Report cards, snow, flu and tired bodies didn’t stop over 50 teachers from attending the second part of ‘Back to the Basics’. It always amazes me that these dedicated teachers attend after school workshops to network, share and learn together. Thank you all for caring so much about your students and helping them to make sense of mathematics. We all agreed that we want our students to understand the basic addition and subtraction facts by applying strategies that make sense. Please continue the conversations and building the important foundation with our young learners.

# Now I Know My ABCs

blog post by Lillah Martin

This afternoon over 70 teachers gathered to hear Sandra and I talk about the basics of teaching the alphabet. Most children come into our classrooms “knowing” the alphabet because of the ABC song, or TV shows that showcase the alphabet but they do not have an alphabet awareness that makes sense to becoming writers and readers. We have many little learners that think “lmnop” is one “thing”!

We revisited a very old program based on Anna Ingham’s blended sight sound method, with some adaptions of our own, and shared a story for all 26 letters, that gave the explicit sound as well the letter formation. Using this “method”, the letters are introduced in groups of 2 or 3, selected by the way they are voiced, common usage, or sometimes the shape they have. We spent time noticing where the tongue is in relation to the roof of the mouth, or the teeth, what shape the lips take and analyzing how the sound “feels”. Many children need to have this pointed out to them. The letters are introduced quickly, explicitly, and with an engaging little story that the children can easily remember .

By the nature of this method, all letters are introduced within a month, left on display, referred to in meaningful ways that build connections, allowing for each learner to take their next steps in a developmentally “makes sense” way.

The “what next…” in the classroom was also shared with ideas for using children’s names, alphabet books and embedding letters/sounds at every opportunity. With small group explicit instruction and meaningful activities to target specific areas you will see a joyful explosion of confident writers and readers.

The alphabet song does still have a very important place in our classroom—it should be visible in the room and sung at least 3 times a day as it lists the letters in order, is a great strategy tool for learners to go to when they are looking for a letter they need BUT every time it is sung, someone needs to be tracking and touching the letters in the song. Sing it fast, sing it slow, sing it high, sing it low, sing it with stops at specific letters, and try to sing it using the sounds. Play with it asking questions like “how many letters have holes in them, straight lines, or curvy lines?” Notice which ones are tall, which ones hang down, which ones are in your name, your friends name, which ones “are easy for you” etc. Make it so familiar that all learners feel success with the 26 keys to our language!

# Back to the Basics – A Better Way

Another amazing group of over 70 primary teachers met after school to learn more about teaching the ‘Basic Addition and Subtraction facts’ in a meaningful way on February 12, 2014. This was part one of a two-part series. I am always so thrilled to see the dedication of hard working, caring teachers who want their students to truly make sense of mathematics.

It is so important for the students to establish a firm foundation of ‘Number Sense’ before teachers start presenting strategies to help students understand the facts.

We know that students still need to “know their facts”, however, memorization and timed drills didn’t work for many students (and still doesn’t). Some of our struggling mathematicians have been drilled for years and still struggle as they enter high school. . A structured, thoughtful and systematic approach is required for all students to build understanding, fluency and application of the basic addition and subtraction facts. Teachers need to provide ‘direct instruction’, guided practice, and then independent practice. The concept behind the ‘gradual release of responsibility’ is so important in providing the opportunity for all students to build understanding.

Many of the ideas presented are taken from Carole Fullerton’s resources.

“Mastery of the facts is very different from memorization of them. Mastery depends on the co-existence of overlapping competencies as shown in the following diagram…”

“Promoting these competencies through direct instruction, rich tasks and meaningful practice will allow our learners to truly master the facts.” Carol Fullerton, 2012

Let’s provide the opportunity for all students to build a strong understanding of the basic addition and subtraction facts. Stay tuned for Part 2!

# Putting It All Together ~ Using Big Books and Pocket Charts ~

In the 70’s Don Holdaway developed the ‘Shared Reading’ strategies, which combined the powerfully positive context of bedtime/lap story reading with literacy instructions designed to promote active problem solving. According to Holdaway, in a shared reading experience, there is a bonding between the expert and novice readers.

Shared reading is an important component of any primary classroom. It involves:

- Read-along reading
- Whole group activity – text seen by all
- Modeling
- Consolidating emerging reading strategies
- Re-reading independently

**The benefits of ‘Shared Reading and Writing’:**

- Experiencing the joy of reading
- Drawing attention to the details of the text
- Providing systematic and explicit instruction
- Children see themselves as readers and writers

Lillah and I thought it was time to rejuvenate the ‘Shared Reading and Writing’ practices of the past. We used ‘big books’ and pocket charts all the time with our students. They are excellent tools to develop early literacy skills, engage students in meaningful text and explore language in playful ways. The journey from a ‘big book’, to a pocket chart, to independent writing is one that will help many children learn to read and write. Check out your libraries to find the shared reading materials and bring them into your classrooms. Enjoy and have fun together with your students.

‘Even the most generous lap cannot hold 20 children, so big books were created.’

# Daily Math Investigations Part 2

Daily Math Investigations Part 2 took place in Surrey on November 21, 2013. Around 70 dedicated teachers left their classrooms and report card writing (some very eager for a break) to explore, discover, share and network together.

If you’d like to get a copy of “Daily Math Investigations’, please go to Carole Fullerton’s blog, http://mindfull.wordpress.com/

The focus of the session was on ‘Rich Routines’ from Daily Math Investigations.

Rich Routines are:

open-ended thinking tasks done in larger groups

more structured, but not boring

concepts worth revisiting

increase in complexity as they are explored over and over

active and engaging for all students

Rich Routines are questions/investigations posed during a whole group time. We have suggested a variety of routines that are predictable in nature but are engaging and open-ended enough to meet the needs of all the students. Here are some of the routines we discussed from the resource:

- All About Number
- Cuisenaire Investigations
- Exploring the Open Number Line
- Exploring the 100’s chart
- Numbers of the Day
- Counting Collections
- Messing with Data
- Sort it Out
- Teeter Totter Tales

Check out the new Entry Tasks that were introduced at yesterday’s session.

Many of the tasks were taken from the Numeracy Centre Fun section of the blog.

Enjoy and remember to …

Get them engaged

Get them thinking

Get them reasoning

# Counting on Fall – Math in Nature

There is a new series of books called “Math in Nature” which journeys into the natural world**. **The wonders of nature are shown in vibrant cut paper collages that focus on important mathematical concepts. Each season focuses on an area of mathematics. There are many ‘What if?’ problems presented in the text.

On the day before Halloween (can you believe it!), 60 primary teachers gathered at DEC to discover and experience activities that promote number sense with Chris Hunter and myself. We emphasized the importance of differentiating the activities to meet the need of the students. Assessment for learning is another important aspect to consider when doing these activities with students. Ask yourself: What do I want the students to know, understand or be able to do?

Here are some of the activities that extended from the ideas in the book:

**1. Guess, Check and Estimate **– (focus on estimation, referents and skip counting)

- Ask the students take a collection of objects and lay them on the bare tree
- Ask the students to ‘estimate’ how many objects are on the tree board
- Ask the students to make a ‘referent’ of 2, 5, or 10 and pull it away from the total collection
- Ask the students if they would like to revise their estimation (after seeing the referent)

**2. Bat Cave Pattern **– (focus on patterning)

- How could you model the patterns using Cuisenaire rods? (or other materials)
- Some students may need to lay rods directly on the book.
- Some student may need to be challenged by changing the number of bats sleeping in each row (increasing by 2)

**3. Making Ten Story Mats – **(focus on partitioning and number operations)Ask the students to count out a quantity of 10 objects.

- How many different ways can you make 10 in two parts?
- What stories can you tell about your story mat? (I counted 5 leaves on the ground and 5 floating in the sky. How many leaves have fallen from the tree?)
- What equations can you write about your story?

**4. Roll, Build and Compare **– (focus on comparing quantities…more/less/the same)

- Ask the students to work with a partner.
- Each partner rolls a 10-sided die and builds the quantity rolled on their 10 frame.
- The partners compare their quantities. Who has more? less? Are they the same?
- Ask the partners to determine how many more or less.

# Daily Math Investigations

The daily calendar has been a routine in many primary classrooms since the 1970’s when Math Their Way created it. It was revolutionary in those days. It was viewed as an opportunity to expose students to patterns and counting. Calendar was considered an important part of daily math instruction.

In its original form, it was a fairly passive experience for children. Most young learners watched as one of their peers completed a pattern, listened as others counted, or chanted along with the group. While we recognize the value of daily exposure to mathematical ideas, the passive nature of this imagining of calendar often did not meet the needs of many of our learners.

What we have learned and are continuing to learn about the brain, how children acquire mathematical concepts, and developmentally appropriate practice has lead us to re-examine this traditional approach.

Carole Fullerton and I decided we needed to “Kill the calendar”! In many of the classrooms we were working in, students (not to mention the teachers) often seemed disengaged with the calendar routines. We decided to create the resource called **‘Daily Math Investigations’. **In this resource, we present a more active, participatory version of “calendar” – a daily opportunity for students to truly engage with meaningful math concepts, to play with materials, to process, think, and problem-solve. The tasks, questions and problems we have included in this resource are intended to inspire thoughtful math investigations into number, shape, measurement and pattern. Daily Math Investigations allow students to explore math concepts in real and embedded ways.

Daily Math Investigations are an opportunity for students to think and play with mathematical ideas. Teachers present tasks and pose questions that are intended to promote curiosity about numeracy concepts. In opening up the kinds of questions we ask, we include more students in the learning of math, and help to address the range of learners in our classrooms. A combination of entry tasks and rich routines allow for balance between whole group, small group and independent learning, a chance for students to explore the math at their level.

A monthly calendar gives us interesting information. We can use it to mark important events, like an upcoming holiday, a student’s birthday or a school celebration. Highlighting these events on a calendar and counting the days until they happen is fun for students.

For many of us, calendar time (and all of the activities associated with it) is ingrained in our script for primary teaching. It’s important, however, to consider carefully the purpose of these tasks – and more importantly, their effectiveness. We don’t believe in ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. But ask yourself, “What should I keep?” “What should I let go?”

Ask yourself a few questions:

1. Are the pieces of my calendar routine truly relevant?

2. Are students talking about the math?

3. Are the students engaged?

4. Are the students doing math?

Thank you, Carole, for sharing your wonderful ideas. If you’d like to get a copy of “Daily Math Investigations’, please go to Carole Fullerton’s blog, http://mindfull.wordpress.com/.

On October 22, 2013 over 80 amazing teachers attended an afterschool in-service about ‘Daily Math Investigations.’ As they entered the room, they were invited to ‘engage in’ and explore several ‘Entry Tasks’. The room was full of conversations, discovery and engagement. They were talking and doing the math. This is the vision for all primary classrooms. What do you think?