The Primary And Junior “Me” Trying To Come To A Decision

I’m about to begin my 14th year teaching. Twelve of those years have been in primary: from JK-Grade 2. For the past couple of years though, I’ve been in a junior classroom: both Grade 5 and Grade 6. I’m thrilled to be going back to Grade 1, and my mind is already on September. This is the first year that I’ll get a chance to teach students that have experienced Full Day Kindergarten, and I’m excited to get to extend inquiry into Grade 1. Among other things, what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is teaching math.

Last year, I was lucky enough to have numerous conversations with my vice principal, Kristi, about teaching math. Kristi’s hard questions — which I always appreciate — made me reconsider the use of games in the math classroom (especially board games). I tried all year to make math meaningful, and as the year progressed, my Grade 5’s really started to understand why we use math and how different concepts interconnect. We still worked on computations, but also stressed thinking. As you can see from this guest blog post, the students enjoyed this approach, and continuing to work on real world math and teaching through big ideas were areas that I wanted to focus on for this year.

But as my mind wanders to a new school year, the primary and junior “me” conflict. I can’t help but think back to the last time that I taught Grade 1 three years ago.

  • I remember the rote counting.
  • I remember the skip counting.
  • I remember the adding and subtracting games.
  • I remember the use of various math tools.
  • I remember the math centres.
  • I remember the computer and iPad games.
  • I remember the manipulatives that changed with the seasons and changed with student interests (e.g., dinosaur ones for those that loved dinosaurs).

I know that the students enjoyed these tools and activities. I know that they learned new math skills, and I know that they could show me what they learned.

  • Did the students learn how to think though?
  • Did the students understand why they were learning what they were learning?
  • Did the students see the interconnection between concepts?
  • Did the students see math as more than just something that we “do” in school?

I’m not so sure that I could confidently answer “yes” to any of these questions. I know that Grade 1’s are young. I know that they’re learning new math skills that will be important as they move up in the grades. I know that students learn through play, and I know that games are “play.” But inquiry is about more than “play,” and real world connections make learning meaningful. We need high expectations for all of our students … even our youngest ones. With all of this in mind, I think that I need a new approach to teaching math than I had the last time that I taught Grade 1. I think that my junior experiences have influenced my primary ones, and it’s time to make a change.

Here’s to examining video provocations, books, home experiences, and school experiences, and making math more than just a series of expectations to cover. Contrary to what I did before, I now want to let the students see the value in their new learning. This is where I need the help of my PLN though: how do you use real world math in the primary classroom? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Aviva – Determined To Make A Change 🙂

7 thoughts on “The Primary And Junior “Me” Trying To Come To A Decision

  1. Sorry about that voice in your head thing…but I do like your struggle! I suspect that you already have all the right building blocks to provide your students with authentic and meaningful learning experiences in math. Just as it was in junior, it will be about exploring how to match a curriculum of foundational skills and knowledges to a group of students who need to learn how to make meaning out of it. Your new students, as you say, will be used to making meaning through play. They will be willing to ask questions, to think about questions you pose, to explore provocations, and persevere through problem solving. That sounds to me like the ideal start to explore math meaningfully. And while your students come to you with these experiences – which is likely different than your previous primary students had – you will be coming armed with so many tools to support inquiry. The biggest tool that I suspect you’ll have to rely on, though, is your ability to observe student learning. You’ll set a game plan, but it will be through watching the student reactions that you figure out what really does work and what needs a few more tries. I look forward to seeing what you and your students produce!

    • Thanks Kristi! I’m good with your “voice in my head”: even when you’re not there, you can still make me think. 🙂 Yes, observing students is going to be big, and knowing when and how to question them will also be important. I’m excited to see where this real world math learning leads, and I’m excited about the ups and downs along the way.


  2. Let me start by saying I know nothing about your school but keep in mind you MAY need to start the year teaching children to be curious in order to lay the foundation for inquiry based learning. Let’s be honest…………not all FDK teachers have “bought in” and you will see quickly by how the children interact with the materials in the room when you just let them “go and explore” which ones are ready to take on the room by storm and which ones are hesitant and waiting to be directed and instructed. I watched and observed for a good month (this year I think it will be even longer) and tried hard not to open my mouth or jump in with any “mini lessons” as I didn’t want the children to feel they were there to try “pleasing me”. I spent the month building community, reading books about reading, writing and math in order to fuel excitement about these topics. We spent all of this time getting to know each other and learning how to speak to one another. We did make a few anchor charts to support these but it was more about us exploring the room and making it “ours” not “mine”. It was a big job to allow some kids to “feel the freedom” to learn on their own and some kids never did get over it as much as I would have liked.

    Math was a HUGE issue for me at first. After teaching Kinder for 15 years and never having looked at the curriculum as a check list and always striving to explore all the of the expectations all of the time in order to hit every child where they where developmentally were at and never having a “unit focus”, I was handed our board math delivery plan. I looked at it and was perplexed! Knowing what I have learned about early childhood (Which doesn’t stop at 6) over the past 5 years this made no sense to me. I now understand what people were talking about when they spoke of the “Gap” between K and One. I didn’t see the gap when I was just reading the curriculum documents and thinking it has a year long project, but boy was it evident looking at the delivery plan. Like the good teacher I am I worked with it (struggling the whole time to make sense of it), felt rushed for the first time in years trying to “get it all in” and tried my best to make it authentic, inquiry based, interesting and at the level of these children. I learned rather quickly that I didn’t know how to make it work. It made absolutely no sense to me coming from the FDK philosophy (and the information I have gathered through research on early child hood over the past several years) that I would teach something at a certain time “just because”. There was no link to it, no excitement to get it started and therefore not meaningful to my students. We always played with materials to learn, we did a very mini activity followed by lots of explore time then gathered back for sharing. It was working……… was boring! As the year went on and I got more comfortable the “good stuff” I had learned came back. The Olympics hit and inquiry based learning took off and didn’t stop for the rest of the year! I finally put the math plan away about March and my math teaching became something I was proud of. I created math lessons (myself, with a colleague and with the kids) around our inquiries and one day we were measuring, one day we were adding and one day we were graphing and boy did it make sense to me again. But……..the one thing I discovered was that the kids didn’t retain previous teaching. The top 2 or 3 kids did but the rest were perplexed about measuring bird eggs that were behind our classroom and had no idea where to start even though we did the required measuring unit in January!

    From my understanding the math delivery plan was created so children in transient locations wouldn’t miss “units”. That makes total sense to me as I have worked at those schools but………….at an age when learning is at such a developmental phase I really don’t think it fits or has a place.

    The plan this year is to make it authentic and make it real! I have a long list I have been creating in my email of real learning that comes up through the year, but email seems to be down. Some ideas I can remember:
    -first day of school graph “how do you get home?”
    -each month do Pizza graph–create it as kids bring in money so it is real and the kids can sort the money too
    -measure the kids and keep an observation book about their growth
    -grow plants in the room and look after (science) and measure regularly to show growth
    My brain is not in “School Mode” this month so I can’t think of the others but………..I am thinking about everything that we do in a day, what will be going on in the world next year and how I can link it to math. Last year the Olympics did a great job of allowing us lots of counting down opportunities.

    Another thing I started to do with the kids are “math talks” about pictures. Real pictures of real things we see. I put up the picture, children gathered in groups and used chart paper to explain all of their math thinking about this picture. We would then gather on the carpet and each group would share their thinking. While they were working I walked around and used the Ipad to video or take pictures of different thinking I wanted to focus on and before sharing those moments would be highlighted as a “mini lesson” spear-headed by the kids but expanded on by me. The kids were always teaching each other but……….I got what I wanted in their by highlighting a few strategies or ideas I felt were important. We used pictures we found on twitter at first from other teachers: dozen eggs, pattern square carpet etc. Then I started to take pictures that linked to the children: a few tulips blooming in my garden in spring, my cat tree with my two cats on it, a giant chocolate bar during chocolate bar sales. This summer my goal with a colleague is to get out in our school community and gather pictures that will get kids talking about more than just math. I don’t teach by “Subject” any more so I need the community and science stuff from Grade One to come through as “little provocations” to hopefully inspire something. So far I can think of: the railway sign by our school (Shapes/patterns/words). A picture of the Orchard across the street as we have a nice view from the second floor of our school, the side of a school bus, the sign at the Niagara Gateway, the cat and the hat type pylons etc. So much to take notice of and math is everywhere and I was blown away with what the kids came up with. My thoughts are we will do this every Monday and come up with a fun name for it.

    • Thank you so much, Lori, for such a long and detailed comment. As I’ve said before, I wish that you would blog, and I hope that you consider doing so. These kinds of ideas are ones worth sharing. You’re always welcome to do a guest post on this blog if you’re interested (hint, hint 🙂 ).

      I think that you make some wonderful points here. Yes, observation will be key, and giving students the chance to really wonder and explore will be important. I’m starting at a new school for next year, and I have no idea what inquiry looked like in the Kindergarten classrooms. I’m excited to see what it can be in Grade 1 though. 🙂

      I also love your real world math ideas. At the proportional reasoning math inservices that I went to last year for Grade 5 teachers, we spoke a lot about the importance of teaching to “big ideas,” and not just looking strand by strand and expectation by expectation. While I also understand why the Math Delivery Plan was developed as it was and with what purpose in mind, it is somewhat contrary to this “big idea” approach. I’m interested in seeing how the two ideas blend in the coming years. In the meantime, I really like your suggestions, and I’d love to talk to you about some more.

      Your math talk (re. the pictures) is a wonderful idea as well. I think it would be great to connect our classes and have some students talk to each other via Skype or FaceTime. What a great way that we could support each other (with other question options) and have our students support each other too. I think that some #kinderchat teachers used to do Skype Play (I don’t know if they still do), and it would be great to extend this concept and partake in Skype Math Play in Grade 1: it could be math, oral language, and real life all in one. I have to think about this some more, but I’d love to hear what others think.

      Thanks for extending my own thinking, Lori!

      • Hi everyone,

        This year I tried to engage my grade one students and provide critical thinking challenges, by sharing personal stories and experiences with my students and telling them that I would really appreciate their help with some of my problems. So for example when my dog Lulu was about to turn 4 years old, I took a picture of her with a birthday hat on and displayed it on the Smartboard. I explained to the students that I wanted to have a birthday party for Lulu and invite some of the other dogs to the party. I wanted to give all of the dogs a special dog biscuit that had 5 dog smarties on them and that the dog smarties came in two colors blue and yellow. Given that I wanted each dog to receive its own special unique biscuit, I had a rule, every dog had to receive a different dog biscuit and because I was so particulary all of the yellow smarties had to be beside each other and all of the yellow smarties had to be beside each other in a row. I showed them one example and asked them to help me figure out how many dogs I could invite to the party given these criteria. They were given manipulatives, markers, crayons etc. to work on the problems. They worked in groups and we shared all of the findings with each other and they gave each other feedback. The students loved hearing these little personal stories and they felt so important when i praised them for helping me.

        • Thanks for the comment, Iara! I love how you tried to engage your 1’s in real problems that also made them think. I think that students need to see math as more than just what we “do” at school. Then there’s a reason behind what they’re learning, and maybe the subject becomes that much more exciting.


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