Event Recap: Jumpstart Your Singapore Math Instruction

[Several teachers from Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis attended Jumpstart. We are stunned and saddened by the news of the explosion at Minnehaha’s Upper School and our thoughts are with the Minnehaha community and families of the victims.]

Beth Curran and I had wonderful time hosting Jumpstart Your Singapore Math Instruction, our recent two-day workshop (and first self-produced event) in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Our goal: to offer an intensive learning opportunity covering all the essential elements of Singapore’s highly-acclaimed math program, including strategies, number sense, model drawing, and curriculum.

We were thrilled to be surrounded by such an enthusiastic group of co-learners, including teachers from many of the region’s finest schools and some from as far away as California.

What did teachers say about their experience?

I couldn’t imagine teaching this year without this class. It was amazing!

-Joanne Pilon, 6-8 Math, Holy Family Academy

Wonderful experience! Amazing! Thank You!!!

-Sarah Gerlach, 2nd Grade Teacher, St. Raphael Catholic School

OUTSTANDING!! After all of our training, it’s all making sense now. I LOVE IT!!

-Kim Schafer, 4th Grade, Breck School

Amazing and informative CEU that I can apply instantly to my teaching practices.

-Sharleen Blanco, Kindergarten Teacher, Excell Academy

Very informative, fun, and safe space to learn about and practice Singapore Math. Thank you!

-Terri Browne, TA, Minnehaha Academy

Excellent Course. Great crash course in Singapore Math. It was very informative and super fun!

-Anita Juntilla, 4th Grade, St. Raphael Catholic School

Thanks to Kari Kunze, Director of Studies at Mounds Park Academy, for allowing us to use their facilities and her exceptional hospitality. Special thanks to DeeDee Stacy, an MPA 4th grade teacher and long-time fan of Primary Mathematics.

We plan to offer Jumpstart and other workshops for teachers and math aficionados in the future.  If you are interested in attending or hosting one of our programs in the future, please complete the form below:

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Announcing: Jumpstart your Singapore Math® instruction

We are pleased to announce an intensive, two-day workshop for current and potential users of Primary Math and Math in Focus, as well as any teacher interested in incorporating these techniques into their own classroom, regardless of current curriculum. If you are:

  • new to the Singapore approach to math instruction…
  • needing a refresher to boost your math teaching skills…
  • wanting to incorporate the best practices from Singapore into your current curriculum…or
  • curious about the reasons for Singapore’s remarkable success…

…then this workshop is for you!

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN | July 24-25, 2017

Click here to get all of the details on this exciting program!




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Test Prep: Is it really necessary?

For many, Spring brings with it those two dreaded words: standardized tests.

Whether your school is required to take PARCC, Smarter Balanced, state mandated standards-based tests or ERBs, you inevitably will want to make sure your students are prepared.  Many teachers will plan to block out two to three weeks prior to the testing dates to review and teach content that may not have been covered, but is this interruption to instruction necessary?

It’s estimated that students and teachers lose an average of 24 hours of instructional time each year administering and taking standardized tests.  This doesn’t include time taken out of the instructional day for test prep so that number may even be quite higher.

Q: But, I need to review to make sure my students remember concepts taught at the beginning of the year.

 A: Not if you have been teaching to mastery.

Teaching math with a mastery-based program that is rich in problem-solving may all but eliminate the need for any test prep or review.  If your students have a solid foundation in the basics and have practiced applying that knowledge to solving problems throughout the school year, then nothing a standardized test can throw at them should be unachievable. With a cohesive curriculum, where concepts build on each other, your students have essentially been revisiting concepts throughout the year. So, trust in what your students have learned and skip the review.

Q: What about going over topics that I haven’t covered yet?

A: How much success have you had cramming for an exam?

If material is thrown at students for the sake of a test a few things can happen.

  • Students won’t retain information. If students have not been given enough time to progress through the concrete-representational-abstract phases of learning, they will likely not be able to recall concepts or apply those concepts to the unfamiliar situations they might encounter on the standardized test.
  • Students will be stressed out. They will feel the pressure (that unfortunately, you are likely feeling as well) to get a good score on the test. Learning becomes just something to do for a test.
  • You will get false positive results. Have you ever had the teacher in the next grade up comment that students couldn’t remember a concept that you know you taught? Or, better yet, had test scores reflect learning, but students couldn’t perform at the next grade level? That can be a result of concepts being taught too quickly.

So, rather than block out a few weeks to cram in topics that you haven’t covered, try integrating them into other areas of your day. Do some data analysis in morning meeting. Add some questions about telling time to your calendar activities. Play with measurement and geometry during recess (The weather is getting nice, right?).

If you follow the sequence in your well-thought-out curriculum and teach some of those missing concepts after testing, it’s ok. Your students will experience those concepts in an order that makes sense and will be able to make connections, apply their thinking and master those concepts. That mastery will stay with them into the next year and will be reflected on upcoming standardized tests.

After all, we don’t stop teaching after standardized tests.  Well… that’s probably a topic for another post.

photo courtesy of Alberto G.

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Number Talks in the Classroom (Part 2)

elevateFrom our previous post on Number Talks, we explained how to establish a safe and respectful classroom environment and shared examples of appropriate topics of Number Talks in Kindergarten through 5th grade. Read Part 1.

Number Talks in Action

Environment plays a key role. Students should gather at a designated meeting area in the classroom away from writing materials or have writing materials tucked away if working at desks.  I’ve allowed students to sit on top of desks just for this purpose.

The following outlines the flow of a Number Talk.


Teacher: Students:
Teacher writes 27 + 18 on the board. “When you have found one way to solve it hold up your thumb.  If you can think of a second way to solve it, add a finger.” Holding up their thumbs if they have found a strategy to solve the problem.  Adding in fingers for each additional strategy they come up with.
Teacher: Students:
“Let’s share answers.” Teachers records all answers, right or wrong. “48, 47, 45”
Teacher: Students:
“Would anyone like to argue for or against one of the answers?”

Teacher records strategies on the board as students share, and labels them with numbers and/or student names.

“I agree with 45 because I know I need to add 2 to 18 to make it 20, and I can get the 2 from the 27 which leaves me with 25 to add to 20, which makes 45.”

“I disagree with 48 because you would need to add 30 to 18 to make 48 and you only have 27.”

“I disagree with 47 because you would need to add 20 to 27 to get 47 and we only have 18.”

“I also agree with 45 because I know that 20 and 10 makes 30 and 7 and 8 makes 15 and 30 and 15 is 45.”

“I also agree with 45 because I know I need to add 3 to 27 to make it 30.  I can get 3 from 18 which leaves me with 15 and 30 and 15 is 45.”

Teacher: Students:
“It looks like we have 3 strategies that work to get us the answer of 45 and are able to disprove the other two answers.  Can we all agree that 45 is the answers?”

“If you had a similar problem to solve, show with your fingers, would you choose strategy 1, 2 or 3?”

Teacher could use this time to discuss efficiency of strategies.

Students hold up 1, 2 or 3 fingers to choose their strategy of choice.
Teacher: Students:
Teacher writes 38 + 23 on the board.

“I want everyone to use strategy 3 (or other strategy of teacher’s or student’s choice) to solve this problem.

“When I count down from 3, say the answer.  3-2-1…”

Teacher clarifies any remaining confusion, if necessary.

Students holding up thumbs and fingers when they have solved the problem and say answer when prompted by the teacher.

Looking for a way to deepen number sense, build confidence and celebrate different ways of thinking?  Then, give Number Talks a try!  Please comment and share your experience.

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Number Talks in the Singapore Math Classroom (Part 1)

elevateMental math plays a huge role in the Singapore Math curriculum.  By developing mental math strategies in your students, you are equipping them with strong number sense, a critical skill and goal for our students to reach by the end of middle school.

You can practice mental math in your classrooms with a Number Talk; a term coined by Sherry Parrish in her popular book, Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies.

Establishing Rules and Roles for a Number Talk

For Number Talks to be successful, you have to establish some rules for respectful listening and productive criticism.  All students need to feel safe to participate without feeling ridiculed.

Enlisting student help when generating rules allows students to take ownership of them and creates a classroom where the rules are more likely to be followed.

To generate rules for Number Talks you might ask:

What does it look and sound like when someone is being a good listener?

It’s equally important to teach students how to respond to each other in a respectful manner.  In a recent post on Edutopia, Oracy in the Classroom, types of talk were artfully organized into 6 discussion roles.

During a Number Talk, students become the Builders, Challengers and Clarifiers, while the teacher plays the roles of the Instigator, Prober, and Summariser as he or she guides the discussion as the facilitator of the Number Talk.

What should we talk about?

In Kindergarten, Number Talks can focus on subitizing and connecting the pictorial to the abstract.

Thoughtful problems are used in grades 1 through 5, designed specifically to practice mental math strategies that have been introduced in class.

In Kindergarten, show an image like this and ask, “How many dots do you see?”


In first grade, show an image like this.


Or a problem like this to practice addition strategies.

18 + 5 =

In second grade, start with a problem like this to practice addition strategies.

57 + 14 =

Or this, to practice adding a number close to 100.

97 + 33

Or this, to practice subtraction strategies.

43 – 28 =

In third grade, start with this to practice mental math with multiplication.

14 x 3 =

Or this to practice mental division.

42 ÷ 3 =

In fourth grade, start with problems like these to build on strategies learned in the previous grades.

499 + 137 =

138 – 56 =

In fifth grade, start with problems like these to continue to build on strategies learned in the previous grades.

1388 + 2983 =

29 x 7 =

135 ÷ 5 =

Give some of these a try and check back soon for the next installment of Number Talks in the Singapore Math Classroom.

Look for Part 2 next Monday!
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