Focus on Math

Helping children become mathematicians!

Ecole Muheim Elementary, Smithers, BC: Math Week May 20, 2014

Math week picMy appreciation to the staff at Ecole Muheim Elementary in Smithers, BC, for your great participation in the workshop last Friday! With the weather as beautiful as it was, and the fact that it was the beginning of the Victoria Day long weekend, your focus and participation is doubly appreciated!

One of the things we talked about at the session was the idea of breaking away from the traditional focus of teaching mathematics in units that are seldom revisited. You know, the three-week unit on fractions, after which we do very little with fractions for the remainder of the school year. I showed you the “math week” I worked with as a classroom teacher, and promised I would post a copy of that.

Please note that the main focus everyday was on number and operations. I think particularly in elementary school that this is often neglected. We will do units on patterning, on geometry, and such (which, of course, are valid topics in mathematics!) that go for weeks at a time while leaving behind number. I personally believe that this is not the best way to cover the topics, and so propose a weekly plan where the other strands/topics are addressed in mini-lessons.

I have had teachers tell me that the idea of juggling all of the different topics at once was overwhelming – and to that I offer the plan of keeping the mini-lessons the same for a week or two. Even doing that you will be covering all of the topics each grading term, which I believe is a very good thing.

You do not need to re-invent the wheel so to speak when it comes to the mini-lessons. For example, as you consider what you will do in the patterns & relations mini-lessons, you can go to your regular textbook source and use lesson ideas from there – you will just chunk the lessons into smaller bits and do them in successive lessons.

I coached one teacher regarding the Math Week system, and she created for herself a series of thin binders to keep track. Her Monday binder had the unit content photocopied for the topic for each Monday mini-lesson, and she just highlighted the chunks she was going to do and numbered them in the order she was going to do them, and thus in one planning sitting she laid out for herself the next 8-10 mini-lessons on that topic. She did this same thing for each of the days of week. The system worked very well for her in that manner.

Download the Math Week sheet here.

For the Muheim folks I will add links here to a number of the handouts we used so you have access to clean copies of those:

–100 dot arrays (1 large)

–100 dot arrays (4 per page)

–100 dot arrays (6 per page)

–100 dot arrays (12 per page)

–number of the day level 1 (English)

–number of the day level 1 (French)

–number of the day level 2 (English)

–number of the day level 2 (French)

–number of the day level 3 (English)

–number of the day level 3 (French)

–base 10 grid paper (larger)

–percent circles


I would love to hear about the ideas you are trying in your classrooms! Please comment on the blog or send me an email!

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,



Win Sum-Thing from NCTM Illuminations! September 20, 2011

I subscribe to a list serve from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics‘ (NCTM) website Illuminations. If you have not visited there, it is a great source of lesson ideas for mathematics classes of all levels.

I am copying part of one of their recent emails where they are announcing a contest based on trying a particular posted lesson which explores patterns on a 100 chart. Even if this particular lesson does not “tickle your fancy” or you feel it is not at an appropriate grade level for your class, it is well worth your time to take a look at the Illuminations site. There are lots and lots of good lesson ideas there. Here is the information that came to me:

Win Sum-Thing!

Win a classroom set of A+ Tiles simply by trying your hand at an Illuminations lesson. In the lesson Do You Notice Sum-Thing?, students are asked to consider patterns that occur when various tiles are placed on a hundreds board. For a chance to win a full classroom set of the tiles or an individual set of A+ Tiles, try the lesson with some students and then do one of the following:

* Submit a picture (or link to a gallery of photos) of students participating in the lesson.

* Share a link of student work from the lesson.

* Post a link to a video of students participating in the lesson.

* Submit a write-up of things your students discovered during the lesson.

* Create an extension for the lesson.

Share your picture, video link, or write-up on our Facebook page, “NCTM Illuminations.” The link or photo that receives the most “likes” by 5pm ET on Thursday, October 6, will receive a classroom set of hundreds boards provided by A+ Compass. Additionally, ten other randomly selected entries will win an individual set of A+ Tiles.

Entries should be uploaded to our Facebook page, NCTM Illuminations. Or, you can submit to Christa Koskosky,, who will post any emailed entries to the Facebook page.

Mathematically yours,


Get “Illuminated”! May 13, 2011

I was talking to some math teachers yesterday, and one of the things I mentioned to them was a great site run by the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) called Illuminations. The site is a treasure trove of lesson plans and activities for grades K-12. Many of the lessons have interactive applets embedded in them and, as such, are suitable for using with a white board.

Searching for particular lessons is easy. You can create a specific search by choosing a grade band, math strand, and then adding specific terms (for example, gr 3-4, geometry, with the words “right angles” typed in) or choose to cast a wider net and use broader criteria in your search. There are some really wonderful ideas there, and I encourage you to bookmark the page and try some of the ideas presented.

Remember as you look at lessons and/or activities that they are grouped in four grade bands: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. You will need to be aware of the curricular requirements of your province or state and check the lessons and/or activities against your curriculum. It is, of course, never a problem to “stretch” students beyond the given curriculum, but for assessment purposes, it is important to assess against the standard set by the grade level curriculum.

So, here is the link:

Go have a look! I know you will find some great ideas there!
Mathematically yours,