Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rethinking Math~ Building a Workshop for Mathematicians

I have been struggling to wrap my head around math and how I want math to look and sound in our classroom for a quite while.  I just can't seem to find that just right fit for our class.  I am fortunate to teach in a district that has provided us with a plethora of great resources including math coaches, assessment tools, flexibility, curriculum map and trust.

So why have I been struggling?  I am not really sure, that's what makes it so difficult.  I know the kids need to have choice and creativity. I know they need to develop a strong number sense to develop as mathematicians. This is what makes my head spin.  I know what to teach; I understand why it's important, I understand the need for ownership and higher-level thinking. But how do I do this in math?  How do I develop a math workshop that mimics our literacy model?

Our literacy instruction is delivered in a workshop framework that supports the kids at a variety of levels. This model allows student choice and agency in their work.  It encourages the kids to become life long readers and writers. The kids feel comfortable to take risk, choose their learning style and experience the success necessary to move them forward. Now, isn’t this what we need for math?  Ok, just plug math goals, standards, tools, and books into my literacy framework right? Easy peezy, lemon squeeze! (As my first graders would say) Well, yes and no!

A Workshop For Mathematicians~ 
As I thought about our math workshop compared it to our literacy workshops I wondered how I could adjust our math block to follow this same framework?
I started with these must haves~
               Math read alouds
               Opportunities for building number sense routines
               Independent work time
               Whole group focus lesson
               Partner discovery time   
               Opportunities for small group instruction
               Individual conferring
               Sharing discoveries
 I also wanted to make sure my kids had choice in their work, tools, and work space while working toward goals (they set) to support number sense and problem solving.

Building the Workshop~
Building the workshop began with stepping back and watching the kids interact with peers, numbers and tools in working to solve math problems. I watched to see the choices they made when working independently in math.  The Developmental Math Assessment (DMA) helped me to see where my kids were performing and what they needed to move forward.  I read professional books and had endless conversations with my team and my PLN to deepen my understanding of what mathematicians need and what it means to think deeply about math.

 Professional Resources~
@KassiaOWedekind's book Math Exchanges, helped me understand math spaces, guiding students and how kids build an understanding of number sense. If you haven't read this one I would add it to your list! You can also follow Kassia on her blog, Math Exchanges Guiding Young Mathematicians in Small-Group Meetings. 
Teaching Students Center Mathematics by John van de Walle and Lou Ann H. Lovin helped me to see the levels and stages of developing math understandings. The Number Concept Activity (from the DMA) book helped in designing large and small group lessons.  Number Talks by Sherry Parrish helped me understand how to deliver lessons in a way that teaches the students to solve math mentally and think flexibly about numbers.  For math read aloud titles I turn to Kassia's blog where I can find titles and encouragement to find math in our lives. @MandyRobek's blog Enjoy and Embrace is another resource I often turn to books and math in my life.

So What Does This New Math Workshop Look Like?

So How is it Going?
I am pleased with all parts of the workshop, but this didn't happen easily or quickly.  Having a workshop that is open takes explicit teaching and observation.  I need to be right on the pulse of what my kids need and they need to understand themselves as learners and the responsibilities of the workshop.  I need to make sure I have everything in place that will allow the kids to work towards goals with a clear focus and intention. The kids need to understand what it means to work like a mathematician.  They need a clear vision of what their understandings are and what they need to practice.  With all this in place I have to step back and let the kids work.  This takes trust and a willingness to accept all that goes with kids leading the way. Some days it's messy, really messy. Some days it's loud, some days it's that working "hum" teachers dream of and some days it's a chorus of Mrs. Frazier.  No matter the day I know that with practice's and trust it will pay off.  The workshop will help kids learn to think flexibly about numbers, think deeply and creatively in problem solving, they will work as life long math learners. 

Right Down to the Share Circle~
This is my favorite part of the math workshop!  This is the time mathematician’s gather to talk math!  Kids share their learning from the day.  We don't share the WHAT we did in the math workshop, we share what we DISCOVERED or LEARNED in the workshop. Sometimes we ask our peers for help, or give them ideas to push their thinking forward. 
The chart below is where we collect our new learning. To have learning placed on our "Math Ah-ha's!" chart the learning has to be true every time. We test our friend’s ideas and learning, if it's always true it goes on our chart. We know if it's on the chart it will help us as mathematicians! 


So what does math look like in your room? What are your favorite resources?  I am always looking for easy to improve our classroom and love learning for all of you. Please leave a comment  and share your thoughts. 


  1. Deb, Hands down this blogpost is AMAZING! I know you have been thinking, reading, and reflecting for some time now. It has all paid off brilliantly. I just love your workshop outline. How generous of you to share your journey, resources and reflections. You should be very proud!

  2. Absolutely love this - the thinking, reflecting, and refining that you have been doing is most certainly going to pay off for those lucky kiddos of yours. Will be sharing this with many Dublin colleagues as we are transitioning to a math workshop model this year and next. Amazing stuff!!!

  3. I'm struggling to make this happen in a 5th grade classroom. But it's worth the struggle and I'll keep at it. Thank you for affirming the flow from messy to noisy to the occasional productive hum...I strive for more hum and less struggle. And just why is it that a strong foundation in a literacy workshop doesn't transfer seamlessly into math workshop? Because I so WANT it to! (whining just a little) Oh, well. We'll keep at it, won't we? :-)

  4. Wow! This is an awesome post! I want to save it and come back to it again and reread it and digest it some more. I need more time for my brain to marinate in it. ;) Great thoughts and resources here. Thank you so much for posting! :)

  5. Ohhhhhhhhhhh! This is beyond helpful! Thank you!

  6. Love this Deb - just shared it with the 1st grade team I am working with.

  7. I'm here to reread and print so I can soak this up over the summer! My math workshop isn't where I want it yet and this is so helpful!
    (Heading to grade 1 this fall!)

  8. Thanks for sharing your plans, thoughts and reflections. My head is all over the place when it comes to math planning!