Monday, December 17, 2012

Math Activities for the Winter Break

By Savannah Hill, RME Professional Development Coordinator

From PBS Kids Fresh Pick
Buying Groceries

Although the winter break might not be quite as harsh as the “summer slump,” the break can potentially be harsh on a child’s mind. Their daily school routine is broken and they are not receiving the consistent practice of their math curriculum from school. But, just because they are out of school does not mean the learning cannot continue at home!

Below is a list of activities that children can do at home over the winter break to keep their minds thinking about math. These activities are interactive and will help support student learning while their school routine is broken.

While this blog is still directed at teachers, we hope you can use this in your last few days before the winter break. Or maybe these are some activities you could communicate to parents for you students to do over the winter break!

  • Count the number of ornaments. If you have multiple trees, have children divide to see how many ornaments go on each tree to make it even. If you have a younger child, have them practice dividing evenly by physically placing the ornaments in groups.
  • Review geometry by having the children group the ornaments by shape. One group may be all spheres, one group may be prisms, etc.
  • Use geometry when wrapping presents and calculate the surface area of the gifts to determine how much wrapping paper may be needed.
  • Have children bring a calculator with them to the grocery store and practice their math! Set a budget and have them help you along the way. While in the produce section, let your child help you weigh items and discuss pounds and ounces.
  • My Christmas Wish List In this activity, students can practice adding decimals (money amounts). Students can search for items that they want for Christmas in magazines or online and add them to their list to find the total cost. This allows them to practice their math skills while enjoying the holidays. Students could also be given a budget of how much they can spend on gifts and be challenged to get as close to their amount, without going over. More advanced students can be told to include a percentage of sales tax or shipping fees.
  • Make-a-flake This online activity allows students to make their own snowflakes without the mess! Children can cut out pieces of a triangle to create their own creative snowflake. They could even be given some sort of requirement to help with their shapes. For example, make a snowflake that has at least three triangles cut out.

PBS Kids: Fresh-Pick 
  • Buying Groceries Students have to pick out different items that cost different amounts and stay within a budget. For example, they may be given oranges that are $0.10 each and apples which are $0.15 and told they have $0.50. How many of each food can they buy?
  • Grocery Mapping Students have to map to the items in the store. They use the arrows to direct the character to the items in the store. 

  • Customer Change Students have to make the correct change. For example, they are told to make $0.90 and are given the option of quarters, dimes, and nickels. 
  • There are even some lesson plans for your preschool, elementary, and secondary classroom that go along with the lunch lab.

What other activities do you encourage students to do to practice their math skills daily?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Comparing Fractions

By Cassandra Hatfield, RME Assessment Coordinator

4 × 5 is 20. 8 × 1 is 8.
So, 58 is the greater fraction.
As a middle school math teacher, I found it interesting that when I would ask students to compare two fractions, many were quick to give me an answer, but when I asked them to order fractions it took those same quick students quite a bit more time and they often got the wrong answer. Intrigued by this I began to ask my students “how do you know?” I quickly found out that many students were comparing fractions using the “butterfly method” or cross multiplication. In this example, because the larger cross product is on the left, the larger fraction is on the left.

This “trick” will not take a student very far in their journey of mathematics. Although a student can arrive at the correct answer, the “trick” does not require any thought about the relative size of the fractions. If a student does not understand anything about the relative size of the fractions, how would the student order three or more fractions or think conceptually about this word problem: Max paid $12 for his portion of dinner. This was one-third of the total bill. How much was the total bill?

Instead of using the “trick” above, students should be given opportunities to compare fractions that have been intentionally selected by the teacher for investigation. This is not to say, that this should be a lesson titled “Many Ways to Compare Fractions.” Students should be given the opportunity to compare the fractions and share strategies with their classmates in a discussion. The teacher should listen for students who use specific strategies and poster those strategies in the classroom.

Below are some fractions I have intentionally selected for comparison. I’ve shared one strategy that could be used for comparison.

(Van De Walle, Karp, Bay-Williams, 2013, p. 310-311)

Summing it All Up
For students that are struggling with the abstractness of the above strategies, the use of number lines could be helpful. The IES Practice Guide, which is supported by research evidence, states, “conceptually, number lines and number paths show magnitude and allow for explicit instruction on magnitude comparisons" (IES Practice Guide, 2010).

First, see if the student understands how to partition a number line into equal parts and identify distances on the number line. If the student does, then models like the one shown below might be helpful for students to visually see the comparison strategy. 

Model of comparing 45 and 910 to a whole.

Now it’s your turn. Share with us a different strategy you would have used to compare the fractions above.

Van De Walle, J.A., Karp, K.S., & Bay-Williams, J.M. (2013) Elementary and middle school mathematics: Teaching developmentally. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Siegler, R., Carpenter, T., Fennel, F., Geary, D., Lewis, J., Okamoto, Y., Thompson, L., Wray, J. (2010) Developing effective fractions instruction for kindergarten through 8th grade: A practice guide. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Revolutionizing Mathematics with Technology Integration

By Dawn Woods, RME Elementary Mathematics Coordinator 

Photo from
Computers possess the potential for revolutionizing and individualizing mathematics instruction. The NCTM News Bulletin, October 2007, suggests that technology can support students in learning and knowing mathematics through individualized instruction while assisting teachers in gathering assessment data, and planning instruction that focuses on learners. As information technology evolves, teaching mathematics with a focus on learners in a multimedia rich enviorment enables students to ready themselves for cometitiion in the global marketplace (Wolf et al., 2011). Tools such as computers, iPads, document cameras, and interactive white boards can help reach different learning styles while holding students’ interest and attention while preparing them for the world in which they live.

Integrating technology can be overwhelming so I decided I would start with a project that my students and I could do together. I looked for a project that was pre-planned with all the “kinks” worked out. So in revolutionizing my mathematics classroom, I decided that I would start integrating technology with a lesson designed by Atomic Learning. Atomic Learning is an education solutions site that enables learners (of all ages) to embrace technology. This is a subscription site, but many districts have licenses since it is a great way to streamline online technology PD for their teachers.

As I browsed through the website, I discovered a Tech Integration Project Lesson Accelerator: How Big is a Foot? Tech Integration Projects, according to Atomic Learning’s website, assist teachers in teaching essential software skills while using tutorial movies to demonstrate, step-by-step, how to create curriculum-based technology projects with assessment rubrics. The How Big is a Foot Lesson Accelerator pulled in the children’s story, of the same title, by Rolf Myller (1991) as a way to engage the students with the project. This lesson introduced the need for standardized measurement, challenged students with a math problem, all the while teaching the students how to use an EXCEL spreadsheet.

Through out the course of the lesson, my students and I worked together to learn the ins and outs of EXCEL while learning about the importance of standardized measurement. We watched short tutorials, interacted with the software, and became very engaged in this multimedia way of instruction. The great thing about this project was that students could work at their own pace to learn the math and technology content, collaborate with others, receive individualized instruction, all the while learning a valuable software skill that could be used in other projects across the curriculum!

Summing it All Up
As my students and I collaborated on this project, we discovered how amazing a math project that integrates multimedia could be. The students embraced the opportunity to learn in an environment that took into account their learning style while giving them the freedom to solve a math problem in their own way and time. In reality, the How Big is a Foot project revolutionized my mathematics instruction by giving me the foundation to build other multimedia projects that would transform and modernize my classroom.

How do you use technology to revolutionize and individualize instruction in your teaching?

Myller, R. (1991). How big is the foot? New York: Dell Pub.

Wolf, D., Lindeman, P., Wolf, T., Dunnerstick, R. (2011). Integrate technology with student success. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 16(9), 556-560.