Today We Went On A Treasure Hunt.


 Could it be the droid I am looking for? photo credit: Nukamari via photopin cc

This morning as I was putting the schedule on the board, I stopped next to the science label and simply wrote: C,H & O activity. When students started coming in and seeing what the roadmap for today said, they all asked “What is C,H & O activity”. It stumped them. It perplexed them. It thrilled them. They couldn’t wait until 2:40pm when it was finally time to explain what we were doing. I was bombarded with questions all day but simply replied “You’ll see when we get there. It’s going to be fun!”.

One student did figure it out 5 minutes before science, and was given the job of proudly announcing to the class that it was called the: “Carnivore, Herbivore and Omnivore Activity”. Questioning eyes landed on me as I finished my sentence. What was this activity? How would it be fun?

The idea was simple. We have been studying habitats for a while and have just started our exploration of food chains this week. It was time to explore what the different types of consumers were.The students were given a table with three columns and were challenged to search through the science literature for multiple examples of all three types of consumers. (I am blessed that the school librarian put together an amazing collection of together for us for this unit).  Once they had completed their lists, they could pick their favourite three and sketch them in their science thinking books.

Our pre-discussion resulted in amazing questions: Is a penguin an omnivore or is it carnivore? Are bees herbivores? What about vampire bats??. Armed with the books, a reminder to have a critical eye when reviewing information and eagerness that only a treasure hunt could inspire the students were off! The buzz in the room was amazing! Discussions and gasps of delight as they figured out what different animals eat filled the room. “DId you know that a frog is carnivore?”, “Do you know what the three types of mammals who lay eggs are?” When students were stumped they could use the laptops to check their information.

Oh what fun it was! There were groans as I asked them to clean up. What fun scientific treasure hunts are! Nobody can take away the treasure of knowledge.


What’s My Number? Mystery Number Call Math Warm Up


  Emptied photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

Last week I happened to come across a Tweet in my Twitter feed that talked about ‘Mystery Number Calls’.  Having done a number of Mystery Skype calls with my students my curiosity was piqued and I began to follow the conversation thread. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was just like a mystery Skype but the classes would be guessing each others numbers. I opened a sign-up document from a Tweet and promptly forgot about it until the next day when one of my students said “Mystery number call? Cool! When are we going to try it??!”  A few others heard the comment and my class all got excited at the prospect of a new Skype game. That sealed the deal I just had to see if we could try this out!

I tapped into my PLN and @tegesdal agreed to do a mystery number call with us! We decided our classes each would pick 3 numbers between 0 – 99 and take turns asking questions to guess each number one at a time. I am very lucky to have a great coworker (@jennmarieco) who is always willing to try things out with me and agreed to have her third grade class join us in new our math game. After we explained the premise of the game and chose our numbers we eagerly awaited the start of our mystery number call. We had 2 students who were in front of the camera while the rest of the students listened and suggested what questions to ask. Oh what fun it was!

Some great things that I saw happen during the call:

– Having done a number of Mystery Skype calls this year our students all knew the expectations and exactly how to behave. Life is good when things work smoothly!

– Hearing the other classes questions helped our students become more strategic in what questions they asked.                                                                                      Is it even or odd? Is there a 9 in the tens place? Is it a multiple of 5? So many great ways to narrow down what the number is!

– It forces students to draw on their wide mathematical knowledge.

– Being asked about their number forced our students to think critically about the characteristics of our chosen numbers. It also forced them to keep track of what questions we asked and what the others class’s number could be.

– It takes team work to narrow down the number.

– Everyone was successful and we were able to guess all the numbers in the game!

– The game only took 20 mins and is a great warm up for a math class!

Some changes for next time: 

– I would have students pick numbers between 0 and 10 000. (fits with the grade 4 curriculum)

– I would play the ‘low tech’ version of guess my number a few more times to practice our question asking strategies.

– I would give each student either a number line or a number chart of sorts.

– I would do small groups or pair rotations to allow everyone to get more involved.

Our experience with the mystery number call was very positive and I can’t wait to try it agin! If you are interested in connecting with us just let me know!

To learn together do we have to sit together?

Earlier this week I read a blog post by Aviva Dunsiger entitled: “Why I have such strong reaction to rows”.  As is usually the case with my PLN when something is on my mind someone else is thinking about the same thing and writing about it. Some people say they don’t like students sitting in groups because it causes increased noise levels and behaviour problems. Although this is true in some instances. Should learning really be quiet and reserved all the time? Although I am not the biggest fan of row seating I don’t think it is that bad but rather keeping your seating plan static for long stretches of time is.

Over the course of the year I have tinkered with our seating plan. We tend to change seating arrangements once every 4 – 6 weeks to keep things fresh. Sometimes I have the students vote on seating options and at other times I just pick an option. We have sat in pairs, in groups of 3, 4 and  5 and in rows.  The same goes for choosing where students sit. Sometimes I pick, sometimes they pick. Variety is the spice of our seating arrangement in grade 4. And yes, by request from the students we have sat in rows for a bit this year. They loved it for a bit but then as usual got bored and asked to change the arrangement again.

Students will occasionally request that they sit alone and I let them do so with the understanding that next time they will need to sit in a group with their peers. They happily agree and we find a spot that is just right for them to sit.


For the most part in our grade 4 classroom we sit in groups and I prefer it.

Some of the reasons I like having my students sit in groups are:

Sitting in groups makes group work easier. No need to move desks when students need a space to work because there area already spaces ready for them to work in.IMG_0034

Learning is very social in elementary school. Young students love learning together!

Sitting in groups teaches them self-control. When great friends sit together they chat. It’s natural. Seating them in a group forces them to learn that there are times  when it is okay to be talking and sharing with each other and others when you need to be listening.


Peers model appropriate behaviour. Sometimes all students need is to see their desk mate pulling out their work to do the same. No need for a teacher prompt.

For whatever reason when students sit in rows I feel like I need to lecture more. I don’t like lecturing to my grade 4’s  for long periods of time as I find they tune out and get bored.

Sitting in groups also allows students who may otherwise not interact with each other to see each other in a new light and learn to work with new people.

I also tend to be flexible with where students work once they are given an assignment. We are lucky enough to have a large table at the back of our room that can seat 6 people. Students will often move there when they are given work and collaborate together on projects. At times I sit there so I can help students who need extra help. Other students prefer to do their work on the floor using clipboards which is also okay with me as long as the work gets done. Others simply stay at their desks.

What are your thoughts on seating in elementary classroom?

Math Puzzles + Kids = Brain Melting Fun

photo credit: “1950… Destination Moon” By  x-ray delta one via photopin cc

This term in our math class we were challenged to pick a math SLO and research the difficulties kids have when learning about the concepts in that particular SLO. Then we had to create a lesson that addressed those difficulties and try it out with some kids. ACK, all sounds a bit complicated but, turns out it’s a pretty interesting way to go about things.

Because I am in a grade four classroom this year for my practicum and will be teaching a division unit in March I chose to research kids difficulties with division (shocking I know). Incase you were wondering that falls within the SLO 4.N.7 of the Manitoba Math Curriculum. Riffling through technical research papers is something I haven’t had to do since my undergrad work in Biology and it brought back vague memories of the Chi squared test and correlation coefficients *shudder*. Luckily along the way I learned some interesting things:

  • Kids have a pretty good sense of division even in the very early grades (Think sharing cookies) and struggle when it all gets taught in a formal way at school (think old school division problems).
  • Young students have a number of fascinating intuitive models that they employ when solving division problems.
  • Language matters! Kids get lost when the problem aren’t clear!
  • Many students fail to see the connection between multiplication and division.

(I could go on with the list but I wont. If you are curious here is the full list of references I used in my research adventure check them out if you’re looking for some more info!)

Being someone who never really got the concept of division when it was first taught to me the last point stood out to me the most! From the fist time I learned how to do division up until now, I use multiplication to work out and check my answers. So as you can guess, I decided to design a lesson around the connections between multiplication and division.

A few thing to keep in mind before I go ahead and explain the lesson 1) it was designed to be done with a small group of students whom I had never met before 2) I had no idea if they were strong or struggling with math and 3) I only had 40 minutes to complete the lesson! On the day of the lesson I had 3 students in my group, a great number for a test run!

Phase 1 of the lesson consisted of playing around and organizing manipulatives into arrays to show and discuss how multiplication is related to division and vice versa. The purpose of this was just to refresh students memories about the proccesses involved in solving division and multiplication problems.

After their brains were all ready to go I gave them the option between being ‘Mathamagicians’ which involved playing a card game or being ‘Mathtronauts’ who had to escape a math wormhole. Yes, I am a complete sucker for amusing names when doing activities. It almost seems the more ridiculous the better. Both games required students to practice using all four operations, so either choice had them practicing the skills I wanted them to practice.

Anyways they chose to be ‘Mathtronauts’, the one I was secretely hoping for! The game is called “Through the Wormhole” and can be found at Here’s a quick video to explain what it’s all about:

Since finding Math Pickle in early October I have been itching to try out one of the puzzles with kids. As the video explained this particular puzzle requires that you work systematically to multiply, subtract and divide in order to solve for each blank space. I was a bit apprehensive about doing this puzzle with a group of new kids but I took things slowly and worked with the students to solve the first ring of blanks and we slowly moved up onto the next row. I kept the manipulatives available help the group/individual students concretely work out the multiplication and the subsequent division problems if needed. (Nothing like knowing if you can’t do it your head you can work it out right in front of you step by step).

At first they were a bit scared by the complexity of the puzzle, but as we kept working at it, they loved it! It was difficult, it was tricky but they soon found shortcuts and gained confidence as they moved through the puzzle. My head hurt a little bit from working so systematically and slowly but in the end it was worth it and totally cool to see kids in action solving the puzzle! To all of our dissapoinment we ran out of time before we could finish the whole puzzle, so more than 40 minutes is definitely needed! I was asked if I was coming back to do math with them again so you know, that’s a good sign! I will definitely be trying out the rest of the puzzles on Math Pickle and will be reusing this lesson come March!

Resources: (Great resources on how to teach multiplication and division)

If you want the full copy of the research paper I wrote and the accompanying lesson plan let me know and I will send it to you!