Trying To Find A Good Balance

Every year, the teachers in our Board write an Annual Learning Plan where we set our own goals for the year. This year, my goal is to use problem-solving when teaching all of the different math strands. I want to continue to improve my math program.

I have never been a fan of worksheets, and I don’t use a math workbook either. I do believe in providing open-ended activities where students can apply what they’ve learned in class. I know the benefits of communication in math, and I try to get my students to orally share their thinking or to share their thinking in written form. I learned about the three part problem last year, and throughout the year, I tried out numerous three part problems with my students. I really tried to make problem-solving a big part of my math program.

That being said, I think that I was more successful in certain strands than in other ones. Since September, I’ve joined in on numerous Twitter chats about math. I connected with Kassia Wedekind (@kassiaowedekind), a teacher and the author of Math Exchanges: Guiding Young Mathematicians In Small Group Meetings. I read her book, and I regularly read her blog posts too. Math talk and problem-solving are key features of her excellent book! I also spoke to Angie Harrison (@techieang) about how she teaches math. She spoke to me about Fosnot’s Contexts For Learning. I found out that our math facilitator has one of the kits, and she has loaned it to me to use in class.

At the end of last week, I really started to make a change in my math program. I read through the teacher manuals in the Fosnot kit, and I tried out the Day 1 activity in the “organizer problem.” It was great! I really enjoyed walking around and taking video footage of the students discussing how they were counting the objects in the different bins. You can see a selection of these videos below:

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Throughout this process, I learned that I really need to think about the questions that I ask. I need to ask more open-ended questions and provide fewer possible answers to the students. Listening to the students discuss their thinking has helped me set some goals for our next mini-lesson, and I’m glad to see that the Day 2 activity in the kit will easily allow for me to address these goals too.

I love how these activities give me more small group and one-on-one time with the students. I love how much documentation I was able to get from this single activity, and how this documentation has helped me set some class goals too. I love the focus on problem-solving and on communicating in math. I love that these activities are hands-on ones, and easily meet both the Grade 1 and Grade 2 math expectations. I love all of the different suggestions for extensions, and I love that these activities are differentiated. I love that all of my students can be successful when doing these activities.

Now comes my concern though: I usually have a math centre time each day. These math centres include the use of games and math problems, and they address numerous expectations in math. I work with individuals and groups of students during these math centres, and this time really seems to benefit my students. They’re excited about math, but they’re also learning a lot too. I’m concerned about time though. If I do one of the Fosnot activities each day, I don’t think that I’ll have time for the math centres too. I don’t want to rush either one, as I see value in both. Do both types of activities need to be done every day?

How are other people structuring their math program? How do you get time for everything? I would love to hear your ideas! Thanks for your help!


10 thoughts on “Trying To Find A Good Balance

  1. I find it difficult to fund problem solving for each strand of the curriculum too. I use a variety of methods depending on the strand I am teaching at the time. I think it also good to teach kids to be flexible and by breaking away from routine it helps them to be resilient and it will challenge them in their maths thinking I believe. Not sure if you use it, but I like a think board for showing thinking as well. Take a piece of paper and split into quarters and where all the quarters meet draw a circle. Inside the circle is the sum they come to the conclusion of and may be done last. In one Quarter draw a picture of the problem, in another write a story with the numbers, in another sum families (2 + 2+ 2=6 2 x 3=6). It’s great for number work and problem solving.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jane! I really like the “think board” idea. I’ve never heard of it before, but I think it might help my students organize their thinking. I’ll have to give this a try.


  2. I love how you are always reflecting on your practices and trying to determine what is best for your students! I hope you continue to get some great suggestions from other teachers!

    Your videos really added to this post. Using the students’ thinking to guide your next lessons is a wonderful example of assessment FOR learning! It is always a pleasure to learn from you and your students.


    • Thanks Kathy! I’m really interested in hearing what others have to say. I’m struggling with this now, and I’m hoping to find a good balance. I’m sure it will come with time. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words!

  3. This year I have been using Jump Math. The philosophy behind that program is quite different. In Jump Math students are given small tasks that increase in difficulty as students master skills. They are also able to get more practice in order to master individual steps. In my class, by the time you have done that one problem my students would have done 15. When I have tests (Grade 3/4) everyone gets 80% and above. I haven’t experienced that before.

    Their website is

  4. Finally had a moment to read your post. I really enjoyed it as I felt like I could see right into your classroom during the math workshop. I too use the Fosnot resources but in a grade 5/6 class. I think for both grades it is important to balance a full problem with mini lessons and games. We need that flexibility to be able to allow the students time to think, time to practice, and time to make sense of the new learning. In the Fosnot primary kit there are books of mini lessons and games that are so great and allow you to mold the learning to best suit your classroom. Enjoy. I look forward to the continued conversation.

  5. I love teaching math. Have you used the effective guide to math instruction? What are your favorite strands to teach? I try to give my students at least one problem solving activity per week that they can do cooperatively. Like to see how they work together to solve problem.

    Maybe you can do math centers as warm up and then the other as consolidation? If I do math centers I usually do it as warm up, review of what we’ve done previous lesson/day. I love just walking around and listening to what they have to say. So smart when you get down to their level and just listen.

    • Thanks Chris! I love the Effective Guide to Math Instruction. I agree with you too about the beauty of just going around and listening to students. It’s amazing what they share. I just wish there was more time to do it all. I like your “warm up” idea. I’m going to have to give this more thought!

      As for the strands I enjoy teaching, I love different parts of all of the strands. I just think that some seem easier for problem-solving and others are more difficult. I’m trying to move past this though. Thanks Chris!


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