Category Archives: 5th Grade

Number Talk: Which Numbers Are Helpful?

I think Number Talks are such a powerful routine in developing students’ fluency and flexibility with operations, but maybe not for the reason most think. One of the most highlighted purposes of a Number Talk is the ability to elicit multiple strategies for the same problem, however, an even more important goal for me during a Number Talk is for students to think about the numbers they are working with before they begin solving. And then, as they go through their solution path, think about what numbers are helpful in that process and why.

The struggle with trying to dig deeper into that thinking is simply, time. If the opportunity arises, I ask students about their number choices during the Talk but often students just end up re-explaining their entire strategy without really touching on number choices. Not to mention the other 20ish students start losing interest if they take too long. I do think it is a particularly tough question if students are not used to thinking about it and when the thinking happens so quickly in their head, they don’t realize why they made particular choices.

Last week in 2nd grade I did a Number Talk with two problems, one addition and one subtraction. During the addition talk, I noticed students using a lot of great decomposition to make friendly numbers (the term they use to describe 10’s and 100’s).


During the subtraction problem, I saw the same use of friendly numbers, however in this one I actually got 100 as an answer. My assumption was because the student knew he was using 100 instead of 98, but got stuck there so went with 100 as the answer. I was really impressed to see so many strategies for this problem since subtraction is usually the operation teachers and I talk endlessly about in terms of where students struggle. I find myself blogging on and on about subtraction all of the time!


When the Number Talk ended, I looked at the board and thought if my goal was to elicit a lot of strategies, then I was done – goal met. However, I chose the numbers in each problem for a particular reason  and wanted students to dig more into their number choices.

This is where I find math journals to be so amazing. They allow me to continue the conversation with students even after the Number Talk is finished.

I went back to the 100, circled it and told the class that I noticed this number came up a lot in both of our problems today. I asked them to think about why and then go back to their journal to write some other problems where 100 would be helpful.

Some used 100 as a number they were trying to get to, like in this example below. I really liked the number line and the equations that both show getting to the 100, but in two different ways.


This student got to 100 in two different ways also. I thought this was such a clear explanation of how he decomposed the numbers to also use 10’s toward the end of their process as well.


This student used the 100 in so many ways it was awesome! She got to 100, subtracted by 100 and adjusted the answer, and then added up to get to 100.


While the majority of the students chose to subtract a number in the 90’s, this student did not which I find so incredibly interesting. I would love to talk to him more about his number choices!


I didn’t give a clear direction on which operation I wanted them to use, so while most students chose subtraction because that was the problem we ended on, this one played around with both, with the same numbers. I would love to ask this student if 100 was helpful in the same or different way for the two problems.


As I said earlier, this is a really tough thing for students to think about because it is looking deeper into their choices and in this case apply it to a new set of numbers. This group was definitely up for the challenge and while I love all of the work above, these two samples are so amazing in showing the perseverance of this group.

In this one, you can see the student started solving the problem and got stuck so she drew lines around it and went on to subtract 10’s until she ran out of time. I love this so much.

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This student has so much interesting work. It looks as if he started with an addition problem involving 84, started adding, then changed it to subtraction and got stuck.


This is what I call continuing the conversation. They wrote me notes to let me know Hey, I am not done here yet and I am trying super hard even though there are mistakes here. That is so powerful for our learners. So while there was no “right” answer to my prompt, I got a glimpse into what each student was thinking after the Number Talk which is often hard to do during the whole-group discussion.

If you want to check out how I use journals with other Number Routines, they are in the side panel of all of my videos on Teaching Channel. 

Following up with the Coordinate Grid

I have been meaning to follow up on this post for over a month now!

Over the first 6 slides, we saw so much great confusion when they were trying to figure out how to name the location of the point. We saw some students use measurements from the top and bottom of the screen, while others tried using some fractions. To get a picture of how students’ thinking changed from one grid to the next, I copied their responses from Desmos to this table in Google. In the table, each row is the same student’s response to describing the point location on each of the three different grids.

During the activity, we paused the students after the 6th slide and asked some volunteers to read their directions. After a few misses due to the fact they didn’t name a starting place or they counted squares instead of lines, we asked them to try re-writing some directions on the back of their paper.

We could tell they were finding the axes pretty necessary so after plotting the point successfully a few times as a class, we gave them some of the terminology and conventions for plotting and naming points in a coordinate plane.

This is the place where we thought we may run out of time but we wanted to give them a chance to plot some points that formed rectangles and look for patterns in the coordinates. I copied the things they noticed at the bottom of this table.

If they finished the work with their partner in Desmos, we asked them to complete two final questions about points that would connect to form a rectangle. We wanted to get a picture of which students were graphing them to find out and which were using what they noticed about the x- and y-coordinates. We knew this may be a stretch with some, given the amount of time we had in the class period, but I am always way to curious not to ask! Leigh was revisiting this work over the course of the next few days, so we were in no hurry to expect mastery at this point. It was great to see the mix of thinking about this:





5th Grade: Decimal Place Value

There are some standards I think we do such a great job developing in early elementary, but never revisit explicitly when students learn about different numbers such as fractions and decimals. I blogged about this in reference to even and odd numbers last year, but this past week I have found another:

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Early elementary spends SO much time building understanding of the relationships between 1’s, 10’s and 100’s, but I don’t think we do this standard justice as students build their understandings of fractions and decimals.

Leigh’s 5th grade math class just started their work with decimals. To help students make connections to what they learned last year, she and I went back and brushed up on where the students should be in terms of the 4th grade CCSS. It is always so interesting to me how the CCSS authors chose to put decimals in the NF strand in 4th grade because students are learning decimals are just another way to write a fraction with a denominator of 10 or 100. Building on that understanding, the decimal work then moves to the NBT strand in 5th grade as students begin operating with them. Those are the little, thoughtful details in the standards that I really appreciate.

The first lesson or two of the unit, Leigh picked up where the students left off in the curriculum last year – shading 10 by 10 grids in a game called Fill Two. In this game, students only work with tenths and hundredths so in subsequent lessons she introduced thousandths on the same grid, with each small square now partitioned into 10 smaller pieces. 

To be confident of the path we were on with decimals, Leigh and I met to revisit the CCSS. We both felt the students were doing 5.NBT.A.1 in a conceptual way, but we were never really making the understanding explicit with students. Since there wasn’t a great place in the curriculum for this, we went to Illustrative Mathematics, found this task and built a lesson around it.

We opened the lesson with this Which One Doesn’t Belong? to see how students related the representations, in particular, how they talked about the picture since the task had something similar.

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They came up with some really interesting comparisons and everyone saw the picture of base 10 blocks as 0.12 and “not even close to 1,” which the others were. This is where I think the lack of attention we give the standard above is really apparent. I think students learn each small cube is 1/100, so each skinny tower is 1/10, but are never pushed to think about what other values they could represent…how quickly they forget K-2:).

We then did a Notice/Wonder with the image from the task before they jumped in to work on the task prompt.


They did a great job trying to get into Jossie’s head, so we let those ideas sit there as we gave them 3 minutes of individual work time to begin the full task. After time to work with a partner, we came back together to discuss Jossie’s reasoning and the different values the picture could represent.

As we anticipated, many of the students said the Jossie got the tenths and hundredths pieces confused.



So polite in her disagreement, I love it! 

Then, one student explained her reasoning below:


After her explanation, I asked the rest of the class what they thought about how tens and hundreds are related versus tenths and hundredths. It was a great discussion of how tens build to hundreds but hundredths build to tenths. My summary here doesn’t do a bit of justice to how the students were talking about the math.

I collected their possible values for the picture and recorded them on the board.


Students took these values and put them into a place value chart to look for patterns:

Some noticed the 4 and 2 were constant in each number and moved around:


Some students recognized those movements as multiplying or dividing by 10’s:


These last two examples are the ones that really seem to get at the standard and something we want to connect the previous examples to build toward:


A Coordinate System

This standard in 5th grade always seemed like so much of a “telling lesson” for me.

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I never thought it was really addressed in the spirit of this standard in our curriculum, so I was typically like, “Here is what we call a coordinate grid. These are axes, x and y. We name the points like this…” and so on. It is not my usual approach so it always felt blah for me, for lack of a better word. I told them, they practiced plotting some points, and we played a little bit of Battleship (which was really fun).

Last week, I was planning with Leigh, a 5th grade teacher, and we spent a lot of time just talking about what we appreciate about the grid and how we can develop a sense of need in the students for it. Since they are in the middle of their 2D Geometry unit, we thought this could be the perfect place to plot points that connect to form polygons and look at patterns in the ordered pairs.

The questions we wanted to students to reason about through our intro lesson was:

  • Why a coordinate grid?
  • Why name a point with an ordered pair? 
  • Why is this helpful?
  • What structure do we see?

So, we created this Desmos activity. This was our thinking on the slides and the pausing points we have planned for discussion:

Slide 1: It is really hard to describe a location without guides or landmarks.

Slide 2: Note how difficult it is. Pause and show class the results.

Slide 3: It gets easier. Still need some measurement tool. Notice the intersection of axes.

Slide 4: Note it is a bit easier this time. Pause and show class results.

Slide 5: Much easier because of the grid. Still need a starting point. See it is the distance from axes.

Slide 6: Now it is much easier. Pause show class results. Would love to show all three choices side-by-side (don’t know if this is possible in Desmos).

~Pause~ Ask, “What names of things on the grid would make it easier to talk about the point’s location?” Give students vocabulary and ask them to revisit Slide 6 to describe the location to a partner.

Slide 7: Practice writing some ordered pairs.

Slide 8: Practice writing some ordered pairs.

Slide 9: Start to see some structure in the four ordered pairs of a rectangle.

We are ending with this exit ticket (with grid paper if they choose to use it):

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While we are not sure this is the best way to intro the grid, we thought it would generate some interesting conversation. Since we are teaching it tomorrow, there isn’t much time for feedback for change, but we would love your thoughts.


First Fraction Lesson of 4th Grade

The first lesson of a new unit always feels like an entire class period of formative assessment to me, which I love! I think finding out what the students know about a topic, especially if it is the first time it is introduced that year, is so interesting.

Since the first lesson of the 4th grade fraction unit starts with fractions of a 4 x 6 array, we wanted to create an introduction lesson that was more reflective of all of the great work they did with fraction strips in 3rd grade to get a better picture of what they know. In 3rd grade they do all of the cutting of the strips, and since we didn’t feel that was necessary to do again, I created a SMARTBoard file so we could build together. [the file is attached at the end of the post if you want to use it].

I posed this slide to introduce the whole:

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Then I asked this sequence of questions as we built them on the board:

  • If I wanted halves, how many pieces would I have? What is the size of each piece?
  • If I wanted thirds, how many pieces would I have? What is the size of each piece?
  • etc….until they were all built.

I wanted to reintroduce the language of “size of the piece” from their 3rd grade experiences. Every once in a while I would pause and ask how much I would have if I had more than 1 of those pieces to see if they could name fractions over a unit. For example, What if I had 3 of those fourths? How much would would I have? 

Next, we put up the following questions with the picture of the fraction strips we built:

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They recorded them in the journals as a group and then we made a poster to add to as the year progresses. They started with fractions they could show on the fractions strips and an interesting conversation about the fact that we couldn’t list any for 1/8 or 1/12 based on the strips, arose. After talking with their groups, they generated a couple. The conversation about the change in the size of the piece when we make equivalents and how many pieces we would have was really awesome (Yeah, 3rd grade team):)


This was as much as we could fit into one class period, so we asked them to journal about any patterns they noticed or things they were wondering about fractions.

I apologize for the overload of student journals from this point forward, but there were so many great things to think about in planning the unit from here!

These are things that jumped out at me after reading and leaving notes in their journals, I would love to hear any other things that stood out to you:

  • A lot of talk about “doubling” and “halving” when naming equivalent fractions. Will want to address what is exactly doubling, what that means in terms of the fraction strips, and how it is affecting the numerator and denominator.
  • Interesting noticing and wondering about addition. Some wondering how it works and others thinking they know.
  • Love the even and odd talk throughout!
  • Some wondering about multiplication and division of fraction!
  • The range of fractions – how many we can name, how many unit fractions there are.
  • The size of a fraction in different forms – Is the whole the biggest fraction? Is the numerator smaller than the denominator?


In case you want to try it out:

SMARTBoard file for 4th grade

SMARTBoard file for 5th grade

PDF file of the file.

Formative Assessment

Assessment always seems to be such a broad, hot topic  There are rubrics to help create assessments, rubrics for reviewing assessments, and tons of reading about the benefit of assessments. While I agree assessment is an important topic of conversation and all of these things can be helpful, I just lose a bit of interest when it becomes so cumbersome. I feel the longer the rubric and steps to create an assessment, the more detached the assessment becomes from student thinking.  This could be completely be my short attention span speaking, however the way assessment is discussed feels either like data (a grade or number-type of data) or a huge process with tons of text in rubrics that I really, quite honestly, don’t feel like reading. Not to mention, I just love looking at student writing and listening to student thinking when planning my immediate next steps (formative) or checking in to see what students have learned over a longer period (summative). This is why I find the work we are doing each month in our Learning Labs such a wonderful way to think about formative assessment in an actual classroom context, in real time.

This passage from NCTM’s Principles to Action really captures how I feel about the work we are doing in our Learning Labs:

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In this most recent Learning Lab in 3rd grade, we planned the activity together using the 5 Practices model and reflected after the lesson. Since this blog is always my thoughts about student work, I thought it would be great to hear what the teachers took away from the activities we are doing in terms of the students’ understandings and impact on their future planning, formative assessment.  

The teacher mentioned in the blog said, I was surprised by how quick many of the students defended their responses that 1/2 will always be greater than 1/3, and then proving this response using visual representation of the same whole ( which is an idea that we have made explicit). I was impressed with “skeptics” in the crowd that were looking to deepen their understanding around the concept by asking those “What if” questions.  Going forward, I want to create opportunities that push and challenge my student’s thinking. I want them to continue to question and explore math – especially when it uses the word “always.”

Another teacher who taught the same activity after watching it in action in another classroom said, “I learned that almost half of my students assumed they were comparing the same size wholes.  They agreed with the statement, and each student gave at least two different ways to prove their thinking (area and number line model were most common).  The students that disagreed almost all provided their own context to the problem, such as an example with small vs large pizzas, or a 2 different-length races being run.  I found it so interesting that almost all students confidently chose one side or the other, and were able to defend their thinking with examples (and more than one-yeah!)  I was excited to see that they could be so flexible in their arguments as to why they felt as they did.  Three students responded that they were unsure, and gave reasons to support both sides of the argument. This impacted my instruction by giving me such valuable formative assessment information with a simple, non-threatening prompt.  It took about 5 minutes, and gave me tons of information.  It was accessible and appropriate for all.  Students were comfortable agreeing or disagreeing, and in some cases, saying “unsure-and here is why.”  I was most excited about that!”

She also said, From this activity, I learned that I really needed to revisit the third grade standard to see what is actually expected.  It says they should recognize that comparisons are valid only when the two fractions refer to the same whole.  My statement didn’t have a context, so how cool that some were at least questioning this!   This impacted my planning and instruction by reminding me how thinking/wondering about adding a context to the statement would influence their responses.  I am also reminded that I need to stress that students must consider the whole in order to make comparisons accurately.”

Earlier in their fraction unit, the third grade teachers used the talking point below to hear how her students were talking about fractions. (This work is actually from another teacher’s class, but you get the idea;)

A teacher who did this activity reflected, “From this activity, I learned my students had only ever been exposed to a fraction as a part of a whole (and wanted to strictly refer to fractions in terms of pizza). This impacted my instruction by being sure to have the discussion that fractions can represent parts of a whole, but we can also represent whole numbers with fractions.”

To me, these reflections are what assessment should be….the teachers learn about student thinking, the students think about their own thinking, and what we learn helps us plan future lessons with our students’ understandings in mind!

More examples from different grade levels where the teachers and I learned so much about student thinking that impacted future instruction:

Kindergarten: Adding

Kindergarten: Counting

1st Grade: Fractions and Adding

2nd Grade: Counting and Leftovers

4th Grade: Division

5th Grade: Fraction Number Line

Decimal Addition Card Sort

When solving problems in Number Talks, the strategies, en route to the solution, are the focus of the discussion. However, not all problems posed during a Number Talk are created equal or solved the same way every time by every student. While I know the majority of students use a particular strategy for one reason or another, whether it be because of the numbers involved or maybe it is the only strategy they are comfortable using, I like to take time and make these choices explicit. I want the students to think about the numbers before just computing and become more metacognitive about their actions.

Last week, the 5th grade teachers and I planned for a card sort to get at just this. The students have been adding decimals and using some great strategies, but we really wanted to hear about the choices they were making. With the help of the Making Number Talks Matter book, we chose problem types for students to think relationally between whole number and decimal operations. While there are no right or wrong answers, these are the cards developed by 5th grade teacher, Eric, and some strategies we thought went along with each. The expectation was not to have the students solving it the way we had listed, but to hear, and have other students hear, the choices being made.

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We gave partners the cards, they sorted, and named the categories whatever they wanted:


While the card sort conversations were really interesting, the class discussion afterwards was amazing! There were so much questioning of one another about how one strategy is any different than another. For example, some groups used rounding for a problem that another group used compensation and another grouped called it using friendly numbers…so groups had the same problem in three differently-named categories. Again, the category was not important, but more the fact they were actually thinking about the numbers they were given.

The other 5th grade teacher and I are planning to do the same activity with multiplication when they get there! Excited!