Category Archives: Numeracy

What I learned in grade three

20150211_075254I had the chance to work with one of our grade three classes recently in the area of mathematics. The opportunity emerged quite organically when one class wrote me letters in an effort to persuade me to purchase additional materials for indoor and outdoor play activities. As writers, they each presented arguments and rationale for purchasing materials for our gym or for outdoor play. I loved reading their letters and was pleased to respond back to the class in February.     What happened next was unplanned, but a wonderful journey. Students began to think about the mathematics involved in my response to them, specifically:


  • Determining which items to purchase based on what we had in the school, interests of students and staff input.
  • Determining costs and working within a budget.
  • Identifying which items would work best within specific areas of our playground.
  • Tallying finalized items.

20150211_114012The dialogue they had in class was grounded within a real life, and meaningful context to them as students. The students themselves came up with many ideas. Here, the students developed surveys to collect data from each class on what students felt we needed for materials.        With any survey comes data that the students then tallied in charts. Students themselves realised that they needed to present the information in a more concrete way.

20150212_104012Here, a class can be seen graphing their data to present for further discussion. Such exploration is something that aligns with the Data Management and Probability strand of our mathematics curriculum.

Then, came the planning around how to spend the budget amount I provided them. 20150225_155512When it came to the bottom line, the students worked hard to determine how much they could spend that would allow for the ideal purchasing. They discovered how they had to multiply the cost per unit with the total number of items they needed. And yes, they discovered something called tax that had to be added to their overall amounts. Over the course of this investigation, students focused on the area of Number Sense and Numeration in class.

Another dimension to this inquiry was that our School Council has been working with us on a plan for line painting for our school. 20150212_111754We used this as an opportunity for students to share their ideas around what designs would work best. They had to consider the area and perimeter of our schoolyard carefully when selecting the items to be painted. The students then presented their ideas to a school council member for consideration. We’re happy to report that some new items have indeed been purchased for our gym. The students did such a good job staying within the budget, that we had extra money left over! We decided to use this to purchase more items for our recess bins that classes us for outdoor play. So what did I learn as principal of the school through this journey? Lots.

1) Students who write for authentic purposes end up writing a lot and are passionate about expressing their ideas.

2) Math grounded in authentic, real life contexts also encourages students to engage deeply in math.

3) Our math curriculum is rigorous. Over a few short lessons, students had to use different math skills within different strands of math. Helping students see how these skills are interconnected is important.

4) Our staff are engaging students in rich questions each day. What began as one writing task evolved into a math inquiry through the teacher’s use of questions in the classroom and an inquiry based learning approach.

At home, you too can find authentic ways to engage your child in math.

We would love to hear about your journeys.


Mr. Collins

Math, everywhere

20150120_105837Like literacy, mathematics is all around us. At our school, we are exploring ways to build children’s conceptual understandings of mathematics in a variety of ways. This year, we have committed to purchasing materials to support both the teaching and learning of mathematics in our classrooms. Here, a kindergarten classroom is using a Rekenrek. It looks very much like an abacus. At it’s most basic level, students can use it to count. At a deep level of thinking however, the tool also promotes the skill of subitzing or, our ability to recognize the number of objects at a glance without actually having to count them. In the case of the rekenrek, children quickly come to understand that the entire group of white beads on one row represents 5. As they work down rows, they discover that they can then count by 5s, 10s, 20s. Working horizontally, students can also recognise that by adding red beads to the mix, they can “see” how it becomes 5 plus the added beads. It is a tool that helps young children learn to count efficiently. You can support this skill at home too by sorting and counting objects around the home like beads or buttons.

20150121_085007In school we often talk about “Activating prior knowledge” or determining what we already know about a subject matter. This ability is quite important in math as concepts build from year to year. Here, a grade one class explores that they already know about addition. The students provided examples of how they think about math in their heads, what they see when they add and examples of actual equations. Talking with your child at home, about math in real life contexts, is valuable talk. Activities such as shopping, cooking, building, sorting, measuring and games all help promote mathematical thinking in genuine ways.

20150121_085210In this example, another grade one class explores how they can make their thinking visible within a mathematics context. We encourage children to use pictures, words and ultimately mathematical equations to solve problems.

20150121_085443 (1)Our classes use “anchor charts” as reference points for students to refer to after lessons have been taught. These are commonly hung up in classrooms or archived over time for students to refer to as needed. At home, you can encourage your child to also express their thinking in mathematics. Cooking can be a wonderful way for children to work with you on measurement, sequencing of events and time.

IMG_20150120_094435Students ultimately must demonstrate their understanding in mathematics independently. There are however, many opportunities for students to explore mathematical concepts in groups, collectively. Here, a grade 2/3 class rotates through different math centers in their classroom to collaboratively work through math challenges together. Teachers will often bring the whole class back together near the end of the lesson to share thinking, solutions and questions students have to further build mathematical thinking. At home, never underestimate the power of family games to promote mathematical thinking, cooperation and fun!

20150113_100317Finally, a goal for us is to encourage students to be mathematicians. To do this, they must think, speak and act like mathematicians. Vocabulary is important in helping students achieve these goals. This grade 3 class spent time defining important math terms within the context of the unit they were studying. These anchor charts, again allow students to refer to concepts taught as they work through different tasks. At home, you too can label or identify words around home that relate to mathematics.

Math, it’s everywhere.

Let us know how you use math at home with your family.

Mr. Collins