Start Well, Finish Well

2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

We had a pastor a couple months ago preach on finishing well. Whereas he was talking about our life and living the way Christ called us to live, I have also been applying this to the school year. Boy, has it been challenged!

My plan, every year, is to do the things I preach about in my blog, Twitter, and conferences. I, unfortunately, often talk the talk without walking the walk (both in my spiritual life and teaching). I KNOW what is right, what is good, what is beneficial…but time gets in the way and I don’t finish it. (Romans 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I do not want to do.”) I want to do daily math journals, daily number talks, 3 Act tasks with every unit, numberless word problems, student discussions…. and I always start the year with all of it, but them time constraints his and it is typically the first to go. I have consecutively done 3 Acts for the past couple years and do math journals, number talks, etc sporadically, but never really intentionally stuck with it throughout the year as a daily routine.  So, THIS year I am starting well and finishing well, at least with these routines, even if that’s the only thing we do well!

I started the first week of school with a daily math journal and have done them EVERY day:

Monday: Tell me everything you know about _____.

Tuesday: The answer is ____. What is the question?

Wednesday: Estimation 180

Thursday: Switch between Which One Doesn’t Belong and Visual Patterns (adding Always, Sometimes, Never questions when applicable)

Friday: no journal

I have also followed the Number Talks book EVERY day so far! Amazed at how much my kids can do!

There have definitely been challenges. We had family medical stuff hit the second week of school that basically had me out the month of August and part of September, then getting stressed for time to catch my students up from having so many subs…but I have not quit. Even with substitutes, they have completed their journals and sometimes a number talk (depending on the sub). I also plan to do more blogs this year, but with lots more responsibilities at work, a two year old, and still helping with medical issues, it’s been tough. However, I plan to fight the good fight and finish the race. Have a great school year!


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Second Graders, Estimation 180, and a Clothesline

My second graders LOVE Estimation180 and we use it all the time. We recently did a unit on addition and subtraction with metric length. I thought the height estimation tasks would be perfect for my second graders, and they were! We started with the picture of Andrew Stadel and estimated his height in centimeters.

Mr. Stadel

We spent a lot of time discussing the importance of a “too low” and “too high” estimate and how these do not need to be outrageous numbers. We also talked about that our reasoning can not be, “I guessed” but must be mathematical. Most estimated he was 2 meters or 200 centimeters because he looked taller than me and meters were what they were most familiar with. Mr. Stadel ended up being 193 centimeters.

The next day, we estimated Mrs. Stadel’s height:

Mrs. Stadel

I had students do this one independently in their math journals.  I told students that I told Mr. Stadel on Twitter that we were doing his website and that he wanted to know how they did. This sparked concentration as they wanted me to take a picture of their work to send on Twitter. For Mrs. Stadel’s height, most students picked their too low as 160 cm, which was my height. They then picked 200 centimeters as too high since they knew she was shorter than Mr. Stadel (most didn’t remember 193, but could remember 200). I walked around with green and red rectangles cut from construction paper. I got the idea from Mr. Stadel’s blog, of which I am quite the stalker…in a good math way of course.

Sidebar: I’ve had a clothesline/string in my room for years that I have done to help with number sense and spatial reasoning. The way I have always used it with second and third graders is that when students come in the room in the morning, there is a number on their desk. At the beginning of the year, it is counting by ones starting at one and transitions to counting by ones starting at higher numbers, skip counting, using fractions, decimals, etc. The number sequence would stay the same all week. My string was always against a bulletin board, so my students used thumb tacks to tack their numbers to the string. At the end of the day, my late bus riders took the numbers down and redistributed across the desks. Students loved it, it was part of our routine for Mon-Thurs. On Fridays we completed a class graph (bar, Venn diagram, or line plot). I was used to a clothesline, but had never used it in an actual task until reading Mr. Stadel’s post.

Back on topic: As I walked around the room, I gave students a red card if I wanted them to write down their “extremes” of too low or too high. I gave them a green card if I wanted them to write their actual estimate. We then talked about the order of these on the empty clothesline. The red cards should be on the ends with the green cards in the middle if we estimated correctly. The red cards also shouldn’t be extremely far away from the green ones if we are picking numbers that are just TOO low and high. I, unfortunately, did not take pictures of this lesson…but I did the next day! This lesson sparked great conversation, not only about estimating and measurement, but number sense in how to design a number line that didn’t have a starting point or was counting by a specific number.

Day 3: We estimated the height of Mr. Stadel’s son:

Mr. Stadels son

We followed the same procedure from the previous day, except I took pictures of what happened. As you will see, some of their too highs and too lows could have been better, but for 7 year olds doing this for only the second time independently I was proud.


I am looking forward to doing many more tasks involving the clothesline than the way it’s always been done…although I love doing it my old way as well!

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Math ABCs

Last year during post planning, we attended a guided reading workshop. It was interesting, but since I don’t teach reading, I was only able to take away a few ideas that I could apply in my math class or when I teach Science and Social Studies. One thing our presenter suggested was to have students create the alphabet letters that hang above most elementary school teachers’ boards. I know I had one…granted I’m not a “cutesy” teacher so it was just the alphabet without pictures. She suggested that students each get a letter (some more than one if you have less than 26 students) and they draw a picture of something that starts with that letter. I thought, “I could do this with math words!!”

This was a lot harder than I originally thought. My partner teacher, that teaches ELA, had a plethora of alphabet books to read to our students to create her alphabet chart to get ideas for different words beginning with each letter. When I looked for a math ABC book, the only one I could find is G is for Googol, which was a little too advanced for my students. So, I improvised. My students and I took it one letter at a time. We started with A and brainstormed every math word we could think of that started with an A…as long as they could tell me how it related to math I wrote down their ideas. We did this over the course of about 2 weeks in our “spare” time until we finished the alphabet. The only ones I had to really help them with was V, X, and Y. I was very surprised at all the ideas they had for each letter!

When it got time to create, I typed all their ideas under the correct letter. My students then pulled a letter out of a cup and got to pick which word they wanted to illustrate. I’m very pleased with the results and my students are so proud of their alphabet chart!

A: Adding B: Bond C: Chart D: Dice

A: Adding
B: Bond
C: Chart
D: Dice

E: Equation F: Facts G: Geometry  H: Hexagon

E: Equation
F: Facts
G: Geometry
H: Hexagon

I: Infinity J: Jumps on a number line K: Kite L: Line

I: Infinity
J: Jumps on a number line
K: Kite
L: Line

M: Money N: Number line O: Oval P: Penny

M: Money
N: Number line
O: Oval
P: Penny

Q: Quarter R: Rek-en-rek S: Shapes T: Ten

Q: Quarter
R: Rek-en-rek
S: Shapes
T: Ten


U: Units V: Venn Diagram W: Whole numbers

X: X-axis Y: y-axis Z: Zero

X: X-axis
Y: y-axis
Z: Zero

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The Day I Looked For Another Job

It was 2 weeks before preplanning. Like most teachers, I can’t wait until preplanning to unstack desks, clean out manipulative containers, and get the room organized or it would not be ready by open house. So with my one year old in stoe, I headed to the school. I was rather productive, considering my son was trying to eat most of the math manipulatives. I went through about 30 containers of manipulatives and got them sorted, organized, and labeled. I, of course, had to take a picture to show my husband all my hard work.  

Later that day I was looking at the picture and thought, “I have a Master’s degree in Mathematics Education and I spent hours organizing counters for no pay.” Pride started to set in. While looking for a birthday gift for my husband, I talked to the owner of a local store and he was talking  about a woman friend of his and made the comment, “And she’s really smart. She’s an engineer.” How many times is that said of teachers? How many of your friends have said, “Well, she can handle that; she’s really smart, after all she teaches second grade”? Patience. I get, “Wow. You must have lots of patience. That’s such a fun age!” But never, “Wow. You must have worked really hard for your graduate degrees!” 

So, I started researching other jobs. I read about different types of engineers, applied mathematics jobs, and actuaries. I researched what it would take to be an actuary and if changing careers to engineering and actuary science would be something achievable in your 30s. When my husband came home, I told him my plan of going back to school, after all I LOVE being a student and learning, and how I would make drastically more money. He asked if I hated teaching that much. I told him no, that I love my job and love my school, but I had been organizing counters all day with a graduate degree. Had he seen my last paycheck? He told me it sounded like I wanted to change jobs because of pride and I needed to pray about it. 

Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” 

Yes, it was pride. I know I was meant to teach. One of my goals is to help change the way the United States thinks about math. My heart breaks every time I hear, “I hate math” and I want to change that. It was then that I remembered an activity my students did the last week of school in May. I put chart paper around the room labeled, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Mrs. Sutton. They had to go around and write something they learned about each category. I got the basic stuff for Science and Social Studies…frog life cycle, water cycle, planting beans, MLK Jr, Creek and Cherokee, etc. I was expecting the same for math, but this is what I got: 


You can tell we had just finished arrays as an introduction to multiplication, but there were also comments such as:

Math is cool. Math can be easy. It is fun to learn math. Math is cool and funny.

My goal is starting to be reached, one student at a time. I will not be changing jobs. I will continue what I’ve started, trying to enstill a sense of love for mathematics in children through non-traditional methods. 

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Modified Color By Number

It’s the end of the year and my patience is wearing thin. We are finished with testing. Grades are done. Students are on summer brain. Right now is the week of “busy work”. I struggle with giving students something so that I can get work done that will still be meaningful. I have been inspired recently by Joe Schwartz’s idea of modifying popular worksheets to make them “less helpful”. You can see some of his examples here and here.

I’m sure most teachers have seen and used (I know I have) the “color by number” sheets. Students solve math problems, color the answer a specific color, and in the end it makes a picture. So, in my efforts to be less helpful, I gave students a hundred chart and did not give them math facts. My directions were first to color a picture, pattern, or design on the hundred chart. Then, they were given a separate sheet of paper to write math facts that matched the hundred chart. Here is an example of the idea behind it.


Well, it bombed. My students did great at drawing a picture, but when it was time to do the math facts, having them write 100 math facts and keep it organized was way too much. I ended up taking up their work and said we would try again the next day. The next day I reduced the chart to a 50 chart and we tried again. Success! So much learning and math went on. Students were creative in the math facts used. Some did addition, subtraction, and even a little multiplication. They then switched papers with another student and worked that student’s paper. When finished they checked their work by seeing if their pictures matched. The kids enjoyed it because it was their worksheet that they created. They were also interested in solving a peer’s problems to see if their pictures matched…and to see if their peers made math mistakes. I will definitely be doing more modified worksheets next year!


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I Love Math and Muffins. 

I am a first time mom. My little boy is 13 months old and eats anything and everything. I want him to eat healthy and even made his baby food. Now I cook everything fresh for him.  Poptarts are perfectly fine for me to eat for breakfast, but my boy is eating real food. My husband is loving all the home cooking he is finally getting after 6 years of marriage.

 Well, tonight I wanted to make him blueberry muffins for breakfast in the morning. My mini muffin tin makes 24 muffins. I freeze most of them so that in the mornings my hubby can just defrost one for Baby Boy along with some fruit and oatmeal and he’s good to go. I found a recipe at Inspired Taste that I really wanted to try. I made their strawberry muffin recipe a few weeks ago and it was delicious, so wanted to try their blueberry muffin recipe. The problem was this recipe only yields 8 muffins. Mini muffins are almost half a regular muffin which would leave me with 8 empty muffin tins! The author said to add water to the pan in the empty ones but if I’m going to cook I want to fill it up. So, then came the math. 

If a full recipe yields 8 muffins and I essentially need 12 then if I add a half of the recipe that would be my twelve muffins. For some reason whenever I make muffins I always end up making about 2 more than the recipe calls for, so I thought half would be too much. The first ingredient was 1 1/2 cups of flour (I did half white and half whole wheat). I thought, “Well, that’s easy to make an additional 1/3 of, so I’ll just add a third of all ingredients and it should be perfect!” 

This math was fairly easy to begin with and quite exciting as I love working with fractions and seeing how much you do need math in the real world. Then, I got to 1/2 a teaspoon salt. A third of a half…a half is the same as 3/6 so I need another 1/6…4/6 is the same as 2/3. I needed 2/3 teaspoon of salt. Problem. I didn’t have a 1/3 measuring spoon. This is when my estimating skills came into play and I eyeballed 2/3 out of a 1 tsp measuring spoon. I had to do this with a few ingredients. Another problem. How do you take 1/3 of an egg? Again…estimation. 

I added the blueberries and started filling the muffin tin. I had left over batter!!! I, of course, was not going to throw it out…so got out my muffin tin that holds 6 and filled 3 regular size muffins. They all turned out delicious. 

What I took away besides that I need a 1/3 measuring spoon: I wish my students were older than second grade so I could use this recipe as a task. Ideas: If I add 1/3 of the recipe, what are the measurements I need for next time? Since my new recipe made 3 regular sized muffins plus 24 mini muffins, would the original recipe for 8 work or should I add another fractional part? Maybe 1/4? How much of a difference is a regular muffin from a mini muffin? Is it one half? What if I want 6 regular muffins so that my tin is full, and my hubby and I can eat those, along with the 24 mini muffins for the baby? How many blueberries do I need so they all have the same amount?

Oh how I love math. And muffins.  


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Always, Sometimes, Never: New Math Journal Topics

I never really understood students copying a morning message other than practicing writing grammatically correct sentences. For math, trying to find things “journal worthy” was a challenge. I didn’t just want students solving word problems or doing “naked” number problems. A peer found some good journal topics that were standard based that could be printed on labels to be stuck in journals. I used them for the first few weeks of school, but still wanted more. Then I came across Joe Schwartz’s blog about changing a morning message. He gave an example of Always, Sometimes, Never questions with a link attached. I was intrigued. On the link he used, the examples were above grade level for my second graders. So, I began inventing my own. I LOVED the results and the conversations that went on about them. My little second graders would have a math debate at times about which answer was correct. Students had to write whether the statement was always, sometimes, or never true and then prove their answer.  Here are some examples:

  1. When you subtract, you have to count backwards. 
  1. When you add or subtract 10, the ones place digit stays the same.      
  1. If my ruler is broken, then I can’t use it to measure.  IMG_0214-4
  1. The person with the most coins has the most money.     IMG_0223 IMG_0224IMG_0225
  1. If I want to make the largest 3 digit number possible, then the hundreds digit has to be the largest digit.  IMG_0389
  1. You can partition a rectangle in half four different way.

(For some reason I didn’t take pictures of their answers to this one)

7. If I have some coins with only 2 pennies, then the total amount will end in 2.

IMG_0374 IMG_0373

IMG_0372     Most of the topics easily transitioned into investigative tasks that resulted in students creating posters with “proofs” to defend their arguments. I’m looking forward to creating more next year to use with my students!

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Coin Perimeter 3 Act Task

This is a task that 2 of my second graders created and posted on our class blog. I use the kidblog app and website for my students to type about things we are learning, respond to one another’s posts, and share tasks that they have created with their devices during station time (we are a BYOT school).

Standards: 2OA4, 3MD8

ACT 1 

Part 1

Single penny

What do you notice? What questions do you have?

How many pennies tall is the stack of bills? Make an estimate. Also make an estimate that is too low and one that is too high.

Part 2


What do you notice? What questions do you have?

How many stacks will it take to go all the way around the bills? Make an estimate. Also make an estimate that is too low and one that is too high.




What do you notice? What do you wonder?

How many pennies are there total? Make an estimate. Also make an estimate that is too low and one that is too high.



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Flip the book: 3 Act Task

Standards 2NBT5, 2NBT7, 2NBT9


Watch the video.

What do you notice? What do you wonder?
Make an estimate. Write an estimate that is too high and one that is too low.



This is half of the dictionary.



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To learn from the best about 3 Act tasks see Dan Meyer’s blog

Other great sites of 3 Act Tasks are:

My students and I LOVE Estimation180 but I have to carefully select which estimations we do since some are over their heads (I teach 2nd grade). Since we are a BYOT school, my students and I have decided to create our own estimation tasks and take pictures, videos, etc. One student wanted to estimate how many counting bears were in a bag so they got in groups, grabbed bags, and started estimating. They, of course, had to do a high and low estimate first and then counted their bears to see if they were close. They took pictures and videoed themselves counting the answers. It was great.

This gave me the idea of creating a 3 Act task with a larger number of bears to encourage my students to add four 2 digit numbers (our upcoming skill).


Watch the video:

What do you notice? What do you wonder?

  • How many counting bears are there?  Estimate.
  • Write an estimate you know is too high.  Write an estimate you know is too low.

Act 2

IMG_0269 IMG_0270 IMG_0271

Act 3

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