Math Empowers 1

Middletown Township Public Schools

Grade 1 Third Trimester 2018-2019

The final third ... of first grade!

The last trimester brings us to measurement and geometry. WOOHOO!! First grade favorites! Here are some ways to LEVEL UP during our LAST DAYS!

Measurement: Comparing lengths is a PERFECT time to reinforce "how many more than?" This is a BIG IDEA in first grade... one that many of your students will still struggle with next year. Measure with cubes and reinforce "1 more" and "1 less" visually. Can students identify a rod of 11 when held next to a 10? Immediately? Even if you remove the 10 after the comparison is shown? Can they identify 19 when compared to a known length of 20?

Geometry: First grade geometry is the INTRODUCTION of FRACTIONS!! This is BIG!

Partition circles and rectangles into two and four equal shares and use the phrases "half of, fourth of, and quarter of."

BIG IDEA: Making more equal shares creates smaller shares.

"The more pieces you cut something into... the smaller each piece will be."

This is a HUGE idea for fraction understanding. Cut up circles and rectangles; paper plates and perfectly round or rectangular pictures! (Please be careful of images that DO NOT create perfectly equal pieces. There are terrible examples of "fractions" all over the internet. Easter egg fractions? Pencil fractions?? This does NOT build understanding of exactly equal shares.)

Little ones need lots of experiences with folding and cutting shapes and counting them, "one 1/4, two 1/4, three 1/4 and four 1/4 makes the whole plate!" Ask first graders LOTS of thinking questions like, "which is larger, one half of a sandwich or one fourth of a sandwich?

This is also our last chance to explore some BIG IDEAS:

Composing Numbers (Making 10 & Doubles Facts) and Unitizing Tens.

Here is a simple formative check: Give your student a pile of 35 counters. Can he tell you (reasonably quickly) how many tens could be made of them? No? Then he is not confident with tens as a unit. He needs more experiences building them out of piles of snap cubes. For more ideas, see your building math specialist.

3 Ways to Create 1st Grade Problem Solvers!

What we do during these first experiences problem solving can have a HUGE impact on future math success! We learn very young... that if something works, stick with it. So if most experiences consist of "finding two numbers in the words and adding them"???? UH-OH!

In order to create problem solvers:

Offer engaging experiences that inspire reasoning before just adding up the numbers.Try:

  • NUMBERLESS PROBLEMS: At this point, most of us incorporated NUMBERLESS problems to prompt learners to consider context and make a plan before having any numbers to simply put together without any real thought. There is an entire page dedicated to these on our Resource doc. Scroll across past your grade level at the bottom :)
  • 3 ACT LESSONS: We have also incorporated 3 Act lessons to REALLY INSPIRE curiosity in our little friends. The results have been overwhelmingly positive! These are found in multiple places on our resource doc!
  • CREATING OUR OWN MATH STORIES: This has always been a favorite, but there was often a disconnect for struggling learners ... and little challenge for successful students. My First Math Story offers a differentiated problem solving path... that begins with:
  1. Fill in the Blank Activity: Students come up their own SITUATION or their own NUMBERS Mad Libs Style... before they solve.
  2. Math Story Maker: Students pick Topic Card, Numbers Card, and Operation Card" for their math stories. Students can move through the levels at their own pace!...and those who need lots of repetition with earlier levels, will have new story themes and numbers every time.

For an interactive twist on problem solving with part whole models, check out Thinking Blocks Jr (or Thinking Blocks for those who are ready). If you have already used this tool, notice the new changes. This is now more of a teaching tool, where you select the problem type first. However, it is important to have students try RANDOM MODE... so they will be given a variety of problem types.

mastermind: Ask only who is ABOVE or BELOW ... then move your cards to show what you know!

Logic & reasoning games are another way to develop problem solving skills without typical math problems. Challenge students to determine a secret order by asking simple questions like: "Is the ball above the bunny?" or "Is the ball below the umbrella?" First graders can alternate roles initially; One player (or team) can be the HIDER while the other is the THINKER. The next round, they switch. Confident players can move to hiding AND thinking at the same time... so players alternate between asking and answering questions.

Consider a lesson with this game and then move into center (or recess) rotation. Start with 3 cards and move to 4 as students are ready. Allow some productive struggle. Have students play for a while and share failures and successes that turned into strategies!

Using the cards to model thinking, is one way of mathematizing a situation. This is a very important problem solving skill, and possibly one of the hardest to "teach". Like number sense, it is not learned from a lesson... it is developed over many, many experiences. That is why our BEST math games should be played again and again. Repeat the games! Reinvent the questions you ask with them!

Excited to try 5 cards?

Do you know how many more possible orders there are with 5 cards, than 4?

(There is a reason this game is appropriate for ages 7- adult.)

Spring Mastermind includes St.Patrick's Day, Outdoor & Easter Gnomes for lots of repetition.


Steve Wyborney (creator of many popular numbers sense routines for K-12), has just finished and released a project that took him 7 months to complete. It's called 20 Days of Number Sense & Rich Math Talk - 20 days of lessons that give students a really good opportunity to experience number sense - and to experience very rich math discourse. He leveled the lessons so that they are available and accessible to ALL elementary students.

Included in this project are 4 different activities (and 5 days of each activity). Here is the breakdown:

Days 1-5: Estimation Clipboard

Days 6-10: Splat Activities

Days 11-15: Esti-Mysteries

Days 16-20: Cube Conversations

Your students will LOVE these activities...ask your math specialist if you have any questions or need any assistance.

Have you seen Dan Finkel’s TEDx talk?

If not, click here: Five Principles of Extraordinary Math will soon be hooked! After obtaining his PhD in mathematics, Dan became dedicated to understanding and teaching the motivation, history, aesthetics, and deep structure of mathematics.

Like many of us, Dan has made it his goal to “give everyone the chance to fall in love with mathematics.” Check out, where you can find a free lesson library and information about learning through play with two great games called Prime Climb & Tiny Polka Dot, both of which foster a love for mathematics.