Tag Archives: 1st Grade

1st Grade Dot Addition and Math Journals

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about my planning with a first grade teacher here.  After teaching the lesson, the students did an amazing job with the dot images we chose to use. Some students moved the dots to make the dice look the same on both sides of the equal sign while others solved both sides. On the last image they easily decomposed the 4 into the two 2’s to prove both sides were equal so that was something we were hoping to see transfer into the dot image activity.

We walked around, recorded the expressions we saw students writing, and asked students questions about their strategies for choosing cards. As I do with many lessons, in thinking about their strategies beforehand, I referred to the Learning Progressions to see how students progress through algebraic reasoning.  If they didn’t know the the addition expression from memory, like 3+3 or 5+5, this clip from the progressions best describes how I was seeing students arrive at the first expression written for each given sum. Because the commutative property was the way most students found the second expression for each sum the day before, this particular day we told the students they had to use different cards than their partner in thinking about writing their expression.

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I especially loved this passage in the Progressions about counting on…I had never thought of counting on as seeing the first addend embedded in the total, although it makes complete sense now! I wonder how understanding that could impact the way in which I question students about their thinking when adding?

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 9.02.15 AM Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 9.02.33 AMWhat we were looking for as we walked around in particular was how students were using either this Level 2 method above or, what the progressions would call it, Level 3:

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It is hard to convey all of the conversations we heard, however here are some of the game boards I captured after the finished playing the game. (Some boards were 6,9,10,15 and others were 8,9,12,16)

These partners seemed to think individually about their expressions on the left and right sides of the board. The student on the left appears to use facts they know such as 7+3 to arrive at 4+3+3 (since there were no 7 cards). I love the use of the equal sign between the two columns!


The other two pairs appears to have done the same thing…


The two groups below, I remember talking to because I was so interested in how closely their sides were related. After the student on the left had written their expression, the student on the right either combined or decomposed numbers to write an equivalent expression. I would love to talk to both groups about the sum for 12 because I am curious if they are decomposing and making a “new” number based on what they are “taking from” another number. 


After playing the game, we put the equations we saw for each of the sums on the board and asked students what they noticed. Some noticed relationships between the expressions for a given sum while others looked at expressions for various sums. For example, when looking at the expressions for 10 and 15, they noticed that each expression added 5. Then we discussed whether that 5 was always a 5 and students were really comfortable saying that it could be a 2 and 3 or a 4 and 1. They could have shared their noticings for quite a while so we asked them to go back to their journals and describe something they were noticings among any of the equations.

It was at this moment when I started to detach myself from the math for a quick second and began seeing how journaling really begins. I found I take it for granted that when I say write in your journal about something, that they understand how we explain our mathematical thinking. I know that writing at various grade levels differs based on so many things such as vocabulary, writing experience, and just how they write words in general. However, one thing I did not think so much about is how students view writing in math. I did not realize until I saw this student showing all of his compensation in numbers by connecting the numbers that were staying the same with lines and showing the number that was “one less” by writing -1 when going from an expression that totals 10 to a sum of 9. He explained it so beautifully but was having trouble communicating that on paper. When he finished talking a girl next to him, asked me, “Can we use words too?” <—- that is when I had an aha! Do students think about writing in math as only communicating numerically? Do we ever explicitly tell them it is ok to write about math in numbers, words, or we can use both numbers and words? I think I have always assumed they knew.


Then I came back later and the very same girl had written all of this wonderful thinking…


This student showed a wonderful connection to what was happening when he went from 6 to 9 and then from 10 to 15:


After they had finished journaling, the students moved to recess, however this student sat for another 20 minutes explaining to me all of the wonderful thoughts he had in his journal. The arrows were movement of numbers that were changing however being able to clearly communicate that in his writing was not something he was able to capture clearly. THIS is the power of writing in math I think…learning to take all of the amazing thoughts and communicate it clearly because the more he talked it out to me, the more arrows he drew, the more he elaborated on his thoughts.



Moving forward from here there is so much to think about for me….in addition to moving students thinking about addition and relating that to subtraction, how do I begin to think more about journaling in math, how does it really start?

For Dot Addition game I am wondering if we could allow some students the option to use subtraction? Make the range of card choices larger to allow for students to play around with that relationship. It is something that I thought about as I looked at the table in the Learning Progressions..

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So much to think about each time I leave a classroom!


1st Grade Dot Addition

Tomorrow I get to teach with a 1st grade teacher, Lisa! I am super excited! To give a bit of background, the students up to this point have done a lot of dot image number talks. These talks have been a mix of just dots with no particular order and others with subitizable dots. The main focus has been becoming aware of how students are organizing and/or combining the dots. Are they counting all? Counting on? Using known facts? Or using any combination of the three strategies? In their Investigations work, they have been building on these talks using the 100’s chart and number lines to represent the addition and subtraction contexts.

Today in class the students will be learning how to play Dot Addition, so we will be building on that work tomorrow when I join them.

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We decided to build on this work and launch the lesson with a string of three dice images. Just to make it a bit interesting, we set the dice equal to each other and ask them how we could prove if it was true or false.

Image 1 – Hear if students recognize that order of the dice doesn’t matter in finding the sum

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Image 2 – See if students decompose to form equivalent expressions

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Image 3 – See how they talk about decomposition with three addends versus two. Can they be equal with more on one side?

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Next we will review the game and show the change in game boards. Instead of finding sums of 6, 8, 10, 12 to 6, 9, 10, 15. Now, here is where I am wondering about what the changes are in student thinking? There is SO much in here! Is it about combining strategies? Is it recording? Is it how they decompose? Is it compensation? Is it the relationships between the addends and sums that students need to start to look at? Holy cow, we had all of these conversations in our planning and we are still not sure we have it right, but here is our plan from here:

  • Observe them play on the new game board and take note of how students are find the sums.
  • Pull out strategic expressions that we want to highlight in the group share.
  • Ask students what they would do if they didn’t have a card they needed. For example, what would happen if there was no 5 and you needed it? What could you do? or Could you have made that expression with more than two cards? How do you know?

After they play, we have two options. If there are a variety of expressions, we will bring them to the carpet to look at a completed game board from my game with Ms. Williams that contains the expressions they have arrived at also. If there is not a variety, we will complete a blank sheet together, gathering all of the expressions they did have and then ask them to turn and talk to see if they could come up with different ways to write these equations with the cards.

If we use our completed sheet, it will look like this:

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We were going to ask them to take a few minutes to look at the expressions within each sum and then talk about what they notice. For example, within 6 do they notice that you can either “move a dot” or decompose and the sum stays the same?

If that goes smoothly and we make it this far without running out of time, we will ask them to do the same noticing between different sums. Do they notice that you add three to every expression in 6 to get to 9? Do they notice that somewhere in the 10 expressions there is an extra 1 from the expressions in 9? Do they notice the 5 when moving from a sum of 10 to a sum of 15?

So much to see! I cannot wait! Would love any thoughts and I will be posting the follow up soon!!


Connecting the Dots in 1st Grade Math Centers

As many elementary teachers know all too well, effective Math Centers take A LOT of planning and preparation. Are all of the activity manipulatives available to students? Are the directions clear for students? Are the game boards laminated? Are the ipods/ipads charged? and on and on and on….

Last week, I realized that sometimes simpler is better. A handful of my 1st graders, who have a very strong place value sense and can mentally add and subtract 2-digit numbers, have been asking (hounding) me to teach them multiplication. I struggled with this for a few days because I didn’t want to just tell them that multiplication was “groups of” or take out the tiles for array building quite yet. It wanted it to develop from something more natural, something they were used to seeing but just in a different light.

This group of students is familiar with dot images since we do number talks with them often, focusing on addition equations and properties of operations. I put the following dot image on the board:

ImageThumbs went up (our signal for having an answer) and they all agreed on the answer of 36. Then I asked them write down all of the equations they could for finding the answers. Not the main point of this post, however when a student says I knew that if it was four 10s, it would be 40 so I took away one from each group to get 36, I can’t help but get goose bumps:)

I recorded their answers on the board and then chose to focus on 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 = 36. I asked them to explain that equation to me. One student said there was 9 in each bunch (close enough to “group” so i jumped on it). I explained that this is an example of when we can write this same problem as multiplication. “This is four groups of nine, so we can write that as 4 x 9.” Their reaction “That’s it? That’s Easy” Priceless. We did a few more together before the class ended.

The next time we met, I wanted to give them a chance to do some work in partners so I could walk around and listen to each of the conversations. I tried to plan an activity that would allow me to see their thoughts on multiplication and if any of it really “stuck” with them. I racked my brain, and the internet, for something that would be engaging and fun for them, until I just decided to give them a dot image and see what happened!

Here are some of the results:
Dot Image:


Student Work:

ImageDot Image: ImageStudent Work: (I was bummed, his second equation is wrong bc he forgot the middle two 6’s, but the rest is amazing!)Image

Least prep ever for a math center with the most amazing results! Demonstrates the relationship between addition and multiplication and has the properties of operations all over it! I am almost convinced you could teach K-1 math class with dot images, ten frames and number lines!

Mathematically Yours,