Daily Five Math, Common Core and Investigations

That’s right, I am incorporating all three of these things in one classroom.  I’ve been a fan of the Daily Five and Literacy CAFE for a couple of years. Last year, I started to use the structure of the Daily Five in mathematics.  I did this for a couple of reasons – first and foremost is that I hate segmenting curriculum areas into compartments.  If something works well in one area, it should work well in another.  And it does.

Admittedly, I have adapted D5 to suit my own needs as a teacher and the needs of my students.  This year has been a little tricky. The Common Core implementation ALONG SIDE continued attention to the 2004 Mathematics Framework makes me feel like I’m straddling a fairly fast moving river as the water level rises.

This week – school vacation week here in Massachusetts – I spent some time getting my bearings again for what universal or landmark games I can rotate in and out of the Daily Five.  Here’s what my current list looks like (this is on wikispaces, feel free to join in).

“Nobody Got Up Early in The Morning and Could Draw Perfectly…”

Christopher Myers is an author that I’ve grown to admire. One of his stories, “Wings”, is included in the basal readers we’re provided with. For me, this is one of the best pieces of children’s literature ever: the illustrations, the premise, the themes…. sometimes I think this text belongs in the hands of the adults more than the children!

One of my passions in teaching is to teach my students that they are smart, that they can learn. Convincing kids that they are capable learners is hard work, but with all due respect to those test writers lurking out there, it is the most important thing that I teach.

Sometimes I am not quite sure my students believe me – and why should they? After all I grew up in a white middle class family and socio-economic situations were so much different than most of my students.  Still, we keep trying to meet on that common ground.

Christopher eloquently speaks about the portrayals our students see of success; how our students don’t always see or know what it takes to be successful.

Nobody got up early in the morning and could draw perfectly.

Check out this video  on Reading Rockets to hear, in Christopher’s own words, the valuable lessons our kids need. Advance to the clip labeled Hard Work to hear Christopher speak about effort in whatever you do.

From the Peanut Gallery

All I really ever wanted to do was teach.  It gets harder and harder to love this career every year. We are awash in edicts – do this, don’t EVER do that. Decisions made from afar by people who seem to have no idea what students are like, what they need. 

I study more, read more, research more about pedagogy this year than I ever did when I was a beginner. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But in this time in education it seems as if we are ants scurrying from one thing to the next trying to find the perfect solution to all our students’ shortcomings. We work under a microscope – the public, the press, the politicians all want teachers to turn out perfectly educated humans as if they were widgets on an assembly line.

I’m afraid I can’t do that no matter how hard I am trying – and whether one wants to recognize it or not, No one program, no one method is going to be successful with all students.

I am working hard. Last week, one of my students had been physically assaulted by a parent with a hanger – DCF sent him home after investigating.  Think his mind was on 2 digit by 1 digit multiplication?  Guess how well he did on the District math test – a test that indicates whether I have done my job – when his mind was on how he was going to make it though the weekend without getting smacked around for causing DCF to confront his attacker – his father.  And he’s only one tale from this classroom. There are many more with similar traumas and distractions everywhere you look, I don’t care how affluent your school community is.

The climate for education – for the kids and for their teachers – is so punitive. We collect data to cover our asses under the guise of informing instruction.

Is this what education has come to? I hope with every breath of my being that the answer is no.

Sustainable Farming and CSAs

I hadn’t driven on Route 27 for a few weeks. Yesterday, though, driving through Acton and over to Concord, I noticed the gigantic red, white and blue FOR LEASE sign outside of one of the recently (ie within the last 5 years) organic farmstands. It was kind of a shock to me; no one has been buzzing about it in town.

A reminder that farming and selling fruits and veggies is a tough business? This particular farmstand may have relocated, that would be my hope, but I fear it simply has fallen victim of America’s penchant for cheap food grown who-knows-how.

If your family history is anything like mine, you probably have people in your ancestry who made their living from working in agriculture. And as we’ve become more modern, the farms, sadly have been disappearing. Over the 16 years I’ve lived in my town, I’ve watched as apple farm after apple farm has been sold off as plots for housing development. The old-timers in town talk about pig farms and dairy where a strip mall now stands.

My husband, Adrien, has been photographing the efforts of farmers who work with New Entry Sustainable and we belong to the CSA, World Peas. The farmers working with New Entry come with a variety of backgrounds: some have degrees or backgrounds in a related field, some are career-changers tired of being tied to a desk, some are immigrants from far-away countries trying to adapt to a new land.

Trying to encourage and train new farmers is a work of the heart as farming is such an unforgiving business: market selection, tending crops – those can all be taught. Weather and the whims of nature, impact even the most thoughtful farm efforts. For more on New Entry and some of the people who do this work, you may find this blog post interview with Matthew Himmel  interesting.

We enjoy the fruits of their efforts as they learn farming techniques that we hope will enable these newbies.  One way we can all support local farms and farming is, of course, through Farmers’ Markets, but another is to buy a CSA share, like World Peas.

And maybe, those For Lease signs won’t be popping up so frequently.


Writers’ Notebooks Revisited

Struggling with teaching writing is nothing new for me. I myself struggle with writing – the process, the ideas, the whole of it I’m afraid. And here’s an admission (omission?) of guilt: I have never kept a writers’ notebook.

Our district is committed to implementing Units of Study by Lucy Calkins – whose ideas I do admire and respect. In my struggles to incorporate “Lucy” into “Amy” interpretations of what I’m doing and what to do next are frequently garbled. I need to make sense out of this in my own way.

One of the things I’ve struggled with the past few months is Writers’ Notebooks. Originally I tried to get kids to jot down ideas – observations or snippets of a storyline that might be turned into something more significant at a later time. Lately, I’ve been teaching students a the strategies that Lucy Calkins outlines for generating narrative writing ideas.

Being more direct in teaching strategies for ideas seemed to be working. Kids were recording ideas and then focusing the idea for later development. Everything seemed to be humming. Or was it really? The transfer from notebook to draft was not very seamless.

This past weekend I found a book by Aimee Buckner call Notebook Know How.  I’m sure I’m probably the last person on the planet to discover this gem, but on the off-chance that you haven’t read it, do it. Now.

In my rush to get a Writers’ Notebook into my students’ hands, I forgot something:

A notebook can become whatever the writer makes it to be.  As teachers, we can guide its use, present strategies,  and even mandate entries if we wish. If the notebook is to be useful, however, it must be useful to the writer first, and the reader (teacher) second.

Here’s exactly what I have lost sight of! In my rush to get kids to use a writers’ notebook I haven’t provided them with any background for why writers use notebooks, nor any strategies for developing the notebook into a personal tool for each developing author.

So for the first time, I am going to keep my own Writers’ Notebook in hopes that I, too,  can learn right along with my students. We will become authors together.

Why The Math D5 Fits

Lots of teacher types seem interested in applying the Daily Five principles to mathematics. What does that mean? For me, it means that teachers are struggling to find ways to deliver comprehensive instruction to our students and to differentiate so that rigor is applied to all students no matter what their level of accomplishment.

The Math Daily Five as developed by Gail and Joan consists of four categories really – Math by Myself, Math Writing, Partner Work (Math with Someone), and Math with Technology.  I like the categories, really I do, but I also know I need to be accountable to expectations for teaching math that are required in my school district.

My current thinking – notice I am saying current because I expect this will morph as we figure out more of what the kids need in transitioning to Common Core – is that I need five, not four major categories. The categories I currently use in my classroom are: Math Exploration, Fact Practice, Problem Solving, Technology, and Math Games.  Here is why:

  • Our district has adopted a Launch-Explore-Summary model for delivery of instruction.  The “explore” activity on the Math D5 board is connected to the lesson that has been launched during math.
  • We also use Investigations in Number, Data and Space as our basal mathematics resource.  This structure supports the materials we have the most consistent access to.
  • Fact practice is necessary as students are often deficient in knowing their facts – I still have students who try to count on their fingers to add and subtract and they need to master those pronto. Common Core requires students in Grade 3 to master multiplication and division to the 10s family. The fact practice games and flash cards (we use the triangular ones) fit well in here.
  • Our Unified School Improvement Plan specifies that students get direct instruction in problem solving – not to mention the Massachusetts Common Core docs also call out problem solving structures. I give students at least one problem to solve each week in their Problem Solvers’ notebook to track their progress.
  • The games I choose for the Math Game choice function as review of prior skills and often as intervention practice for struggling students. Many of these activities are based on Number Sense and Operations/Algebra as that is where my students are weakest.

With all the nuts and bolts of why I use the Daily Five out there, one of the most beneficial aspects is actually more general.  The Sisters advocate for teaching students to be independent – accountable for their own learning actions and trusted to stay on task without constant teacher intervention.  For me, this is the ultimate reason for teaching students the Daily Five structure. I need to pinpoint which students are struggling and provide targeted help (an initiative also mandated by our District).  If I am constantly redirecting students I simply can not do that. I need to know that the students who are not directly interacting with me at any particular point in time are engaged in meaningful mathematics activity for the entire 90 minute mathematics period.

Another reason why I’ve embraced the Daily Five structure for mathematics is that it allows for segmenting the time frame.  Does anyone really have those long imaginary blocks of time with class interruptions at the end of the day? I don’t think so. My schedule is much more coherent this year than it has been for the last 3 years; however, I still need to interrupt my mathematics block for lunch and recess. So the general structure of the block goes like this:

10 – 15 minute Launch with whole group

20 – 30 minutes (students start with Explore and move to a choice)

10 minute mid-point check in (either we solve/discuss the daily activity or we check in with something I’ve notice as I observe students working).

15 minutes additional independent choice time (at this point I pull one or two students who are struggling with the daily concept for some clarification OR if everyone “gets it” (right), I work with a group of students to extend thinking.


20 minutes additional independent activity (intervene with students who struggle with number sense)

10 minute Summary of what we’ve done or learned for the day.

So far, this structure is working for me and my students. Perfect? I don’t think so, but the more I learn about what my students need and the more read and study about the thinking behind the Daily Five, the more I think I am on the right track for helping my students.