Category Archives: Ask Don’t Tell

Building and Sustaining the Culture of Problem Solving in our Classroom with @FawnPNguyen #MtHolyokeMath

I’m taking X.MTHED-404: Effective Practices for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (K-12).

Here are my notes from Session 7, Building and Sustaining the Culture of Problem Solving in our Classroom, with Fawn Nguyen

I am struck by Fawn’s initial purpose. Building and sustaining a culture of problem solving in our classrooms demands vision with plans and commitment with continual growth through feedback.

How to we make use of structure in our planning to narrow our resources to build and sustain coherence and connectedness? Wen we plan, are we intentionally connecting to standards and intentionally stepping away from them to promote problem solving, visual learning, and deepening understanding?

What tasks do we select? How much time do we spend? And, most importantly, how do we show faith in our learners to promote productive, creative struggle?


Notes from previous sessions:

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PD Planning: #Mathematizing Read Alouds part 2

Time. We need more of it.

How might we gain time without adding minutes to our schedule?

What if we mathematize our read-aloud books to use them in math as well as reading and writing workshop? Could it be that we gain minutes of reading if we use children’s literature to offer context for the mathematics we are learning? Could we add minutes of math if we pause and ask mathematical questions during our literacy block?

Becky Holden and I planned the following professional learning session to build common understanding and language as we expand our knowledge of teaching numeracy through literature.  Every Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, and 3rd Grade math teacher participated in 3.5-hours of professional learning over the course of two days.

Have you read How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara, G. Brian Karas?

Learning Targets:

Mathematical Practice:

  • I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them.

2nd Grade

  • I can work with equal groups of objects to gain foundations for multiplication.
  • I can skip-count by 2s, 5, 10s, and 100s within 1000 to strengthen my understanding of place value.

3rd Grade

  • I can represent and solve problems involving multiplication and division.
  • I can use place value understanding and properties of operations to perform multi-digit arithmetic.

Learning Progressions:

I can apply mathematical flexibility.
#ShowYourWork Algebra

Here’s what it looked like:

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Here’s some of what the teacher-learners said:

I learned to look at books with a new critical eye for both literacy and mathematical lessons. I learned that I can read the same book more than once to delve deeper into different skills. This is what we are learning in Workshop as well. Using a mentor text for different skills is such a great way to integrate learning.

I learned how to better integrate math with other subjects as well as push pass the on answer and look for more than one way to answer the question as well as show in more than one way how I got that answer and to take that to the classroom for my students.

I learned how to integrate literacy practice and math practice at once. In addition, I also learned how to deepen learning and ask higher thinking questions, as well as how to let students answer their own questions and have productive struggle.

I learned that there are many different ways to notice mathematical concepts throughout books. It took a second read through for me to see the richness in the math concepts that could be taught.

I learned that there are many children’s literature that writes about multiple mathematical skills and in a very interesting way!

How might we notice and note opportunities to pause, wonder, and question? What is to be gained by blending learning?

Deep understanding: visualize, connect, comprehend

We need to give students the opportunity to develop their own rich and deep understanding of our number system.  With that understanding, they will be able to develop and use a wide array of strategies in ways that make sense for the problem at hand.  (Flynn, 8 pag.)

Let’s say that the essential-to-learn is I can subtract within 100.  In our community we hold essential I can show what I know more than one way. 

Using our anchor text, we find the following strategies:

  • I can subtract tens and one on a hundred chart.
  • I can count back to subtract on an open number line.
  • I can add up to subtract on an open number line.
  • I can break apart numbers to subtract.
  • I can subtract using compensation.

What if we engage, as a team, to deepen our understanding of subtraction?

Deep learning focuses on recognizing relationships among ideas. During deep learning, students engage more actively and deliberately with information in order to discover and understand the underlying mathematical structure. (Hattie, 136 pag.)

In his Effective Practices for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics class last week, Mike Flynn highlighted three advantages  of using representations to deepen understanding.

  • Representations build conceptual understanding and help assess comprehension.
  • Representations serve as a tool to make sense of the task and the mathematics.
  • Representations help develop proof of generalizations.

What if we, as a team, prepare to facilitate experiences so that learners can say I can subtract within 100 by deepening our understanding with words, pictures, numbers, and symbols?

Context: Annie had some money in her “mad money” jar.  Today, she added $39 to the jar and discovered that she now has $65. How much money was in the “mad money” jar before today?

2ndgrade65-39

Can we connect the context to each of the above strategies? Can we connect one strategy to another strategy?

If we challenge ourselves to “do the math” using words, pictures, numbers, and symbols, we deepen our understanding and increase our ability to ask more questions to advance thinking.

How might we use Van de Walle’s ideas for developing conceptual understanding through multiple representations to assess comprehension and understanding?


Flynn, Michael. Beyond Answers: Exploring Mathematical Practices with Young Children. Portland, Maine.: Stenhouse, 2017. Print.

Hattie, John A. (Allan); Fisher, Douglas B.; Frey, Nancy; Gojak, Linda M.; Moore, Sara Delano; Mellman, William L. (2016-09-16). Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning (Corwin Mathematics Series). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Van de Walle, John. Teaching Student-centered Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades Pre-K-2. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.

#SlowMath: look for meaning before the procedure

In her #CMCS15 session, Jennifer Wilson (@jwilson828) asks:

How might we leverage technology to build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding?  What if we encourage sketching to show connections?

What if we explore right triangle trigonometry and  equations of circles through the lens of the Slow Math Movement?  Will we learn more deeply, identify patterns, and make connections?

How might we promote and facilitate deep practice?

This is not ordinary practice. This is something else: a highly targeted, error-focused process. Something is growing, being built. (Coyle, 4 pag.)

What if we S…L…O…W… down?

How might we leverage technology to take deliberate, individualized dynamic actions? What will we notice and observe? Can we Will we What happens when we will take time to note what we are noticing and track our thinking?

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What is lost by the time we save being efficient, by telling? How might we ask rather than tell?

#SlowMath Movement = #DeepPractice + #AskDontTell

What if we offer more opportunities to deepen understanding by investigation, inquiry, and deep practice?


Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

HMW walk the walk: 1st draft doesn’t equal final draft

In her #CMCS15  session, Jessica Balli (@JessicaMurk13) challenges us to consider how we might redefine mathematical proficiency for teachers and students. Are our actions reflecting a current definition or are we holding on to the past?

How might we engage with the Standards for Mathematical Practice to help all redefine what it means to be ‘good at math’?

Do we value process and product? Are we offering opportunities to our learners that cause them to struggle, to grapple with big ideas, to make sense and persevere?

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Do we value our learners’ previous knowledge or do we mistakenly assume that they are blank slates? What if we offer our learners opportunity to show what they know first?  How might we use examples and non-examples to notice and note and then revise?

What if we take up the challenge to walk the walk to prove to our learners (and ourselves) that a first draft is not the same as a final draft?

Number Talks: how AND why

Listening informs questioning. (Berger, 98 pag.)

How do we know learning has occurred? How do we know how learning has happened? What if we pause and listen to learn?

If both sense and meaning are present, the likelihood of the new information getting encoded into longterm memory is very high. (Sousa, 28 pag.)

How would you add 39 to 67? Would you use the traditional algorithm? Would you need paper? How might we teach flexibility, sense making, and numeracy to build fluency and confidence?

Number talks are about students making sense of their own mathematical ideas. (Humphrey & Parker, 13 pag.)

How might we seize the opportunity to confer with our learners to see if they are making sense of what is being taught?

This is the challenge – and joy – of teaching by listening to students. (Humphrey & Parker, 13 pag.)

If interested in additional examples of number talks, both the how and the why, listen to Jo Boaler and her students from the Stanford Online MOOC How to Learn Math: For Teachers and Parents.

Do we believe our learners – every one of them – are capable of developing proficiency in mathematics?

How might we show what we know more than one way?

How might we continue to send the message I believe in you and mean it?

What if we listen to learn?


I am grateful to Kristin Gray (@MathMinds) and Crystal Morey (@themathdancer) for their leadership and facilitation as a dozen #TrinityLearns faculty participate in an online book club (#mNTmTch) for Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding Grades 4-10 along with over 600 educators across the globe.


Berger, Warren (2014-03-04). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas . BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING. Kindle Edition.

Humphreys, Cathy, and Ruth E. Parker. Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 4-10. Portland, ME: Steinhouse Publishers, 2015. Print.

Sousa, David A. Brain-Friendly Assessments: What They Are and How to Use Them. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences, 2014. Print.

In context: review, new ideas, norms, and inquiry

Learning in context.  Answering questions based on our collected data.

How might we review what we already know and build upon it at the same time?  And, how are we teaching our learners about the social norms and the sociomathematical norms in the context of our community?

I love it when co-learning happens.  Kristi Story (@kstorysquared) facilitated another great lesson in statistics with our 6th graders this morning.  Our learners collected data to investigate statistical questions and distribution of data in terms of shape, center, and spread.

Collecting data (love this organization):

  • I usually spend about _____ MINUTES taking a shower or bath.
  • There is a total of _____ LETTERS in my first, middle, and last names.
  • There are _____ PEOPLE living in my home.

Collaboratively analyzing the data:

  • Data sets were collected for each question.
  • Each group was given one set of the collected data to organize and analyze.

Establishing both social and sociomathematical norms in context.

  • What if we collect data to answer statistical questions?
  • What if we grow as a community to continue to embrace a norm of challenging and questioning each other?
  • How might we take messy data and organize it?
  • How will we summarize the data to communicate center, shape, and spread?
  • How might we show what we know in more than one way?
  • What if we organize collected data and discuss the distribution of data in terms of center, shape, and spread?

Learners were not told to answer the above questions.  The questions and the necessary answers came up organically as the learners grappled with the data.

My Learning

I joined the group working on minutes taking a shower.  Here’s what it looked like.

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Here’s my messy attempt to organize and analyze the collected data.

We could compute the landmark data points.  We could quickly represent the data as a dot plot.  What happens when or if we want to represent the data using a box plot? I really didn’t know how to draw a box plot of this data since the median=Q3.

What can we learn by using technology to aid in the visualization process?

dot-box1

What if we leverage technology to show us more than we might see when we graph by hand?

dot-box3
What if we are intentional in our commitment to #AskDontTell inquiry approach to learning? How might we continue to teach the norm of challenging and questioning? What if we learn about and practice both social norms and sociomathematical norms in context as we learn in grow together?


Norms and Mathematical Proficiency.” Teaching Children Mathematics. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Aug. 2013. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.