Read a Story, Explore the Math

I feel honored to have spent time with over 90 amazing Primary teachers at the BCPTA conference in beautiful Victoria B.C. on October 24, 2014. What a wonderful group of dedicated teachers who love to learn some different ways to support their learners.

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Everyone loves a good story. Teachers love reading them and students love hearing them. What better way to set the stage for a math lesson. Last May 2014 Carole Fullerton and I collaborated together to create a new resource Read a Story: Explore the Math. IMG_7014

This resource promotes the teaching of important math concepts through the exploration of delightful children’s books. Many of these books are newly published and all have the potential for students to engage in math and provide opportunities to explore in meaningful ways.

IMG_1618At the conference we shared most of the books, some of the activities and tried a few for ourselves. We explored the tasks with Cuisenaire rods, dominoes, two sided counters, ten frames and dice. By using the manipulatives the students are encouraged to make connections to the concepts and represent their thinking in concrete ways.IMG_0980

Stories allow us a shared experiences. They engage us emotionally, and make us curious about the world. Carole and I hope that this resources will provide ideas for possibilities to pair stories with mathematical investigations that will inspire rich mathematical thinking in your students.

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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 .

Alphabet StripBy 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.

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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.

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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!

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 allBig Books
  • 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 textPocket Chart
  • 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.’

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Counting on Fall – Math in Nature

There is a new series of books called “Math in Nature” which journeys into the natural worldThe 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.

Counting on Fall book coverOn 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)Fall Leaves Picture

  • 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)

Estimate of leaves Picture Check number of leaves Picture

2.  Bat Cave Pattern – (focus on patterning)

Bat Cave PictureWhat patterns do you see?

  • 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)

Cuisenaire Rods in Order Picture Cuisenaire Rod Square Picture

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3.  Making Ten Story Mats – (focus on partitioning and number operations)Flying Geese PicAsk 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?

Leaves in Pond Pic4. Roll, Build and Compare – (focus on comparing quantities…more/less/the same)Bears and Berries Pic

  • 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.

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Halloween Fun

With Halloween just around the corner , I stopped by the neighborhood ‘Dollarama’ to get inspiration for some Literacy and Numeracy centres.  It was amazing what I discovered.  Here are some of the materials and ideas that were generated by the Early Literacy and Numeracy teachers that I am so lucky to work with.

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The Power of Two – Linking Literature with Mathematics

My passion for wonderful picture books and excitement of teaching math in engaging, relevant ways has helped me link the power of literature with mathematics. Both Literacy and Numeracy involve the interconnection of skills and concepts, have developmental patterns of learning and focus on thinking and making sense. We want our students to comprehend when they read and to understand the math they are doing. Engaging picture books can be effective vehicles for motivating children to think and reason mathematically. Often the books can provide a starting point to introduce a new mathematical concept. By reading and acting out a story, all our learners have the opportunity to absorb the information – our auditory learners hear the story, our visual learners see the story and our kinesthetic learners can feel the story. It is all about the learners. It is still important that we provide the concrete tools for our students to explore and make their own connections using manipulatives. Good books do not replace hands-on experiences. Choose one of the books and tasks included in this presentation and discover ways that will allow all your students to build mathematical understanding and make connections to math in their world. Enjoy!

Building the Bridge – Linking Reading and Writing

The Golden Oldies are still important. Resurrecting the tools from long ago happened at our last session on April 8, 2013. The session ‘Building a Bridge ~Linking Reading and Writing’ was well attended by passionate Primary educators.  Lillah and I began our teaching using the ‘Ann Ingham’ tool sounds and their stories.  We noticed that somewhere along the journey, these valuable tools have disappeared or are often hidden in classrooms.  One teacher commented on how she felt relieved that she “doesn’t have to feel bad about using the tools with the stories” with her students.  Somehow she felt that these ‘tools and their stories’ were not seen as ‘best teaching practices’. We revived and recreated the tools to be more appealing and updated for today’s classrooms.

Students need to make connections and learn to apply ‘phonetic tools’ to their reading and writing.  Explicitly teaching these tools and allowing the students to explore, discover and make inquiries with them is required.  Our role as a teacher is to fill the students’ lives with engaging, interactive and developmentally appropriate experiences that are both playful and purposeful.  Asking students to fill in worksheets does not meet the criteria.  Searching for words, applying the tools, and authentic practice ways allows students to make connections.

Research supports that reading and writing are different processes that share a reciprocal relationship.  Understanding this will allow us to scaffold and differentiate our instruction for our learners.  By providing them with the right ‘tools’ they will ensure what they read and write makes sense, sounds read and looks right.