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Back to School Math!

August 1, 2017

It’s hard to believe we will all be back in our classrooms soon, with a fresh group of students ready to soak up all the knowledge a new school year has to offer! I’m not quite ready to give up my summer yet, but I am starting to think of ways I can better my teaching this year. There are so many fun ways to incorporate math into your beginning of the school year routines!

Name Tag Numbers

This activity will be fun for students as they get to know each other and practice number sense. All you need is a stack of name tags! Take a number and write it a different way on a few name tags. For example:

  • 651
  • six hundred fifty-one
  • 600+50+1
  • use a photo/drawing of place value blocks to represent the number

Do this with 4-5 numbers and give each student a name tag, then have them find the other students in the class who have name tags that represent the same number. You can make this a great ice-breaker by having the students complete a task together once they find their group.

I Have, Who Has

This game is perfect for any grade level! You can easily find a set of cards on TPT or at most education stores. My place value set is a favorite in 3rd grade! I love this game because it forces students to practice listening skills and interpret the information on their card.

If you’ve never seen this game, here’s how it works: each student gets a card with a picture or phrase on it. The first card might say “I have 63. Who has 7 tens and 8 ones?” The player with 78 reads their card, which says “I have 78. Who has 2 hundreds, 4 tens, and 2 ones?”…so on and so forth. I love to have my students playing this game from the beginning because it is perfect to use as a warm-up game for so many lessons throughout the year! You can have them start with review skills from the previous year.

Me By the Numbers

This one is perfect for your first hallway or classroom work display! Modeling is essential for this, especially with the younger grades. Have students create their own chart giving information about themselves using numbers. Some ideas include their age, number of pets, number of siblings, birthday, favorite number, house number, number of soccer games they won/books they read over the summer… really anything with numbers will work! Let them be creative! Here is a sample chart I found, but you could easily create one that fits your needs!

There are so many great ways to use math during those get-to-know-you first days! Wishing all of you a wonderful start to the school year!


10 Ways to use the 100 Chart!

June 17, 2017

The 100 chart is easily one of the most useful tools you can have in your classroom! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a class that doesn’t have one displayed either on the wall or on student name tags. They are so versatile! If you’re looking for some fun and creative ways to increase basic numeracy understanding, look no further than the 100 chart! Today I am going to share 10 ways to use the chart to build number sense.

  1. Skip Counting – Give students a printed 100 chart and a set of crayons to practice skip counting. Ask them to identify numbers in the skip counting series by coloring them (count by 3s and color all the numbers in the 3s sequence yellow).
  2. Addition/Subtraction – For students who need tangible tools to see addition and subtraction, a 100 chart is a great option. They can tap numbers with their finger or pencil to show increase and decrease.
  3. Number patterns – Students can look for number patterns in basic or complex equations. Ask students to find 18+6, 28+6, 38+6, etc. What do these have in common?
  4. 10 more/10 less – One of my favorite ways to use a 100 chart is to help students develop the concept of 10 more and 10 less, or 1 more and 1 less. Finding these patterns will help them so much in more advanced math concepts!
  5. Missing Numbers – An added level of difficulty to 10 more/10 less. Give students part of a 100 chart and see if they can fill in the missing boxes based on their knowledge of the 1 more/1 less, 10 more/10 less patterns.
  6. Factors and Multiples – Give students a number and ask them to shade the factors or multiples of that number on the chart. This is a great way to practice multiplication facts!
  7. The Direction Game – Give students directions (written or oral) and see if they can find the secret number on the chart. For example, you could ask students to start at 47 and give them these directions: left, left, up, left, up, right, up. What number do they land on?
  8. Race to 100 – a very popular game in primary classrooms. Students roll dice and move that many spaces on the 100 chart. First to 100 without going over is the winner. They can use 1 or 2 dice. For an extra challenge, have students record the numbers they land on and add them up at the end.
  9. Number Puzzles – cut up a 100 chart however you like and have students piece it together. You can make this activity as easy or as difficult as you like!
  10. Everything Plus Nine – Start at any number on the chart and have the students add 9. Repeat this process a few times then ask students to identify any patterns they see on the chart. Once you have done “plus nine” several times and discussed the pattern, move on to another number (plus 11, plus 5, etc).

There are so many ways you can use the 100 chart to help students develop concrete number sense! I hope these ideas will give you encouragement to dust off that chart and put it to good use in your classroom!


Reading About Math

June 7, 2017

Today I was spending time organizing my classroom library (getting it ready to pack up for summer break!), and I came across some of my favorite math-inspired picture books! I want to share some of them with you and hopefully give you some great motivation to connect your math lessons to literacy.

A Place for Zero by Angeline Sparagna LoPresti

This is a wonderful book for introducing or reviewing place value. I have used this book in all grades K-3, and each time I read it I get some really great discussion from my students about place value. The story has great math vocabulary to introduce basic place value, and also connects to more advanced concepts such as multiplication.

Sir Cumference and All the King’s Tens by Cindy Neuschwander

The Sir Cumference series has a book for almost every math topic. These are must-haves for your math library! This story follows characters as they try to find ways to organize and count a growing number of party guests. Students can follow along and predict what the next step will be, and they love counting along with the characters.

Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream by Cindy Neuschwander

I use this book for reinforcing multiplication concepts with my 3rd graders. The main character loves to count things, but can’t keep up and must learn to multiply. This book is a great way to show students why they need this math skill in their everyday lives.

If You Were a Polygon by Marcie Abof (and other books in the MathFun series)

The MathFun series includes several “If You Were a…” books, including polygon, quadrilateral, plus sign, minus sign, times sign, division sign, fraction, minute…there are so many topics you can use these books for! I love that they use real-world objects and scenarios so they are very relatable to students of all ages.

Tally O’Malley by Stuart J. Murphy

This is a fun book to use in the primary grades to introduce or reinforce using tally marks to solve math problems. The story follows a young girl playing car games with her siblings on a road trip to the beach- something we can all relate to! While you’re looking at this one, check out some other Stuart J. Murphy books, like Bigger, Better, Best!, a great book for working with area and perimeter concepts in older grades.

There are so many wonderful books you can use to incorporate literacy into your math lessons! These are just some of my reliable favorites I’ve used over the years! What books do you recommend for your math classes? I’m always on the lookout for new reads! A teacher can never have too many books 🙂 


Number Talks: How It Works

May 31, 2017

So, What are Number Talks?

Number Talks are brief math discussions that reinforce basic number sense. Students guide the discussion and respond to each other’s thinking. It is a wonderful way to get students talking about math! The teacher’s role in a Number Talk is to record student responses, not to guide their answers. There is a great book by Sherry Parish that goes much deeper into the how and why of Number Talks- it is definitely worth checking out!

Short and Sweet

Because Number Talks are designed to be short (5-10 minutes), they can easily be built into your everyday math block. In my classroom, we begin lessons with Number Talks, and, on occasion, do our Number Talks when we have a small break in between subjects/special areas/lunch. We use Number Talks to review and reinforce skills we have already covered- in 3rd grade it is great for reviewing multiplication and division strategies. When I taught 1st grade we did a lot of addition/subtraction, as well as combinations of 10 and 20. There are so many things you can do with Number Talks!

What Does It Look Like?

There are a few guidelines for Number Talks. Students are not using manipulatives or their math toolboxes during the exercise. The problems presented should be solvable using mental math. It is best to do a Number Talk in a common area, such as the carpet or kidney table if you’re doing it in a small group. The teacher needs something to record student responses- chart paper or a dry erase board. Once you are all set, here is the procedure:

First, the teacher presents students with a problem. Then, students use nonverbal signals to show they have an answer. In my class, students put a thumbs-up to their chest to show me they are ready to respond. Be sure to give enough think time- I like to wait until at least ¾ of my class is ready to respond.
Call on a student and ask how they can solve the problem. Listen and record as they work out the problem. This can be tricky for the teacher, as we want to guide their thinking. Remember that your job is to just record what they tell you. Students who agree with the strategy will show you using a nonverbal signal- thumb and pinky up, thumb to their chest, pinky pointed out.
Ask students if anyone has a different strategy. During this time, I have my students show me how many other ways they can solve the problem by putting that many fingers against their chest.
From here, I call on students to share different strategies or to use Accountable Talk to correct an incorrect procedure. We continue this process for about 5-10 minutes.
I have seen even my most timid students sharing out during Number Talks this year. It is a great way to encourage math discussion without students feeling the pressure of “being wrong”. As a teacher, Number Talks has really opened my eyes to strategies that I would never have thought of, but come naturally to my students. It is so fun to listen to them solve problems in different ways and seeing how their precious minds work! Do you use Number Talks in your classroom? I’d love to hear how they have changed your math lessons!


Featured Math

Number Lines: a Multipurpose Tool

May 9, 2017

I have to admit, by the end of each school year I have looked at number lines for so long that I am ready to swear them off for good. Over the years I have found so many ways to use a number line in my classroom- it seems like we can apply a number line strategy to any skill! The number line has become an essential tool in my classroom. My students have a number line on their name tags, in their math toolboxes, and one at home that they made to help them with homework. We also have so much fun making our own number lines for different skills throughout the year! 

Number Lines for Addition and Subtraction

This is probably the most well-known way to use a number line in an elementary classroom. Students can use their fingers to physically add and subtract numbers. This tactile and visual tool helps them to understand the process of adding and taking away. There are also number lines with intervals of 2, 3, 4, etc. that are created to aid in skip counting. These are wonderful tools for primary level math students. Bonus: skip counting number lines are GREAT for multiplication table practice!

Number Lines for Fractions

Fractions make up a large part of the third grade math curriculum. Under the umbrella of fractions, we teach comparing fractions and finding equivalent fractions. This is a great opportunity to break out those number lines again! In addition to fraction tiles, fraction circles, and other hands-on materials, number lines provide a clear example of how different fractions compare.

Number Lines for Elapsed Time

If you’re like me, just thinking about teaching elapsed time is enough to make you want to run screaming from your classroom. It is by far my least favorite math skill in 3rd grade. I search each year for new ways to teach it, and using a number line can be a helpful tool for students who need to see the breakdown of hours and minutes in equal groups, as shown below. Many students are starting at just being able to tell time on a clock, and using a number line is a great way for them to understand the concept of elapsed time.

Number Lines for Rounding

My class had a particularly hard time with rounding at the beginning of this year. Cue the number line! We worked with both straight and curved number lines so that they could “see the rounding” and make sense of it. We used paper number lines, but we also made some out of jump ropes and clothespins, adding a physical movement element to our rounding lessons. One of their favorites: making “roads”- number lines on sentence strips- then using toy cars to show the rounding. To do this, make a hill out of your sentence strip, with the midpoint being the tip of the hill, then you place the car on the number you’re rounding and let go. Whichever side it rolls down on is the number it rounds to.

The number line can be applied to almost any skill! There are countless resources online about using number lines to teach math concepts. How do you use number lines in your classroom?


Let’s Play Games!

April 26, 2017

This post is all about some of my favorite math games to play with my students!

Garbage (2 players)

I loved to play this ten frame game with my Kinder and 1st grade students! Simply have each player lay 10 cards face-down in the format of a ten frame and leave the remaining cards in a stack in the middle. Remove all the face cards. The aces count as ones. The first student would draw a card from the deck. The card would replace the face-down card in its corresponding spot on the ten frame, and the card that was removed can either be placed in its spot or, if not needed, placed in the “garbage” pile. The next player can use the discarded card if needed, or draw another card from the excess pile. Play continues until one player has filled up his/her ten frame.


Greedy Pig

Choose a “knockout” number for each round. Begin by rolling dice (1 or 2 depending on how difficult you want the game). As you roll dice, students record their numbers. They stay standing as long as they want to stay in the game; they sit when they think they have gone far enough. If you roll the “knockout” number, they lose all their points for that round if they are still standing. Once students sit, their points are safe. Students add their points up at the end to determine the winner.

Number Necklace

All the credit for this one goes to a 4th grade teacher at my school! She told me about this and I have been using it to develop number sense with my Tier 2/3 students. I give students an index card necklace with a number on it. We practice basic tasks such as:

  • If you have an even number, sit down
  • If your number has more than 4 tens, do 2 jumping jacks
  • Find a partner- find the sum/difference/product of your numbers.
  • If you can take 16 away from your number, clap twice.
  • If your number is more than twice your age, put your hands on your head

You can work on a variety of number sense skills with this activity, and the students love it! Number Necklaces has been a great warm-up for the first 5-10 minutes of our day!

Salute (3 players)

This game is one of the favorites among my students every year. Students play in groups of 3- two students are the players and one is the referee. The referee gives each player a card face down. To begin the game, the referee says “1, 2, 3…Salute!” and each player puts their card to their forehead so that they can see their opponent’s card but not their own. The referee then says “the product (sum) of your numbers together is ___.” The first student to guess their own number wins that round. Have students rotate so that everyone gets a chance to salute and to be the referee. My 3rd graders love this for multiplication practice, but it is so great to use for addition as well! You can add a timed challenge as well, to see which group can get through the most rounds in a set amount of time.

I love to use games as a fun way to reinforce number sense and practice math facts! Playing games is a great way to get students engaged and invested in their learning!


Must-Have Math Apps

April 16, 2017

Let’s talk about technology! It’s everywhere, it’s impossible to avoid, and we should be embracing it! Let’s face it- your students are probably more skilled with technology than you are, and definitely more knowledgeable than you were at their age! If you’re lucky, your school is outfitted with the latest and greatest tech tools. Hopefully you at least have some laptops or tablets for students to work with at school. Today I am going to share some of my favorite math apps and websites that you can use in your classroom to help students develop their math skills!

            I LOVE this site! Our school/district has purchased a subscription, and while I’m not sure how much it costs, I can definitely say it’s worth the money! What I love about this site is that students can practice specific skills that they need across a variety of grade levels. If I have 3rd grade students working on a 2nd grade level, I can go to IXL and assign them specific 2nd grade skills to work on, which is great for filling in those gaps! I currently have a student working above grade level, so I have printed a list of the 4th grade skills I want her to work on, and she’s working through those skills at home. 

Math Duel

            This app is great for partner work! Its split-screen format allows 2 students to compete against each other for a math facts challenge! It’s not a free app, but I have it on my personal iPad and the students like to play it during inside recess, or use it as a reward from my Dojo store. The new update has a single player feature, but my students love competing against each other!

Math Cards

            I keep this app on my phone so that we can play in the hallway while we wait to go in to the lunchroom/special area…basically any time we are waiting. You can choose flash cards from any of the four operations. One element I love in this app is the multiple choice feature. If a student is struggling with a fact, you can tap the screen and the app will offer answer choices. This one is simple but awesome!

Math vs. Zombies

            This app is fun and silly, but also great for practicing math facts. The objective is to answer math facts correctly and quickly enough to turn zombies back into humans. You can adjust the difficulty level and practice all four operations, and the problems get more complex as the players move up in levels. This app is a student favorite!

Splash Math

            This series of apps is categorized by grade level. It’s a very colorful, fun, and interactive app that allows students to practice a variety of skills aligned to the Common Core standards. Each grade level has a separate app, which can make it difficult to differentiate, but they are free so I don’t mind downloading multiple!

            This website is great because you can search for games based on topic or grade level, and they have several different activities for each skill. It is primarily math-oriented, but it also has “logic games” which challenge students to use reasoning skills to solve problems. It is also a KidSafe certified website, so all content or ads you may see are kid-friendly.


These are just some of the apps and websites that I love to use with my students! I am always on the lookout for more great tech resources, and I’ll make sure to share with you when I find great ones!

Art Integration Math Uncategorized

Math + Art = 1 Nervous Art Teacher

April 7, 2017

My recent posts here on Tenspire have shared my love for arts integration and the challenges it brings.  Incorporating content standards into my art room has been very successful in all grade levels and that’s what keeps me motivated to try new things.

Let’s talk about one academic area I may not be as confident with!

Has there ever been one thing you were terrified of trying in your classroom? One thing you knew you could never be comfortable teaching no matter how much you’ve studied and prepared? As a new teacher, I am still learning and I am still afraid to try new techniques and procedures with the students every day! But my one thing I am afraid of incorporating in my room is MATH! Yes, math. My nemesis in my past life as a student. Math was always my weakest subject because it just didn’t make sense to me. Looking at all of the word problems, numbers, fractions, decimals, equations with letters, and graphs before trying to solve the problem automatically made me feel defeated. Once I finished my last math class in college, I thought I would never be faced with mathematical challenges again except for the math we all do on a daily basis. Once I became a teacher and saw the strong push for academics into the special area classrooms my stomach dropped when thinking about possibly looking at a math lesson. I know there are students in my school who feel the exact same ways I felt as a student and even now as an adult.

At my school, we are assigned teaching partners, a teacher that we must observe during the school year. We are assigned this partner based off of strengths and weaknesses we have in the classroom and with our teaching. The day I observed my teaching partner, she was teaching…just wait for it… MATH. That was the moment I realized it is time to venture into the math world to see what I could do. I truly felt more confident after her amazing observation than I ever did sitting at my computer and failing when creating a math/art lesson. I knew I would have to build up my confidence and begin learning fun ways to incorporate math in my art room for students and for myself.

What topics do you feel uncomfortable teaching? What have you done to make your weakness a strength?


Subitizing: More Than Just Pictures

April 6, 2017

Several years ago, while I was teaching Kindergarten, I was introduced to the concept of subitizing. If you’re not familiar with it, subitizing is getting students to recognize quantities in a group without counting them. My class was working on identifying quantities in a ten frame, and they loved practicing with subitizing cards. I printed various ten frames on brightly colored cardstock, turned it into a game, and instantly had student engagement! Since I’ve moved up to 3rd grade, I have learned so many more ways to use subitizing to help students develop procedural and conceptual number skills.

Procedural Subitizing

In early grades, we want students to recognize groups of objects. With Kindergarten and 1st grade, I worked on single ten frames, 1 face of a die, and 1 group of tally marks.

For subitizing practice, you can print pictures like these (on cardstock and laminate for future use) and gather students on the carpet or at the small group table. Show the students one card at a time for only a few seconds, then turn it over and ask them if they can tell you how many dots/tally marks they saw in the picture. Three seconds is a good amount of time for the single sets- if you see students start counting on their fingers turn the card over. The purpose is to get students recognizing numbers of objects without counting. I tell students to “take a picture” with their brain so that they can still see the image when I turn the card over. There is also a great **FREE** iPad app called Number Flash that you can practice with! 

Conceptual Subitizing

With the older grades, I use subitizing cards for addition practice. With this strategy, you can show them a card with 2 or more groups of items. You should still encourage students to take a photo with their mind, but the goal is that they recognize one group of 10 and one group of 4, and they can quickly add the groups together. I give around 5-6 seconds for these cards. Again, flip them over if you catch students counting. Below are some examples of groups I put on my conceptual subitizing cards. 


Developing early numeracy understanding and addition fluency is so important, and subitizing is a great way to practice those skills! Your students will love the challenge of recognizing/adding numbers in only a few seconds, and you will love the increase in basic number sense that subitizing gives your students!


Small Groups, Big Gains

March 28, 2017

This year most of my math instruction has been done in a whole group setting. The primary reason for this has been the amount of information I need to get in each morning during my math block, which unfortunately seems to get the short end of my daily schedule. Recently I have been wanting to rework my math instruction but wasn’t sure how to make the best use of time and increase effectiveness. So, I set out to find what would work best for myself and my students.

Finding a Model

I am lucky enough to work with teachers who happily share their classrooms with me whenever I ask to come observe their amazing instruction. I traveled down to the 5th grade hallway to watch a teacher who was recommended to me because of her effective small groups. I got some great ideas from her and set out to try some with my 3rd graders. It took a few tries and a few rough days, but we have finally transitioned into smooth small group rotations. I have been amazed at how it has changed my math class!

What’s the Secret?

Every teacher and each class is going to look different during small group instruction. Here are some things I’ve learned over the past few weeks:

  • Groups should be fluid. Move your students from group to group depending on their level of understanding. This will change skill to skill. The student who aces comparing fractions may struggle to tell the difference between the hour and minute hand on a clock. Be flexible!
  • Activities completed at their seats should be an extension of what you taught in small group. Think of it like slowly letting go of a child riding a bike- make sure they know what they’re doing, then send them on their own to practice the skill.
  • Establish a routine! This one is SO important. Small group time is precious – make sure you can use every minute of it by establishing clear guidelines and expectations for students at your table and students working at their seats. Have students physically practice moving from station to station around the room before you start your groups. It may seem like a waste of time, but it will pay off in the long run!
  • Conversation is everything! My favorite thing about my small groups is listening to the mathematical discourse as my students discuss their thinking. It allows me to hear them explain their thinking and find gaps or patterns in their learning.
  • Use visuals and manipulatives. Small groups are the perfect time to introduce new models and hands-on activities. You can closely observe to make sure they are using them correctly, which will cut down on having to repeat directions during whole group instruction.
  • Get ready to be AMAZED by your students! I have found that my students are so much more comfortable and confident doing math in small groups. They want to discuss their thinking and, even better, they want to talk about what they don’t know. I am loving the honest conversations we have at my small group table!

If you are someone who has always used small groups for reading but never really thought about them for math, give it a try! I think you will be blown away by how much deeper you can go with your instruction!