Have Fun Building Number Sense: Play "No More"!

Have Fun Building Number Sense: Play "No More"!

     Would you like to have a no-prep math activity that you can use with almost any grade-level? Would you like to feel confident that you're building number sense? How about knowing you're creating a segue into pre-algebra? If so, let's play "No More"!
     When I say "no prep", I mean it! Simply stroll to the white board or Smart Board and sketch this:

     Next, pick a number. I typically use the day's date at the beginning of the year, but you can pick any number. Write the number at the top.
     Now, challenge students to call out as many different ways as they can think of to "express" that number. This is a beautiful way to get used to identifying just what a mathematical expression is - another way to say a number. I always make an ELA connection here, explaining that I can refer to a child, say Jayden, with different expressions. I can refer to Jayden as, "Jayden", "Mr. Williams", "the boy closest to the door", "the guy in the red shirt", "one of my students", etc. In the same way, we can refer to numbers in just as many ways.
     As you get started, students will typically share fairly simple expressions although some students are ready for more advanced examples:
      You can help students by interjecting some expressions yourself. Remind students that they can use the word form of a number, the short word form, Roman numerals, and later on, decimals and fractions.
     My students would often hang out with the easiest expressions they could think of, like addition. As you notice one operation being used a lot as in the example below, write the operation in the "No More" column. This means that there can be no more addition used in expressions for the rest of the game! Yikes! Kids really start to slow down and think!
     They may head for the relative safety of, say, subtraction. Let them go a while, then lower the boom. No more subtraction!
     Continue playing for a few minutes, usually 2 - 5. Once you eliminate a third operation, you're really cooking!
     You get the idea. You're guiding students to think deeply about how to create a number and they're understanding the difference between expressions and equations.
     Consider adding this to interactive math notebooks, assigning it as a warm-up, and letting kids collaborate before they share. I'd love for you to try "No More" and let me know how it works for you!
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Pat McFadyen
Build Number Sense With Contig!

Build Number Sense With Contig!

     Have you ever heard of the math game Contig? If you haven't, please keep reading and consider adding it to your collection of go-to math activities. I recommend this game for any class for so many reasons:

  • it's awesome at building number sense
  • it's easy to prep and play 
  • each game is fresh and new 
  • you and your students can adapt it to your own needs as you go 
  • it works beautifully in centers, small groups, or as whole-group fun 
     You can download a free copy of the game board here. There is also a Contig, Jr. for younger students. Here's the game board:

     Materials are simple. For a pair of students, you need a laminated game board, 3 dice, and a different colored dry erase marker for each player.
In a nutshell, here are the rules:
1) Roll three dice. Use the numbers just as they are. For example, if you roll 2, 4, 6, they cannot be 24 or 62... just 2, 4, 6. 
2) Add the three numbers. The sum is your starting number. Cross it off the board. This is the only time that you are required to do anything specific with the numbers you roll.

3) Look at all of the numbers surrounding the number you marked off. These are your target numbers. For example, if your starting number is 12, your target numbers are 3, 4, 5, 11,13, 19, 20, 21. You do not have to mark them, as I have in blue below. This is just to show you what is allowed.
4) On each turn, roll three dice. The player can perform any operations in any order on those three numbers as long as the result is one of your target numbers. For example, if you rolled 3, 5, 6, you could say: 3 x 6 - 5 = 11. Cross off 11. 
5) Your new target numbers are 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21.
6) Continuing rolling 3 dice on each turn. Perform mathematical operations to produce one of the target numbers. Notice that your target possibilities increase with each new number. Continue play for a specified time or number of turns, whatever works for you.

     Once students are very confident with playing the game, they typically start asking to change the rules. That's great! This type of mathematical discussion is powerful. I always ask students to predict how their suggested change will affect the game.

     If students ask about the name, Contig, I love to make this ELA connection. I tell them it comes from the word contiguous, then ask if that sounds like a word they've heard before. They typically respond, "Continuous". I agree and say contiguous means continuous and touching. That refers to the target numbers that need to be touching, or contiguous to, the numbers you choose.
    I hope you'll give Contig a try. I love it so much, I created a version to send home with my students. It's a great homework activity. You can find it in my store here.

     Best wishes and I'd love to hear how Contig work for your students!
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Pat McFadyen
Have Fun Learning With This Adverb Game!

Have Fun Learning With This Adverb Game!

     When we teach grammar, students can get a little stuck on different parts of speech. Nouns and verbs can go more smoothly, but adverbs and adjectives can be challenging. The names both starting with the same letter can add an extra layer for kids to sort.

     For years, I used a game that is such a great learning tool! "In The Manner Of The Adverb" is easy to teach, so much fun to play, and helps students internalize an important concept. You don't even have to wait until you're teaching parts of speech to introduce it. It makes a great indoor recess game or brain break and is super at building collaborative skills. In addition, kids are very active, they practice expressive skills, and the game is supposed to be fairly quiet!

     How to play "In The Manner Of The Adverb": 
1. If you haven't already, explain to students what an adverb is and how it's used. You don't need to go into a lengthy grammar lesson, you'll be developing the concept by playing the game over time.
2. Have a list of adverbs from which to choose. If you're good at "mental grammar", that's great! I always needed a list so I could differentiate on the fly. You'll also need a list of tasks that can be performed in the classroom. Examples are "sharpen your pencil" or "adjust the mini-blinds". I've added a list below to get you started.
3. Choose two students, the Adverb Guessers, to step outside of the room. I always used two students just so they could support each other and to foster collaboration. You can use one, if you wish. Another character you might need is a Door Person to call the Guessers back in and to assure there's no peeking if you have a glass window!
4. Once the Guessers are outside, write an adverb on the board or a slate and silently show it to the rest of the class. It's important that no one says the adverb out loud. Erase the word and call the Guessers back in.
5. Start calling on students to silently perform a specific task "in the manner of the adverb". Let's suppose we chose the adverb "quickly". You might say, "Jayden, please come shake my hand in the manner of the adverb." Without speaking a word, Jayden would quickly leave his seat, come shake your hand, and return to his seat, all without speaking. The Guessers can now take a guess at what the adverb is. I always give each pair of Guessers three tries.
6. Let's suppose the Guessers don't know or guess incorrectly. You'll call on Lilly. "Lilly, please go sharpen your pencil in the manner of the adverb. Without speaking, Lilly will quickly walk to the sharpener, sharpen her pencil, and return to her seat. The Guessers can try again.
7. After a third try, or whatever works for your group, you can reveal the adverb to the Guessers, choose two new students, and choose another adverb.

   You'll probably have a plethora of students volunteering to perform a task for each adverb. They get so excited! To keep everyone active and involved, I allow students to sit on their desks or stand out of the way during the game.

     The two tools that I mentioned in Step #2 that are good to have at hand are a list of adverbs and a list of activities that can be performed in a classroom. To get you started, I've included a list for each. Feel free to add to them!
     I'd love to hear how this game works for you! Best wishes!
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Pat McFadyen
An Inspirational Poem And A Gift For You

An Inspirational Poem And A Gift For You

     One of my favorite back-to-school activities for my 5th graders was to recite and learn this growth mindset poem, "The Ones Who Think They Can", by Walter Wintle. There are a number of versions of the poem, and this is the one that worked best for us.
     On the first few days of school, we would all read a projected copy of the poem together a couple of times. I talked about the meaning and the concepts behind it. I explained that the word "man" means "mankind", not just males. Each student would cut and tape the smaller version into their math or science journal for reference.
     We continued reciting the poem as part of our morning routine for a couple of weeks, then we'd do it together more occasionally. I challenged students to commit the poem to memory - memorize is a fine word, too. If they wanted to, they could recite the poem to me privately, or to the class. In return, they would receive a "100" in the subject of their choice. I do not typically reward students, or pay them, for academic performance. However, since this was an optional challenge, I felt good about it.
     Some of the phrases started to find their way into our everyday comments. If we mentioned someone who persevered against strong odds, someone might say aloud, "The ones who think they can!" If someone made a comment that was sort of down on themselves, someone might remind them, "If you think you're beaten, you are."
     Please grab a free copy here and use it in your classroom. I'd love to hear how it works out for you!
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Pat McFadyen
Starting Math On The First Day(s) Of School!

Starting Math On The First Day(s) Of School!

                                Math on the first day of school
     The first days of school are so jam-packed with back-to-school, getting-to-know-you, and housekeeping activities, it can be a real challenge getting into actual curriculum. As a new teacher, I struggled to find the optimum time to begin that first lesson: the one I believed should be delivered by me, at the front of the room, to students sitting in desks, to be followed with a paper and pencil activity.
     Over the years, I learned that there are dozens of ways to "do math" that are fun and engaging, and that involve students, not just as learners, but as collaborators and critical thinkers. Choose from some of the suggestions below and you'll find yourself rocking some math from Day 1!


     I always looked so forward to reading Math Curse by Jon Scieszka on the first day of school each year. I love the humor and the way math concepts are introduced. Kids love coming to the carpet and having a book read to them. It's a warm, fuzzy way to ease into the new year. It's also a good chance to teach some of those all-important classroom procedures. Check out my post about routines and procedures here. You could begin a longer math-oriented book, such as The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davis or The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill. Other good choices are any of the Sir Cumference books, Grandfather Tang's Story, or How Much Is A Million?

Math Games

     What a great way to develop a positive attitude toward math, strengthen concepts, and practice skills! There are so many commercial math games, such as Mathopoly, Sum Swamp, and Equate that teach math skills and concepts. Connect Four and good old checkers are always winners. Teachers can also fill their math tool kit with games like Contig (a super way to build number sense!) and Race to 100. Don't want to take the time for a full-fledged board or card game? Try "Where's The Math In The Date?", a quick game that only uses a few digits. Learn how to play it here.

Journal Prompts

     A favorite first day math activity is to make a list of "Ways I Used Math Today Before School". As students share, they'll find that "checking to see if it's time to leave home", "pouring a bowl of cereal", and "tying two shoe laces" are all ways of using math. Other engaging prompts include: "How I Feel About Math" and "People who are good at math...".

Gather Data

     Asking a group question and having students answer it in different ways is a great segue into many math concepts, as well as social topics. The pictures below show a sampling of ways to do that.

Math About Me Project

     The "Math About Me" project has become popular recently. It can be as simple as a pre-made paper template on which students share significant numbers. It can also be more of a curation project where students bring in objects that reflect the numbers in their lives.

Math Craft

     Crafts may be more than many want to approach during the first days of school. For those who do want to build that into their new year, consider paper-folding or mosaic pictures.

Math Jokes

     Jokes are always a winning component of a happy classroom. Any joke is great, but it can be fun to spend a few weeks focused on math, science, or another specific topic. I once had a hallway bulletin board to which we attached math jokes and riddles for several weeks. The whole school appreciate it!

Math Puzzles

     It's always a good idea to get kids' hands on their math. Consider spending some time with math puzzles, such as tangrams, cross-number puzzles, or sudoku.


     Combine math and art with a color-by-code or color-by-number activity. Kids will get some solid math practice in while they touch the artsy side of their brain with coloring.

     These are only a few ways to incorporate math into the first day(s) of school. I'd love to hear how you do it!
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Pat McFadyen
5 Reasons Why Following The Rules Is Important

5 Reasons Why Following The Rules Is Important

     We all know day-to-day life can be challenging. Tedious. Annoying. Overwhelming. Just plain hard. It's in our nature as parents and teachers to try and make our own lives and those of our loved ones easier. Smoother. More efficient. Less stressful. It can be so tempting to cut a corner here and there. 
     Nothing serious or harmful. Like, let your child wear a shirt for a second day. Serve a meal with no vegetables. Let the library book go overdue. Pay the late registration fee. While we all make use of these options once in a while, it can be very easy to make such decisions more and more frequently, to depend on the slip-and-slide that can exist around rules. It can be easy to let rules take a backseat to our own convenience.
     This applies to any walk of life and it can be even more amplified in the world of education. Once we have children in schools, a relationship develops between home and school. We hope it will be a positive, supportive relationship, but that relationship can take a hit if we forget that we all have a responsibility toward building a healthy relationship that works. 
     Note: Following rules for the general population does not apply in every situation. In school and out, it is only ethical to accommodate special circumstances and special needs. 
     Consider these five reasons why parents should make a focused effort to follow the day-to-day rules that govern our lives.

1. Kids do what they see. Few parents will directly teach their children to break rules, although I have seen it happen. Even when we don't mean to, we are continually teaching our children, even through our casual conversations and actions. When children see and hear us breaking rules, they will surely follow suit.
2. Breaking the rules creates conflict. When we try to manipulate life to our own advantage, others are inconvenienced, unfairly burdened, and often angered. Who needs more conflict in their lives? Follow the rules and enjoy less conflict.
3. Remember that, as parents and teachers, we are also creating tomorrow's adults, not just today's kids. If the important people in their lives regularly break rules, kids can develop an "it's all about me" attitude. This is one of the biggest criticisms of today's millennial generation. Whether it's true or not, they are seen as entitled and selfish. It's not pretty. Avoid this for your children by showing them how to do the right thing. 
4. Life runs more smoothly for everyone when we follow the rules. It's a way to pay it forward. Do your part and others' lives are smoother, thanks to you.
5. It's ethically, morally right to follow rules. If we want to raise children who are ethically and morally focused, we must model those behaviors.

     If you find yourself breaking, bending, or stretching the rules more than once in a while, it may be time for a reboot. Consider these thoughts:
1. Think about the person you want to be. Are you living up to the standards you set for yourself? If not, consider setting some new goals and working toward them.
2. Think about how you want your children to see you. 
3. Let your children hear you talk about how you respect the rules. What a lesson you can teach by saying, "I'm really tired, but I need to complete your softball registration tonight. I'm going to do it now so that the coaches will know you want to play. Then, I won't have to pay a late fee and you'll be sure to be on a team." How much easier your life will be, too!

     What do you think about following the rules? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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Pat McFadyen
You CAN Teach Content and Procedures From Day One!

You CAN Teach Content and Procedures From Day One!

     I've been reading posts lately from newer teachers who struggle with how to teach essential classroom routines and procedures from the first day of school while not ignoring content. Some question whether they should chose one over the other and if it's even possible to do both. I'm hearing:

"Should I really spend two full weeks just teaching routines and procedures?"
"When do I start teaching content? I'm afraid of getting behind right from the start!"
"When does your district start teaching content?"
"How much time should I spend on routines and procedures?"
"Should I review routines and procedures every day? For how long?"

     These are valid concerns for any teacher. I believe whole-heartedly that you definitely can teach all of those valuable routines and procedures and begin teaching content right from the first day of school!

What are routines and procedures?

     In order to be clear with children, have a clear understanding yourself. If your school or district uses specific terminology, always go with that. I use routine to reference the order or sequencing of your day. For example, our morning routine was always to enter the room, tell your teacher "hello", put up your belongings, make your lunch choice, and begin your Morning Work. To be silly, I would tell students that we must enter the room before we make our lunch choice - that's routine.
     I use procedure to refer to a particular way of doing something. For example, everyone needs to return their coloring pencils after an activity. One procedure is to put the box into your desk. Another procedure is to put them in your back pack. A third procedure is for the table leader to gather and return them to a special drawer. Our procedure was for the table leader to return them to a drawer.

Be crystal clear on the procedures that you need students to follow.

     Having efficient procedures can have a powerful impact on your overall classroom management. When your students know exactly how to perform certain tasks, they can work more independently and you will have to intervene less often. You'll need a procedure to gather and return materials, to form groups, to work collaboratively, to return assignments, to ask for help. Your procedures needn't be complicated; in fact, they need to be as simple and streamlined as possible. On the other hand, you don't want students to feel policed or like robots. There are many activities, such as returning a book to the shelf, that don't require a specific procedure. Give lots of thought to the procedures you do want. Talk to other teachers in your school and find out what works for them. A few suggestions that worked for me over the years:
-To gather materials, such as coloring pencils: The table leader goes to the correct drawer, gathers, and distributes to his/her own table.
-To return materials: The table leader gathers and returns materials from his/her table.
-To turn in homework: As you unpack in the morning, take your homework to the bin on the counter.
-If you finish work early: Read quietly, complete another activity, or find an activity in the Early Finishers Notebooks.
-If you need the restroom outside of a scheduled break: Make the ASL sign for "restroom" and go!

Plan for the first day.

     On the first day of school, have a good balance of getting-to-know-you activities, housekeeping tasks such as confirming how each child gets home (I forgot this one year - a real disaster at dismissal!), explanations of school and classroom guidelines, and introductory content lessons. I always tried to include a read-aloud, a math game, one or two movement activities, and several content activities. Make notes on the procedures you will highlight for each one. In my classroom, I would plan for activities like these:
1. Read-aloud Math Curse by Jon Scieszka; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, move quietly to the carpet, sit in your own space.
2. Play math game "Contig"; Procedures taught: One game partner will go to the materials area and pick up dice, a game board, and dry erase markers.
3. Play "Sometimes, Always, Never"; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, gather at the back of the room, move carefully, respect your classmates' space.
4. Go on a school tour for new students; Procedures taught: Walk to the back of the classroom as your table is called, line up behind the last person in line,  walk quietly on the right side of the hall.
5. Play "Where's The Math In The Date?"; Procedures taught: Raise your hand and wait to be called on to respond. (This is different from other games where blurting answers is allowed.)

Be the student and go through each activity.

     I cannot overemphasize the value of actually role-playing your procedures before you teach them. You will often catch glaring problems that could arise when your students follow your directions. I once had an awful traffic jam - during an observation - because I failed to act it out myself first. Back in the days when I was still figuring out my procedures, I would carve out some time during the planning days before school started. I would literally give directions to myself out loud, then follow them to the last detail. I caught a lot of potential problems and was able to resolve them before I used them on kids. Whew!

     In all things, the best laid plans can always go awry. If you see that something is not working, be  honest enough to see it and flexible enough to change it.

     I'd love to hear how you handle routines and procedures in your classroom. What works for you?
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Pat McFadyen
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