Daily Explore plus Four

The start of school is looming and I am spending some time thinking about how I’d like to change-up some of our learning activities. With all the attention on the Common Core in our District, and with the commitment to Launch-Explore-Summary lesson structures, I am once again tweaking Daily Five for math.

The basics of the philosophy and research behind the Daily Five, whether it is in math or literacy, always are there.  Clearly stated and modeled expectations (10 Steps to Independence), choice, brain research-based lesson structures (thank you Michael Grinder!).  Now, however, we are fitting this into our Launch-Explore-Summary lesson structure.

My newest iteration of the Daily Five for math is the Daily Explore Plus Four.  Using Launch-Explore-Summary, the target lesson follows our District curriculum modules in mathematics.  A focus lesson, approximately 10 minutes long, introduces the day’s math exploration.  Students can then begin to work on that exploration while I monitor who is able to persevere through the problem or activity and which students needs some additional support.

After about 20 minutes of independent work, we will re-gather as a group.  For this focus lesson, there may be an opportunity to share solutions (or partial solutions), talk about what was uncovered in the Explore, or continue with another 10 minute whole group learning activity.

Before dismissing students to work on other math activities, just as we do in the Daily Five for literacy, students will indicate what activities they plan to participate in during remaining independent times. Here is where most students will participate in the ‘plus four’ activities (Strategy Games, Drills and Fact Practice, Technology, Problem Solving).

During the second independent time (another 30-40 minutes), while students work on their chosen independent activity, I will be able to meet with a small group or meet individually with students who struggle with a mathematical concept.  For teachers who are already deep in to the Daily Five in Literacy, think individual conferences with a mathematics focus.

At the end of the math period, we will once again, re-gather as a whole group to summarize what our math goal was – and process whether or not we feel like it was accomplished – and 3 or 4 days of the week I plan to implement a 5-10 minute “Math Talk” based on Sherri Parrish’s Number Talks book.  On the fifth day, I’ll use the time to check on math fact fluency (a requirement for 3rd graders in the Common Core standards).

This is a flipped version of what we’ve traditionally done in math class.  In the past, the planned lesson based on the pacing criteria took about 60 minutes and the intervention/small group instructional block was 30 minutes.  With the knowledge that some students will choose to keep “exploring” during the second independent session, the model has flipped so that launch and explore are accomplished within the first 30 minutes of math.

Why do I think this is a good move? Well, for starters, I know I will get a better use of time by meeting with smaller, focused groups – the same way I see improved focus during individualized reading conferences.  Secondly, by strategically choosing strategy games that align with the standards currently being taught, students will have additional opportunity to practice those skills in a fun way. Analyzing test data will allow me to target and  support additional skill and strategy practice where students need it in the ‘plus four’ as well. The flexibility is endless.

The start of a new school can be exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. I am definitely looking forward to a change-up of our math time; one that I think will be more beneficial to my students.

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.