Monthly Archives: November 2016

Math Workshop!

This year I embarked on Math Workshop and I will never look back.  I have always wanted to implement the workshop model to my math instruction but let too many things stand in my way.  For me, literacy workshop came naturally so it was hard for me to wrap my mind around how to take what I was already doing and mesh it with a guided math format.  I didn’t even know where to start other than I knew students needed more opportunities to practice and explore math.  The best way for students to get better at anything is to practice so why not be practicing with math?

My sister was the inspiration I needed to take a risk and get started!  She teaches 4th grade and has been using a math workshop model for over a year.  She shared with me how she uses MATH to set up workstations.  My sister found the templates here:

What I loved about these work stations was that there was more than one choice for each letter and the acronym was short and sweet.  This would allow for more focused practice.  I chose the following work stations from her list:

M: Math Facts
A: At your Seat (mainly the group I focus on)
T: Technology (Current favorite resources: FrontRow & HyperDocs)
H: Hands on

So here is how the rotation schedule works over the course of a 5 day week:
Monday: Students complete first 2 rotations
Tuesday: Students complete last 2 rotations
Wednesday: Students start over so same rotations as Monday
Thursday: Students complete last 2 rotations just like they did on Tuesday
Friday: GAME DAY! Students join if or as soon as all of their work is complete

I love that after 2 days students have already completed 4 rotations.  Then they have 2 more days which gives them another opportunity to go through again.  Sometimes I will change the activities or part of an activity but this depends on the concept being taught and what the students need.  In the link I provided above, it showed how the teacher set up her board and here is a picture of mine:


Now it was time to discuss with my sister what a typical math lesson would look like.   Here is a 65 minute math block:

  1. Counting Circle (2-4 minutes): I got this idea from the book Number Sense Routines by: Jessica F. Shumway. (HIGHLY recommend) We sit in a circle and count. I know that sounds so very simple but the amount of number sense it has given my students has been a game changer.  We have counted by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, and 1’s from any given number and go forwards and backwards.  We make sure to make eye contact with the counter and they are learning how to ask for coaching.  This allows the circle to be completely student run.  As the year goes on we try to predict what number we will land on.
  2. Number Talk (5-8 minutes): I always have one number projected on my SMART board or on a Padlet (see link below). Students then discuss, with their learning partner, as many ways as they can think of that would represent that number. Depending on the concept we are working on I may or may not suggest they come up with one subtraction equation or think of expanded form.  I have loved seeing their mental math skills and their ability to find patterns grow. (These are links to school wide Padlets)
  3. Mini Lesson (15-20 min MAX): This is where I teach the lesson and or concept for the day. My district currently uses Math in Focus as our curriculum. I took the chapters and broke them down by concepts.  We then spend a week on one concept.  At first I thought this might put me behind the scope and sequence but so far we are right on track. I try to only do 2-3 problems that will model the strategy or concept I am teaching.  The beginning of the week is more I do, then we do, then you do.  I still feel that gradual release of responsibility is vital in their mathematical success.  Instead of spreading that out day by day.  I get to really focus on what is most important and help them more toward mastering concepts instead of memorizing them.
  4. MATH Rotations (1st Rotation: 14 minutes): Students travel to their first workstation. I set a timer for 14 minutes to allow 1 minute of clean up. Most of these work stations are meant for students to work independently. This gives me the flexibility to either stay with a group, float, or split my time depending on what the student’s needs.
  5. MATH Rotations (2nd Rotation: 14 minutes): Same as above. I do have the board where students can double check to make sure they are going to the right place and or what their activity is. I also post directions on our learning management system.  Students can access their Chromebook to double check if they needs.
  6. Reflection (5 minutes): I have been using Emoji Google slides for students to reflect. They choose the emoji that best describes how they felt at the end of the lesson and then they reflect on why they chose that emoji. This document can then be shared back with me via their Google Drive or they can upload to a learning management system.  This was often the piece I left out of my previous math instruction and I feel I can no longer go without.  I love giving the students an opportunity to reflect on their own learning and then offer feedback for me.  Digitally works best for me but you could also have a “math huddle” at the end to discuss glows and grows of the lesson.  The biggest hurdle for 2nd graders is specifically articulating why they feel that way.  The first time we did this I received a lot of this was fun, I like math, I finished my work.  This time we have started to trying to explain why or what made us feel that way.  They are even becoming more aware which I think only has helped them learn even more.

I LOVE WORKSHOP! Why in the world did I wait to long?  Within 2 days, I already felt like I was reaching more students, meeting more specific needs, challenging my gifted learners, assisting my lower students, and also finding more opportunities for all students to shine and build confidence!  I also loved that every single student is practicing math.  For 65 minutes my students are engaging in math activities that challenge, encourage, and strengthen their mathematical knowledge.  I also love that instead of trying to cram in so many lessons, I’m focusing on concepts.  I feel this helps guide students to a mastery level vs a memorizing level.

Now I have seen other workshop models out there and I think teachers must pick the one that works best for them.  I love the MATH model because it is 4 days of workshop and 1 day of gaming fun.  Students are motivated to work hard and focus so they have the opportunity to participate in our game.  I also love the MATH model because it is very manageable, at least for me.  I can implement and not give up halfway through because it is becoming too stressful.  I actually feel like my workload went down.  I honestly do not understand how I taught math before and why was I so nervous about jumping in.

My advice to anyone thinking about giving the workshop model a try: DO IT RIGHT NOW!  JUMP IN! Take a risk and I promise it will pay off.  It is OK if it is the middle of the year.  Introduce it slowly or maybe a workstation at a time. You will not be sorry and will see your student’s mathematical abilities soar!  I highly recommend reading these resources: Guided Math by Laney Sammons and Number Sense Routines by: Jessica F. Shumway.  Please also feel free to follow my class on Twitter @PitzersLearners #2Pmath to check in on our math adventures.

I would love to hear from other teachers who either have tried or are currently trying MATH workshop.  What is working and or not working?  What advice do you have?

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Posted by on November 16, 2016 in Math Workshop


Chrome-flections: Redesigns in Canvas Part 1

I have now been using Canvas (our districts learning management system) since February of 2016.  When our pilot first started, it was toward the end of my school year.  Not only was I learning how to implement Chromebooks, but I was also navigating the waters of using an LMS as well as building effective content.  To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement.  However, I learned so very much and those failures allowed me so many reflective opportunities.

Despite failures using Canvas though, I am so glad I had the opportunity to start in the spring.  It was because of these failures, I felt I had a much better idea of how to start the school year off right.  I started at a much slower pace and created less complicated assignments.  I did this not because I felt the students couldn’t do it  but more so as a way for me to model proper use, functionality, and logistics first. I had students start in my reading course, since that is the content I am more comfortable with teaching.  I started with a discussion board with how students felt about reading.


I loved this way of introducing Canvas to my students.  They learned how to find the reading course on their dashboard and how to type in the text box.  It was a quick way to not only get to my know student’s reading life but to also have them practice using Canvas.  It also provided them the experience of using a discussion board.  We even had great face to face conversations about what makes a good posting and good reply.  Stressing a balance between face to face communication and using a device must be at the forefront.  Students need to learn how to manage this in order to better prepare them for life!

When it came to assignments in Canvas last year, I felt I was all over the board.  My first assignments were with Phonics.  I had students watch YouTube videos and go on digital scavenger hunts for phonics pattern words.  Then I wanted students to type those words into 3-4 sentences.  I remember thinking that since it was February my students would be able to do this no problem.  We were writing 3-4 pages in writing and working hard on forming paragraphs correctly.  What I didn’t consider was the typing component.  It is one things for students to write a sentence but typing that same sentence becomes a whole new ball game.  My first phonics assignments were also filled with multiple step directions that were overwhelming for my students because we had never done this type of work on a device before.  I had also typed out most of the directions.  After seeing my students struggle with this last year and seeing what their completed assignments looked like, I knew something had to change.  I wanted to avoid this stress and use the gradual release of responsibility model to prepare them for more difficult work.  I often think as teachers we assume students are so familiar with technology that they don’t need as much guidance.  While it is true they are more comfortable at their age then say we were, they still need the I do, we do, you do practice model.

Therefore I redesigned my phonics assignments to have video directions instead of typed ones.  Students have the opportunity to listen to me give them directions and then could refer back to this as many times as they needed.  To record these directions I use the record/upload media button (looks like a film strip).  **(Has anyone else had trouble with the sound when recording videos in Canvas?  I have found them to have very low sound quality.  This gets somewhat better using a headset with mic attachment but is there a better way?) ** 

Then I embedded the YouTube videos that focused on our phonics pattern of the week.  Instead of taking a point grade, I made the first assignment a complete vs. incomplete.  I had students record the words they found in their reader’s notebook and come up and show me their list.  I then had SpeedGrader opened and marked complete/incomplete.  I would record my observations in the comment box.  If a student struggled with directions, focus, handwriting, finding the correct words, etc. I could type that as a comment.  Students could then immediately see my feedback and hopefully use that to improve for the next assignment.  They also had a list of words they could use a resource during writer’s workshop.  I designed 3 phonics lessons in this way.  Once I felt students were mastering this, I added points to the process as well as a text box for students to type their list. The next step, I feel is having students use the words in a sentence or two.


What I learned in this process is video directions are a must!  This way as I am monitoring, assisting, and or working with smaller groups of students, the class has access to the directions at all times.  It allowed me the freedom to assist in other ways instead of just repeating directions.  I feel this helped my students become more comfortable with Canvas and digital learning.  It also held them more accountable for solving their own problem and become more independent thinkers.  The quality of the work was higher and students were more focused.  This was definitely a lesson in less is more and remembering the gradual release of responsibility model.