Throwback Thursday – On the Topic of Math Sprints and Anxiety

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!

On the Topic of Math Sprints and Anxiety

Originally published 4/30/15

Reflecting on my time at the two national math educator’s meetings, one interesting dichotomy appeared over timed fact tests. On the one side was Jo Boaler stating that timed tests are the root of math anxiety. Pushback came from others, most notably Greg Tang and Scott Baldridge pointing out that kids are timed in real life. They are put under pressure in real life. Students should learn from these experiences, not freak out over them.

It’s a powerful discussion: How do we get kids from fluency (I can use strategies to solve 7 x 8) to automaticity (I just know 7 x 8)? Do we need to get them to automaticity? Do timed tests create math anxiety? Is there spelling test anxiety? Should the key anxiety word be “test”, not “math”?

This conversation appeared recently on twitter after someone posted the “How to Give a Math Sprint” pdf from this site:

Yep, I’d be worried if kids who couldn’t make connections were timed, too.

I’m a proponent of Math Sprints; thoughtfully structured timed tests designed to practice one skill. Sprints are not your typical timed test. Students compete against themselves to improve the number of problems completed in one minute. Then the sprints are thrown away, not recorded in a grade book. They are practice. Period. And just one way to practice math facts.

Do Sprints harm students or cause math anxiety?

Not when administered correctly. I work with a school for students with ADHD and learning disabilities. Initially, teachers there said things like, “I can’t time my kids, they are slow processors”. It turns out that students at this school LOVE sprints. They can always improve by at least one problem on the second sprint. With all the content flying at them, practicing facts is one thing they can do and feel successful with.

Allison Coates runs the non-profit Math Walk Institute that works with schools and students to build a bridge to Algebra.

In every school we’ve ever worked, nearly all students enjoy sprints. They don’t see them as tests if the teacher doesn’t present them as tests. They see them as another fun game they can play against themselves (or against the teacher). Practice makes permanent their knowledge, and students love knowing they have knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Are Sprints from Singapore?

Nope. Sprints were created by Dr. Yoram Sagher as a fluency program to work with any curriculum. I’ve considered them a way to compensate for differences between Singapore and the U.S. In Singapore, parents drill fact fluency while schools teach the conceptual understanding. It’s not unusual for a first grader in Singapore to know all their math facts. It’s the school’s job to then get the understanding of multiplication into such a student. Contrast that with the U.S., where it is less likely that parents practice math facts at home with their child. Few American programs include a fluency component, often farming it out to the web or an iPad app.

Scott Baldridge has a great blog post on sprints: Fluency without Equivocation. I suggest you read it now.

My favorite Sprint books are Differentiated Math Sprints as they offer two difficulty levels with the same answers.

Eureka Math Sprints are aligned to Eureka Math (referenced in Scott Baldridge’s post above).

Wondering about the emphasis on math facts? Read: Why Mental Arithmetic Counts: Brain Activation during Single Digit Arithmetic Predicts High School Math Scores


Throwback Thursday – Personal Whiteboards

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!

Personal Whiteboards

Originally published 3/25/2009


In the post about Number Strings, I referred to a student’s “personal whiteboard”.  I use whiteboards throughout the day as a way of informally assessing students.

Instead of a store bought whiteboard, I prefer to provide students with a customized version.

  1. Start with a glossy page protector, a box of which can be purchased inexpensively on eBay or at Sam’s Club or Costco.
  2. Insert a brightly colored sheet of card stock. Cardstock makes the whiteboard a little sturdier and by using color on one side, I can instantly tell when the entire group of students is ready.
  3. Add appropriate pages. In the first grade, I might have a pre-made number bond page ready to go. When I’m teaching a lesson on adding or subtracting, I’ll insert a place value chart.

By keeping a classroom set of these on the shelf with the student textbooks, they would last an entire school year. Here are some printables to get you started:

You can find information on Alexandria Jones’ Pharaoh’s Treasure in the picture at Let’s Play Math.

These are also great for games and learning centers…

Sudoku, Kenken, Contig or

The Hex game:


Or any of the international logic games on the handouts page of this site.


Throwback Thursday: If I had a million dollars, ok $1000…

Over the summer, We thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!

I updated the cost of the materials to current 2017 prices (in bold) for the US Edition of Primary Mathematics, which are higher but include shipping on orders over $50. That puts us over the original $1000 threshold, but not bad…

For students that struggle, I would now recommend a recently published series: Visible Thinking in Mathematics with A & B titles at most grade levels that run from $12.80 to $14 each.

If I had a million dollars, ok $1000…

Originally published 6/20/2013

Recently, I received a question from an excited teacher who had just received a grant to spend on her classroom: “If you had a $1000 dollar grant and taught second grade, what would be the most important pieces of Singapore Math you’d buy?”

If I had a million dollars, ok $1000… here are two scenarios.

#1 Using the curriculum in 2nd grade as your main curriculum

  1. A classroom set of the 1B & 2A textbooks @ $9.00 each, so if you had 24 students + 1 for teacher: 25 x $18 = $450     ($735)
  2. Possibly a set of the 2B textbooks: 25 x $9 = $225     ($367.50)
  3. A Teacher Manual for 1B, 2A & 2B: 3 x $21 = $63     ($88.50)
  4. A workbook for reference and problem ideas for 1B, 2A & 2B = 3 x $9 = $27     ($44.10)
  5. Challenging Word problems level 1 & 2: 2 x $8.50 = $17.00     ($29.40)
  6. Intensive Practice: 1B, 2A & 2B: 3 x $8.80 = $26.40     ($38.40)
  7. Process Skills in Problem Solving L2: $10.70     ($12.80) 
  8. Math Sprints Masters, Levels 1 & 2: 2 x $31 =$62     ($68)
  9. Elementary Mathematics for Teachers by Parker & Baldridge: $29     ($33)
  10. Place Value Strips: $12.50     ( $13.95)

That’s $625.80 (Currently: $1430.65 including shipping)

I’d spend the rest on linking cubes, base-10 blocks, place value disks or other manipulatives and containers to keep them organized.

Keep in mind that for Number Disks/Place Value Disks you’ll need about 20 each of ones, tens and hundreds disks per student or pair of students sharing. Many companies sell these:

Place Value Disks, 100 Ones DisksPlace Value Disks, 100 Ones Disks

Place Value Disks - 100 Tens DisksPlace Value Disks – 100 Tens Disks

Place Value Disks (1-3): HundredsPlace Value Disks – 100 Hundreds Disks

#2 Using Singapore Math to Supplement another core curriculum:

  1. Start a library at your school with one set of the textbooks and workbooks for every grade level at the school as reference (4 per grade level)  x $9.00 each book – k-6 would be $36 x 7, k-5 would be $36 x 6    ($14.70 x 4 per grade level for grades 1 – 4  and $15 x 4 for grades 5 and 6)
  2. A Teacher Manual for each level:  $21 each book, 2 books per grade level = $42 per grade level     ($24.50 – $31.50 each)
  3. Challenging Word problems are $11 each and there are 6 levels (1-6)    ($14.80 and $15.20)
  4. Process Skills in Problem Solving vary in cost from $10.20 to $12.80 – levels 1-6   ($12.80 – $14.80)
  5. SpeedMaths Level 1 – 4: $8.20 each (no higher than level 4!) ($12.80)
  6. Math Sprints Masters, Levels 1 -5: 5 x $31    ($34)
  7. Elementary Mathematics for Teachers by Parker & Baldridge: $29 several copies for staff ($33)
  8. The Singapore Model Method for Learning Mathematics: $29 for grades 5 & up ($32)
  9. Teaching of Whole Numbers by Dr Yeap Ban Har, Singapore’s renowned math educator, $30.50     ($32)
  10. Bar Modeling A Problem-solving Tool also by by Dr Yeap Ban Har, for lower elementary. $30.50     ($32)
  11. Place Value Disks: get plenty of ones, tens and hundreds. $15.95 per 100 disks     ($7.95 per 100 disks)
  12. Place Value Strips: $12.50 and other manipulatives (if you don’t already have them on campus).    ($13.95)

What did I miss? Are there any books or tools that you consider “must-haves” in your Singapore Math classroom?


Word Problems and Bar Models from Literature

I’ve enjoyed Denise Gaskin’s Let’s Play Math blog since at least 2007!  I shared her site when the problems for Mr. Popper’s Penguins were first published.

She has a new book of word problems tied to literature: Word Problems from Literature: An Introduction to Bar Model Diagram

I immediately bought a copy for my Kindle (a steal at only  $3.99).

Here’s a sample from the chapter entitled Moving Toward Algebra: Challenge Problems:

Denise provides step-by-step solutions with bar models. Here’s just a teaser of the solution to Han Solo’s problem:

This looks to be a great resource for some motivating and just darn fun problems.





Take a Moment to Pause and Reflect

The last few weeks of school can be a challenging time. You might find yourself rushing to finish projects, complete curriculum and bring closure to the school year.  In the midst of all of this end-of-year frenzy, many will ask students to pause and think about all they have accomplished and what they still have to learn, as a means of self-reflection.

Shouldn’t we ask the same of ourselves? Wherever you may be in your Singapore Math journey, reflection can be a valuable tool for continuing to improve your practice.

As you wrap up the year, take a moment to reflect on the following.

Celebrate the successes.

Maybe a particular lesson or unit stands out to you as one in which your students made the most progress or you felt the most confident with your instruction. Maybe you were able to reach that struggling student by approaching the concept in a different way or for the first time in recent years, your students enjoyed math. At the close of one of my lessons, I recall a fourth-grade student asking me if all our math classes could be like this one. Her comment caused me to pause and think about what we had done that she found so engaging and fun and I made a point to model more lessons in that way.

Think about how what you did made a difference and plan to do more of that in the upcoming year.

Acknowledge the struggles.

Thinking Blocks Multiplication & DivisionRecognize the areas within your instruction that were a challenge for you. Maybe your students really struggled with a particular concept or maybe you left a lesson feeling like you needed a do-over. Now is the time to pinpoint those stumbling blocks and think about what support you might need to improve your instruction in those areas. It was my first year teaching a Singapore Math curriculum. With hesitation, I approached a lesson on problem-solving using the bar model. It was a complete flop. Reflecting on it, I realized I hadn’t allowed myself enough time to practice with the bar model and develop the confidence I needed to answer student’s questions on the fly. So, I made a plan to practice bar modeling with Thinking Blocks over the summer. (Thinking Blocks is one of our favorite tools for model drawing. Find an interactive desktop version at and four iPad apps on the iTunes store.)

Accepting your struggles and using them as a means to grow professionally, will strengthen your instruction and ultimately, improve your practice.

Set a goal for next year.

Did you try something new this year that you would like to incorporate in more of your lessons? Is there an area within the content that you would like to improve your understanding and confidence? Do you have an idea about how to approach a concept differently? Take a moment to imagine what you want the year ahead to look like and set a goal to make it happen.

As you pack up your room and head off into summer bliss, know that you will return to the new school year with an awareness of all that you gained by reflecting on your practice.




Looking for summer reflections for your students? Check out: Summer Math Suggestions to Boost Student Understanding