Investigations Blog

When the Math Is What’s Exciting

I’ve been really lucky to spend time in a grade 1 classroom this spring, as they tackle the final number unit of the year. 1U7 is the culmination of students’ work with addition, subtraction, and place value. Building on the work of the earlier number units, it introduces some big, important ideas, many of which are new to the 3rd edition of grade 1. These are first graders who had the 3rd edition in Kindergarten and now have a self-proclaimed lover of math, who is teaching the 3rd edition for...

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The Hard Work of Counting by Groups

The other day I visited a class that was at the very beginning of How Many Tens? How Many Ones?, the final unit of the grade 1 sequence on Addition, Subtraction and the Number System. The class began with a conversation in which they modeled, recorded, and discussed the previous day’s work, about the number of hands on different numbers of people, organized as a table. The teacher then explained that today they were going to be thinking about fingers instead of hands. With minimal...

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And Then, She Waited

Have you ever been teaching (or leading professional development) and asked a really good question only to be met with silence? We all have teacher moves in our back pocket for situations like this—maybe do a turn and talk, ask the student if they’d like to call on someone to help them, or ask a different question. I recently observed a third grade lesson when I saw a teacher face this exact situation. The lesson (Unit 5, Session 3.4) focused on strategies for solving division problems. The...

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From “Defective” Fractions to Infinite Equivalents

On a recent site visit, I was observing in a fourth grade classroom. The teacher started the lesson (Unit 6, Session 2.1) by writing “3/2” on the board and asking students to name the fraction. Most said “three halves” although one or two said “two thirds.” The teacher then displayed two blank 4 x 6 rectangles. She established that one rectangle was the whole, and asked students to use their copy of the rectangles to draw a representation that showed 3/2. The math coach called me...

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“That Seems Way Too Big”

On a recent visit to a small district in the Midwest, I got the chance to visit a third grade class that was working on division (3U5, Session 3.4). When I joined Nicole, she was in the middle of working on the following problem: Gil loves toy cars. He saved enough money to buy 32 toy cars. How many 4-packs of toy cars did he get? (SAB p. 333) Below the problem, Nicole had written I asked her to tell me about her thinking. She said she wanted to start with something she knew, which I agreed...

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Counting is Serious Business

“One, two, three, four, five…” I was interested in how quickly Owen and Ravi figured out a way to count the set of 40 yellow hexagons in their Inventory Bag. The boys took turns saying a number as they placed the hexagons in a line which started to snake across the rug in the meeting area of their kindergarten classroom. “Twenty-eight, twenty-niiiinnnne…” Ravi pauses unsure about what number comes next. Owen whispers “30” and Ravi says “30” as he places the thirtieth block in the line....

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What Does It Mean To Be Smart?

“Wow, you’re so smart.” These words drew my attention to a pair of 5th grade girls in a class I was visiting, who I’ll call Cassie and Sophia. They were mid-way through a turn and talk, each sharing her strategy for solving 84 x 59. I casually moved closer, curious about what prompted the comment and trying hard to see each girl’s strategy, recorded in their math journals. Upon hearing Cassie’s comment, Sophia responded in an inviting tone, “No, no. Explain to me what you did.” She...

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What Happens When There Are More Than 10?

Imagine you are 6 years old. Or 7. You know you can use your fingers to model subtraction. For example, for a problem where there are 7 grapes and 2 get eaten, you can raise 7 fingers, put down 2, and count how many are left. But what do you do when the problem involves more than 10 things? Take a moment, before looking at the student work and video below. How would you use your fingers to solve a problem about having 12 scissors, and lending 5 to another class? A student I’ll call Miguel is a...

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The Lesson? Students Never Cease to Surprise Me

On a recent visit to a school in a small city in the Midwest, Karen and I joined a class of 5th graders as they learned a game in Unit 3 called Roll Around the Clock. In the previous session, students used a clock to find and name fractions and equivalent fractions. For example, if the minute or hour hand moves from the 12 to 3, it has rotated 3/12 or 1/4 or 15/60 around the clock. Students would use these ideas in this lesson. In this game, players take turns choosing which of two dice to...

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Using Tools in Art and Math

Recently, I was chatting with a 7-year-old I know pretty well. I asked her about school, and she quickly started telling me about her current math work, complete with eye rolls and boredom. I decided to change the subject a little. “I know you like to tell me about math because I love math, but what’s your favorite subject?” I asked. She thought for a moment and then said, “Art.” Art was never my favorite subject. I’m not even sure I’ve passed stick figure drawing yet. “Why?” I asked. She...

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