers, plastic animals, etc. Students are to take a handful from one of the containers, count the items, and write the number of items on one of the hands on the recording sheet provided. Alternately you can provide only a single kind of counter and have students vary the amount grabbed each time (i.e., grab a large handful or a small one).

Download the recording sheet for Grab a Handful here.

I hope you will give the activity a try!

Mathematically yours,



Building Numbers: A Kindergarten or Primary Activity January 23, 2014

building numbers chips 2

I visited Mrs. Merrill’s kindergarten class today. The focus of the math lesson was on building numbers to 10, we did this with a large organizing sheet (11” x 17”), some small dot cards (each student had a set of cards 1 to 10 — download below), and small bingo chips. Students were asked to place a dot card over each square on the paper, and then use the bingo chips to make another set the same size in each box.

Some students chose to lay their cards out in rank order, while others were happy to just lay the cards in any order they pulled the card out the small bag. We also noticed some students organizing and building left to right in the boxes, while others built randomly on the page.

building numbers chips 1

The organizing sheet is very “generic” on purpose allowing it to be used in a variety of ways. The number for building can be generated by a dot card, by rolling a die (or dice), by placing a number word card (e.g., “two”) over the square, by dropping a bean onto a 100 chart, etc. Students can build the number with counters, with little ten frames (I find children love to work with tiny things!), with base-10 blocks, etc.

building numbers 10 frames

I have not figured out how to put a large 11 x 17 paper into Dropbox, but if you will print out the template you want onto legal-sized paper, you can then enlarge at a copier 121% and it will fit the 11 x 17 page rather nicely.

I have created templates for building 8 different numbers as  well as for building 10 different numbers. The latter could be used for 100 Day activities by building 10 in each space for a total of 100.

Dot cards can be downloaded here as well.

I hope you are able to use the activity in one of its “versions” in your classroom!

Mathematically yours,



Jayden’s Rescue (Revisited) January 22, 2014

Screen shot 2011-05-31 at 3.46.07 PMI had the wonderful opportunity to be a guest reader in Mrs. DeGroot’s grade 5-6 classroom this morning. She was ready to start reading the novel Jayden’s Rescue by Vladimir Tumanov aloud to the class, and I had the privilege of starting it off. (See my previous post on the novel for more about the story and the math involved in it.) The students each had a copy of the Four Quadrants processing strategy (created by Susan Close and Carole Stickley) on which to jot ideas, important words, sensory information, and pictures that came to mind as the story was read.

We were also prepared to do the mathematical questions that would arise in the story as part of the rescue task.  The first problem that comes in the book is this:

I am the father of nine sons, all one-eyed monster boys.

I keep an eye on all my lads as they play with their toys.

A three-eyed monster once dropped in and brought his sons along.

Three bulging eyes were on each guest.

Oh! What a blinking throng!

Together all the monsters had exactly forty eyes.

How many three-eyed kids were there?

The numbers tell no lies.                              Jayden’s Rescue, p. 24

It took a bit longer than I had anticipated getting to that question on p. 24 (not to mention that that the lunch period began 15 earlier than I had expected it to!) so the students ended up not having a chance in the morning to share their solutions/strategies to the question. I left that in Mrs. DeGroot’s capable hands to finish up.

I believe the book is presently out of print, but copies are available from used-book sellers. It is definitely a book worth tracking down and reading to a class in the grade 4 to 6 range.

Mathematically yours,



Upcoming Pro-D Opportunities in the North Peace Region January 20, 2014

pro-d pic amFriday, January 31 is a professional development day here in SD#60 (Fort St John, BC), and I am offering two different math sessions that day.

In the morning session we will focus on the operations of multiplication and division and look at ways to help students develop meaning, understanding, and fluency regarding them.

pro-d pic pmThe afternoon session will focus on helping students grades K-7 to build general math competency and understanding.  We will look at the routines and activities that teachers can put in place to build number sense and allow students to make more meaning of the math they are learning.

It’s going to be a great day — I hope you can join us!

Mathematically yours,



Mathematics Lessons: Fun or Engaging? January 8, 2014

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 11.08.38 AMI have the opportunity to work with many teachers and student teachers regarding the teaching of mathematics, and there is one phrase that I hear repeated like a refrain: “I want this math lesson to be fun!”

I must say that, too, want students to enjoy mathematics, and even further, I want them to be willing to persevere when the content proves to be a challenge. At that point math seems more like “work” and less like “fun” to most students.

That is why I never begin a lesson telling students that it will be “fun”. I think when we set them up with that idea that in their heads they interpret “fun” as piñatas and parties or something much different than what we will be presenting.

Instead, I purposely begin a lesson in such a way as to engage students’ interest, to pique their curiosity, to get them wondering. I try to engage the students fully and deeply in the lesson, and I am always surprised at their responses. At the end of the lesson I almost always hear one or more of the students in the class call out, “That was fun!” What I like, however, is that the word “fun” is being used in their own context of meaning, not one I am trying to impose on them.

If we only try to put fun things before students, how will they learn to persevere in tasks that are not quickly solved? It is critical that students experience problem solving where they have to figure out the answer based on what they know.

Engaging math lessons are far more likely to develop positive attitudes about mathematics than are a steady diet of “fun” lessons.

Mathematically yours,