How Do I Change Math Class Tomorrow?


As Dan Meyer put it, “math class needs a makeover.”  It breaks my heart to hear students say things like, “I’m not good at math” or “I hate math!”

In my opinion, one of the first things that needs to change is the focus on correct answers and the need for speed.  This leads students to believe that the only way to be good at math is to be right (quickly).  The other practice that needs to be eliminated is the language we use as teachers such as “that’s right” or “you’re so smart.”  

You’re So Smart

You’re so smart is one of the most damaging things you can say to a child.  What is smart?  What do we value and what are we showing them that we value?  Being smart needs to mean learning as a means in itself.  Or rather, the journey of learning.  This is not…

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Rethinking Geometry Instruction: How to Think Holistically About Standards

Each year I continue to see teachers frustrated when they get their middle of year testing results back for their class because Geometry is often one of the lowest strands.  Over the years I have puzzled about why this is but have realized that most textbooks (ours included) waits to teach Geometry until the last couple of units.  So many teachers who rely heavily on the textbook do not teach Geometry until right before the state test.  Often this means students get told about geometry instead of getting the opportunity to experience it through hands on application and discussion.

So why do we wait until the last minute to teach geometry?

I would like to propose that we teach geometry throughout the year by incorporating geometric ideas into instruction of other standards.  I would argue that too often we teach skills in isolation and don’t connect the mathematical ideas.

In Kindergarten, instead of giving students random objects, have them count shapes such as triangles, squares, rectangles, circles and as they develop the idea of cardinality have them confirm their count by labeling the objects.  For instance, if they count nine triangles, they would say “there are 9 triangles.”

Provide multiple types of triangles so that they can develop the idea that triangles come in all sizes and orientations and that counting does not have to be an object of a particular size or congruency.

Put out squares and ask students to get 18 squares or lay out circles and say how many circles are there?
Give students a geoboard and ask them to make a shape with 6 sides.  This is a great conversation starter and gives another context for counting while offering the opportunity to discuss shape names and properties.
When asking students to compare objects, ask them to compare a group of circles and a group of squares and ask which one has more?
Or provide a low floor, high ceiling task like this:
I have some shapes.  The total number of sides of all of my shapes is 21.  What shapes do I have?
Build arrays of multiple shapes and then ask how many sides are in the array? How many corners (or vertices).  Or build an array out of 3-D objects and ask how many faces are in the array.
Use the geometric subitizing cards by Graham Fletcher to have number talks about attributes.

Have students engage in conversation to solidify understanding and practice vocabulary with WODB sets like this one:
Look at your grade level standards for geometry.  Are there opportunities to teach geometric concepts through operations and algebraic reasoning?  Data?  Fractions?
Leave comments here or on twitter to share your ideas!

3 Act: On a Roll

Students really struggle with perimeter and when I saw this Lego tape in the store, I knew I wanted to make a task with it.  The only problem was in what context?  We went to Legoland a few weekends ago and I saw that they had put Lego tape around their bulletin boards to store mini-figs and decorate.  I was sold!  This would be a perfect addition to my son’s building area.  I have added some extension activities at the end:)

This task best supports CCSS 3.MD.D.8.

Act 1:

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

How much tape will it take to go around the entire board?

Give an estimate that is too low and one that is too high.

Act 2:

Act 3:


This extension can incorporate conversion and address CCSS: 5.MD.A.1.

How much of Lego tape was left?  How much of each color?

2 inches green, 13 inches blue, 13 inches grey, 36 inches red.

3 Act: The Pay Out

I have to admit, Coin Dozer is my kryptonite!  I took my boys to Incredible Pizza the other night and happened upon this Wizard of Oz style coin dozer.  I couldn’t help but use the tokens we received as a math lesson because after all, we were doing the math as they fell!

This task may need a little set up by asking students about going to the arcade and telling them that this game gives you tokens and cards instead of tickets.  Then you can trade them in for tickets.  Each item is worth a different amount of tickets.

This task could support 5.OA.A.2 for order of operations or 5.NBT.B.5 or even 6.EE.B.6.

Act 1


What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

How many tickets is this worth?  Give an estimate that is too high and one that is too low.

Act 2

There were already 355 tickets on the card.

img_0737.jpg  img_0730-1

Act 3

So a total of 1035 tickets + 355 tickets = 1,390 tickets!


3 Act: The Arcade (Part 2)

I couldn’t help but use the awesome footage I got at the Arcade for a follow up task.  Use this after students have completed the first Arcade task. This task could be used for CCSS 4.OA.A.3 or 5.OA.A.1 (MLS 4.RA.A.2 or 5.RA.B.3).

So you figured out how many tickets they got…what did they buy?  The only setup you need is that there were two boys and they split the tickets equally among them.

Act 1:

Act 1 (1).png

Act 2:

If you want to dial this activity in a bit, you could add that they bought six items between them.  You could further narrow the focus by saying they both bought the same items…but what’s the fun in that???

Act 3:

There are three different reveals here.  Choose the first to perform another calculation and answer the additional questions.  The second and third image show the total cost of the items they purchased.

act 3 (1).png

act 3.1 (1)act 3.1b

Did they buy what you thought they would?

How much did they spend?  Did they have any tickets left?  How many?

Were you correct?  Was your answer possible?  Are there other combinations they could have bought?

(You couldn’t see the ball on the left so I had to add one in using Google Drawings – that’s the reason it looks out of place!)

3 Act: The Arcade

This might be one of my new favorite tasks.  It might be the experience of seeing the attendant turn the adding machine around once my son and I had mentally calculated the total or it might just be because I got to play (and win) Coin Dozer (my absolute favorite game)!  Please tell me what you think by commenting on how you will or have used it in your classroom!

When we go to the arcade, my son doesn’t like to wait to turn in his tickets so we always end up with several separate sheets of ticket totals by the end of our visit.

The task below could be used for CCSS 4.NBT.B.4 and MLS 4.NBT.A.5.

I love this problem because act 3 allows the student to engage in MP3 “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” as well as MP6 “attend to precision.”

Act 1:

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

How many tickets does he have? Write a too high estimate, write a too low estimate.

Act 2:

Act 3:

The attendant came up with this total.  Is he correct or incorrect?

Would you be happy or unhappy with this total?  Why?

(Side note, when I asked him if I could take a picture of it for a math lesson he said “I rounded up for you.”  I think there might be some great talk around this too:)

For example:

What does he mean he rounded up?  What was he rounding to?  The nearest 10, the nearest 100 or something else?


Here is the actual total with calculator strokes.  I think this is important for students to see once they finish their calculations and discuss.

3 Act: Sealed With __ Hearts

My son was working on his Valentines tonight and said, “how am I supposed to get these hearts to stick?  There are supposed to be 3 on each one.”  I said, “you are probably only supposed to put one on each” and he said “no there are 48 hearts and 16 cards so there are exactly enough for 3 on each.”

Well, that got my brain going when I looked at that perfect little array on the sticker sheet and I jumped up to film:)

Best Fit CCSS Standard(s) 4.OA.A.2, 5.NBT.B.6

Act 1:

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

How many heart stickers will there be on each Valentine?

Estimate.  Give a too high and a too low answer.

Act 2:

What information do you need to solve the problem?

Choose the image you prefer for this part of the task.


Act 3:

Were you correct?