math tips for elementary teachers

5 MATH New Year’s Resolutions for Elementary Teachers

1. I will do math! Before you dive into that next math unit, take a turn at solving the math problems from the end of unit assessment. Pay attention to your thinking when solving the problems, and note your thoughts and feelings during the process. Challenge yourself to solve the problems several different ways. It might take a little extra time, but you’ll be a better teacher for it.


2. I will not pick up a child’s pencil. The temptation to show students how to solve a problem is strong. But when you are holding the pencil, you are doing the problem solving – no matter what words are coming out of your mouth! Plus, do you really want to touch a kid’s pencil and get their germs? Yuck.


3. I will let them grapple. It is difficult (sometimes painful!) to allow time for students to work out a math problem, but the pay off is worth it. Instead of seeing yourself as a teacher of math strategies, think of yourself as a facilitator of thinking. They might whine, they might pout, they might even cry. But in the end, they’ll build stamina for problem solving and be better off for it. Let them grapple!

What to do when a child is really struggling or won’t get started? Try some of these questions:

Have you seen a problem like this before?

What tools could you use to get started on this problem? (blocks/drawings/grid paper)

What would you do if the numbers were smaller?

Which words in the problem give hints to an operation that might work?

What strategies do you think your classmates might be using?


4. I will provide hands-on tools. When I’m observing teachers, the most impressive lessons often follow the CRA model (concrete, representational/pictorial, abstract). Allowing students to use blocks, tiles, and counters strengthens their conceptual understanding. It ties their drawings and equations to something real.  Even students who seem advanced can benefit from representing complex problems with concrete objects.

Not sure how to use manipulatives to teach a math concept? Ask your students! What tools could we use to represent this math problem concretely? How would you show your work with that tool? How would you represent what you did with an equation?


5. I will be a learner. Your students are creative, even if they struggle academically. Allow your mind to be blown by their interesting ways of solving math problems. Listen to their ideas and let them show you how they tackle math challenges. Chances are, their strategies will not be the ones from a book, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t brilliant. This teaching practice also makes your life easier: assign a problem, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and learn from your kids.


5 Tips for Elementary Math Teachers

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Part 2: Differentiated Math Instruction

Meeting Students Where They Are

 Meeting Students Where They Are


[Read Part 1 here]


In order to differentiate instruction, we need to get to know our students and work with them where they are.


What does it mean to meet kids where they are?


3-tipsfordifferentiatingelementarymathHonoring each student’s learning style.


Some kids have that light bulb moment when they use blocks, others with drawings, some with organized charts, and many through discussion and reasoning. We need to provide students with many ways to interact with each standard to help them (and us!) find their learning strengths. Then we need to allow them to do math their way, not ours.


Assessing each student for his conceptual understanding.


All too often, teachers confuse mastery of an efficient strategy with mastery of a concept. A 4th grader whose parents taught him the standard algorithm for multiplication early might have trouble representing 4 x 16 with blocks. He may not have the conceptual understanding that 4 x 16 means four sets of sixteen, which is going to hurt him down the road.


Not pushing a kid to do “B” before she’s got a grasp on “A”.


Marilyn Burns says, “Set the following expectation for your students: Do only what makes sense to you.”

No one likes the feeling of doing something they’re not ready for, and kids are no different. A 3rd grader who cannot remember how to “borrow” but has success subtracting with a number line probably has conceptual understanding of subtraction. It’s ok for her to use a less efficient strategy than the standard algorithm. In 4th grade, when the Common Core requires her to learn the standard algorithm, she may need her teacher to draw clear connections between each step of the procedure to each step of a visual method.


“Set the following expectation for your students- Do only what makes sense to you.”

Our goal is for every child to have a conceptual understanding of each standard and tools in their toolbox for grade-appropriate problem solving (in and out of math class). Our goal is for kids to feel good about themselves.


1How do we differentiate for every student?

  • Introduce each new standard in context.

    Allow students to explore how to solve in-context problems on their own or in small groups. Make a variety of tools available (blocks, rulers, fraction tiles, grid paper, etc.) for this problem solving time. Take note of students’ strategies and comfort level with the standard.

  • Plan practice activities that offer students many varied experiences with the concept.

    It can seem counter-intuitive, but research shows that our brains learn better when we continually change it up (this is called interleaving) instead of practicing the same skill over and over again (which is called blocking). This is because our brains are awesome at making connections and seeking similarities between dissimilar things. Make use of this power! It can, for example, help students who are visual learners connect images to equations and equations to concrete models. Planning lots of varied activities also helps you stay focused on developing the concept, not pushing a strategy or procedure.

6 Ways To Practice Division

  • Share frequently.

    Towards the end of every activity, ask students to share out about strategies they used and feelings they had (positive or negative) as they grappled. This exposes students to more possibilities for understanding, and creates a safe atmosphere for those who are struggling. Sharing engages those students who learn best socially, through conversation and reasoning aloud. Reflection helps all students deepen their learning and make meaning of their experiences.


You want students to be prepared to take a Common Core end-of-grade test (or whichever standardized test your school requires), and I totally get that. But what are we losing if we hustle our class of diverse learners through each standard without regard to where they are as individuals? Some kids will keep up, others will begin to feel lost and hopeless, and no one will have the rich learning experience they need to have future success in math.


Meeting kids where they are prepares them to take on challenges independently. Focusing on conceptual understanding honors individual learning differences, and means each student is allowed to “do what makes sense” to solve problems.

That’s differentiating, and that leads to success.


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MATH PROJECT gingerbread house for elementary math teachers

Math Project: The Great Gingerbread House Project

gingerbread house math project for elementary school teachers


The Great Gingerbread House Project is a math project that I developed 5 years ago, and I’ve done it with 4th graders every year since. I’ve tweaked and improved it every year, and now I’m so excited to share it.


This project works well for students in a classroom or families at home.


The Great Gingerbread House Project is a lot of work for students… they make drafts and final copies of everything: floor plans, calculations of area and perimeter, and front and side views of their gingerbread houses. They do lots of math and have tons of fun!


Designing and building the gingerbread houses creates an atmosphere of motivated engagement. The students feel the authenticity of the math challenges, and they’re excited to see their designs come to life.

Together with a partner, students collaborate to create a floor plan for a gingerbread house that cannot exceed a certain area.

math project gingerbread house for elementary school teachers 4th grade

They envision their gingerbread house and create to-scale drawings of front and side silhouettes.


Then, they find the area and perimeter of the floor plan, and determine how many graham crackers they’ll need for the floor, walls, and roof.


This inclusive project works for ALL students. It is visual, hands-on, and has many entry points for solving each math problem.

At each step of the project, partners work through multiple drafts to improve accuracy, clarity, and neatness.


In the end, the kids get to build the house they’ve worked hard to design. They compare their predictions to the number of graham crackers and chocolate chips they actually use.


This project is an amazing way to close out one calendar year or open a new year.


I’ve laid out the project in an easy-to-use, step-by-step format with pictures to make life easy for the teacher and fun for the students.

The bundle comes with activities to introduce area and perimeter, everything needed (besides the sweets!) for the project, and reflection questions to wrap it all up.

I hope you and your students enjoy this project as much as my students and I do!

Click here to buy it!






4th grade math project for teaching

homeschool family math project

elementary math

Are The Kids In Your Class Actually DOING MATH?

elementary math student participation and engagement


Sometimes when I observe teachers I find myself watching something akin to a game show. A super energetic teacher, standing in front of the group, hands and arms gesturing vibrantly.


And I can tell that the teacher feels great about him or herself.


And I can tell that the teacher is doing math.


And I can tell that the kids are not.


Students are smiling and laughing at the jokes and nodding their heads, but they’re not doing math!


More often I observe math classes where the teacher is sitting at the front of the class modeling solutions to math problems. It is more obvious in these rooms that the teacher is doing math and the students are not.


But either way, whether the teacher is having fun entertaining the bunch or boring her class and herself, the kids are not getting their hands dirty, using their problem solving skills, and falling in love with math.


If this sounds like your class, even a tiny bit, I challenge you to flip the structure of your math class.


Instead of I Do, We Do, You Do (also known as Gradual Release), try You Do, We Do, I Do.


elementary math student participation and engagement


How does that work?!


You Do: Welcome your students to math class. Quickly show them the activities they’ll be trying. I don’t mean model a few problems or give them hints about how to get started.  Maybe just read the directions aloud or maybe just say, “This activity sheet will be at this table.  You know where to find the base 10 blocks. You have 30 minutes to work on it. Read the directions carefully!”


We Do: Gather the group for the last 15 or 20 minutes of class and do one of two things:  Ask students to share how they solved one of the problems they were working on OR ask everyone to solve a new problem (related to what they’ve been working on) and share solutions. Set a participation expectation: I’m going to ask 3 of you to share, and I want the rest of you to think of a comment or question for each of the 3 people sharing.


I Do: If necessary, and only IF, model solving a problem for the class.  For example, if not one student used the strategy you had in mind, tell the class you’re going to take a turn sharing a solution.  You might find that it’s not that often that you need this step!


How will flipping the structure change my math class?


When you flip the structure of your math class, having students get to work first and modeling last, you’ll find that your whole class is engaged and participating. They pick up on the respect you’re showing them – you believe in them to figure things out on their own, and you are there for them if they need support.


When you do model math strategies for students at the end of class, you’ll notice more students actively listening and watching. This is because they have just had a chance to solve problems their own way, and while they watch you they can compare and contrast their process with yours. They’ll have a base for understanding and connecting strategies.


You will never again have the problem of a lesson taking so long that students don’t have time to practice. Need I say more?  I will!  You will also have a stronger pulse on your group. As they work (for MOST of the class period), you can circulate and observe their strengths and challenges as mathematicians.


I challenge you to ask yourself: Who is doing the most thinking and problem solving during math class? Me or my students?  If the answer is you, flip your class!


elementary math participation

What Counts As Participation?

elementary teaching math participation classroom management


A common complaint I hear from teachers is that some (or much!) of their class isn’t participating during math.  Recently I facilitated a professional development day with a group of K-5 teachers, and I asked them: What counts as participation?


What I heard was not surprising: It’s easy to see and hear some students participating.  They look at us when we’re talking and raise their hands to answer questions.  If all students behaved this way, we’d feel pretty good!


But the reality is that some students are too shy, nervous, wiggly, or unsure to make eye contact, share their thoughts with the whole group, attempt to do math as quickly as their classmates, or even sit still and keep their eyes on the teacher.


If calling on raised hands is the only classroom procedure that counts as participation, only a few brave students will be given credit.  There are other protocols that can shine a light on the rest of the students, who may be quiet (or chatty), but are thinking and participating nonetheless.


Here I’ll discuss one such protocol, Think-Pair-Share.


think pair share elementary math student engagement and participation


When teachers regularly use Think-Pair-Share, they are making use of a powerful teaching tool.


Think: Often students want to participate but don’t have enough time to think through a question.  Sometimes the fastest students are called on to share solutions before slower processors have had a fighting chance.  Many students can do high level problem solving, they just need a little more time.


Allowing personal think time gives everyone a shot. Sometimes this is a time when students can use paper and pencil to solve problems or jot down thoughts on their own, at their own pace.


Pair: I can’t speak highly enough of this step!  Once students have had time to formulate a thought, pair time gives them an opportunity to practice putting that thought into words.  This benefits shy students, English language learners, and kids who get tongue tied when trying to share in front of the whole group.


What else makes this step essential?  Students who have trouble taking in all the ideas shared by classmates and the teacher during whole group time have a chance here to learn just one other student’s perspective. This broadens their understanding and helps them make connections.


I also love the accountability that is built into pair time. Students know that they don’t have to announce their ideas to everyone, but they are expected to tell at least one other person what they’re thinking.


*Pair time is similar to the protocol “Turn and Talk,” but is even more powerful if students have had think time first.


Share: This is obviously a time when our extroverts can show the class what they know. After having Think and Pair time, however, you will find that your introverted students and struggling students are more likely to muster up the courage to share ideas with the whole group.


Every step of Think-Pair-Share is participation.


It’s important for teachers to circulate during Pair time to “catch” quieter and more hesitant students participating. When you hear a good idea from a student, ask that student to share with the rest of the class. If the student resists, ask if you or his partner can share his idea.


How much more of your class would participate if they frequently had time to think quietly, knew they were expected to share their thoughts with at least one other student, and could choose to show what they know to the whole group?


Read more about engaging all of your students during math HERE!

teaching elementary math

MATH: How to start the school year off right!

Congratulations on starting a new school year!  Whether you’re a new teacher or a returning veteran, the beginning of the year is a rush of nerves and (hopefully) excitement!


In this post, I’ll describe several math activities I do with my class during the first few days of school. I’ll highlight the qualities that I believe lead to math success for all students:


growth mindset

using tools






mathematical discourse: explaining, questioning, listening and reasoning

First of all, everyone gets a fresh start.

When students walk into your classroom on the first day of school, they come with a host of math memories. Some are good, some are awful. You might have access to students’ scores and work from previous years. The first few days of school are not the time to hold students to their pasts. Kids can develop strong math identities, and we want them to leave those at the door.


We want to challenge the kids who have had easy success. We want to show those who have struggled that they have qualities they can use to meet or even exceed grade level expectations. Over the summer, students might have grown and matured, and concepts that have never clicked before might be ready to click! At the beginning of the school year, everyone gets a fresh start.


Even YOU get a fresh start!

Teachers often have math baggage, too. You may have had some difficult experiences in math class when you were growing up. I often see teachers struggling when students share ideas or strategies for solving math problems that are non-traditional.  This is your year to let it all go!  Enter the new school year with an open mind and a willingness to learn from your students.  Some of my favorite strategies are those I’ve learned from kids!

teaching elementary math

Allow for success with creative math.

Many students think that when it comes to math, you either have it or you don’t. We want to begin disproving this from minute one of the new year! By facilitating activities that require creativity, we can develop growth mindsets among even the most challenged (or successful!) students.


One activity I like to do starts with a hundred chart. I show students a hundred chart and ask them if they’ve seen one before. Usually, they say yes. I tell them that there are so many reasons I love this tool. However, sometimes, I think it’s funny that the 1 box is the same size as the 4 box or even the 54 box. I ask them to imagine what it might be like if the 1 took up one box, and the 2 took up twice as much area, and the 54 took up 54 boxes of area.


I tell them I’m going to give them some time with grid paper and color pencils to design a hundred chart in which the number matches the area in squares. They won’t have enough time to finish, but they’ll have plenty of time to give us an idea of their plan for this new math tool.

Highlight qualities that matter.

After 20 or 30 minutes, we do a silent gallery walk of their new hundred chart designs. I tell them the rules: We walk around the room in silence, looking closely at our classmates’ work. We don’t touch anyone’s work, we just make careful observations. Sometimes we take notes, sometimes we don’t. This time we won’t.


After the gallery walk, I pull students down to the carpet to sit in a circle with their design. I ask them to raise their hands and comment on the craftsmanship, creativity, and clarity that they saw. I highlight the importance of these qualities in all school work, and really emphasize how these qualities help students have success in math.


Many students think that accuracy and speed (fluency) are everything in successful mathematics. I want students to know that in my class, quick accuracy is secondary to working carefully, solving problems creatively, and being able to explain strategies clearly.


Observe team work.

Often, after students have had time to design their own area-based hundred chart, I’ll put them into groups of about 4. I’ll ask them to show each other their designs, and then co-create a design to neatly illustrate on large grid paper. Observing them share and listen helps me get to know my new students.


Watching them work together to come up with one design is particularly fascinating. This activity highlights leadership and flexibility. During a debrief, I’ll highlight the importance of sharing and listening in math class. I want students to know they’re not alone in learning math. They learn from me, they learn from each other, and they do their part in helping others learn.



Use games and fun activities to introduce and encourage use of manipulatives.

elementary geometry math gameOne game I like to play during the first few days of school is Race To 6 Shapes. I can’t tell you how much I LOVE pattern blocks. I use them a lot during math, and this game is a fun way to introduce them and their properties.


Before playing Race To 6 Shapes, you can introduce the blocks with another game, a circle game called “Did You Know?” Each kid has a turn holding a pattern block and asking the next kid, “Did you know …(this is orange/a square/a rhombus/a shape with right angles/a block/stackable/ has 6 faces/etc.)?”  Students are encouraged to pay attention and try not to repeat any attribute.


After a few rounds of Did You Know, ask the class to brainstorm ways they can use pattern blocks as math tools this year. Some of the many ways are: as counters, for learning area, as fraction models, understanding geometry terms, for designing patterns, while measuring angles.


Once you’re all madly in love with pattern blocks and their many qualities, you can teach the class Race To 6 Shapes. In this game, students take turns picking a card from a stack of attribute cards. If there is a pattern block with the attribute on their card, they take the block. Everyone playing is racing to collect 6 different pattern blocks.


Sometimes a card will fit more than one block, and the player must choose. Sometimes the attribute on a card will not fit any of the blocks, or the player will already have the only block shape that fits the attribute.


The game is straightforward and fun. It’s a great way to start using math vocabulary and introduce a wonderful math tool, pattern blocks.


Share hopes and fears.

When students have had several interesting, creative math experiences, ask them to share their hopes and fears for math this year. Tell students that we all have strengths and challenges. We are a community here to support each other, and no one needs to feel embarrassed about parts of math they’re worried about. You may be surprised about how open students can be. Even the most successful students often share anxieties. They may also share very specific goals. For students with fixed mindsets, hearing that “good” math students have fears and goals can be very powerful.


Do not bore them with review and fact practice … make challenges fun from the get-go.

In those first few days of school, it’s important not to bore students, or to separate them into those who know their facts and those who don’t. It is possible to provide them with activities that require critical thinking and invite students of all math levels. Take Marilyn Burns’ “Dealing in Horses” problem, for example:


A man bought a horse for $50 and sold it for $60.

He then bought the horse back for $70 and sold it again for $80.

What’s the financial outcome of these transactions?


This problem may seem simple at first. Students will soon realize that their classmates have solved it in different ways and have different answers. What a perfect time to introduce mathematical discourse and accountable talk! Students may not know that an important part of math is explaining and discussing strategies and solutions.


Students who struggle with numbers may find that they can clearly explain their steps for solving this problem (even if they got the answer wrong or couldn’t finish!). They can also ask good questions that help others improve their explaining skills.


The “Dealing in Horses” problem is an opportunity for your class to brainstorm ways to show and explain thinking. Students might want to use play money, base ten blocks, drawings, or equations to help others understand their process.


Excitement is contagious… make math exciting! Push problem solving.


Are you excited about fact practice and review? I’m not either. Your students aren’t either.


In those first few days of school, it is critical that teachers set the tone for the year. Math is a time to think creatively, figure things out, and grow closer as a class through discussion and collaboration. Everyone will contribute, regardless of their past experiences. Doesn’t that sound exciting?! Here’s to a great new school year!


Check out many more fun and engaging math activities and games here!


elementary geometry math game

elementary math teaching

Jump-start the new year!

Start the new year with Math activities that engage all students, promote growth, and help students feel that they’re getting a fresh start.


What if I asked you to copy down by hand pages of text in a language you didn’t know? It would be painfully boring, and you’d soon be frustrated or even angry.


But what if I taught you the language first? Then you’d be engaged with the content. You’d know if you were transcribing a fairy tale or top secret documents. You would be in on the story.

teach elementary math

Some students feel that practicing math problems with pencil and paper is like the first scenario. They see practice problems as writing and rewriting symbols following a memorized procedure. They’re not in on the story – they’re simply writing in a language foreign to them.


While we should limit the amount of paper-pencil practice students do, it is also important for them to do some.


By first providing concrete (hands-on) experiences that help students understand the math behind symbols and equations, you’ll see that more students can stay engaged with practice problems later, when they are required to do paper-pencil practice.


Hands-on activities not only lead to stronger student engagement, they help students reset their math mindsets.


One of my FAVORITE math activities that is fun, challenging, and super engaging is The Stolen Pendant.



Stolen pendant elementary math STEAM activity


In this activity, kids learn that a beautiful necklace pendant has been stolen by 3 thieves: Bandit, Rascal, and Clyde. The thieves have split up the jewels and sold them off. The kids need to help Detective Sherloff Homie do a lot of math to ensure that the thieves (who have been caught) properly pay back the necklace’s owner.


Students use what they know about the whole and fractional parts, proportional reasoning, multiplication and division, and mathematical discourse (math talk) to work together or independently to solve the case!


As kids engage in this fun and complex activity, they use many problem solving strategies: they build and deconstruct pattern block designs, explain their reasoning, connect their concrete understanding to symbols and equations, and write about their process.


The best part is, they are having fun while working really hard and doing lots of math. 


Using the provided discussion questions, teachers can take advantage of the positive vibe in the classroom to help kids realize the power they have to solve really challenging math problems.


Suddenly, the pride students feel from solving the case has a new meaning they can carry with them: they are each intelligent, capable mathematicians.


Stolen pendant elementary math STEAM activity


Another math activity that takes kids from frustration to fun is Fraction Swap: The Best Fraction Game Ever!


fraction math for elementary teachers

When students play Fraction Swap, they are using strategic thinking in a race to cover two wholes with hands-on fraction pieces.


Students are constantly looking for opportunities to swap out several smaller fraction pieces for equivalent larger pieces.


This hands-on, engaging, and motivating game makes fractions click for those who get to play it. 



For students to have a great school year, they need to buy in.  Math activities that are motivating, like games and mystery challenges, pique the interest of even the most resistant mathematician. Hands-on experience creates concrete understanding, which serves students (and teachers!) throughout the year.


Eventually, students will do some paper-pencil math practice. But before that, they NEED engaging, hands-on activities that truly teach them that they are mathematicians!

box method multiplication math game for elementary students, teachers, and parents

Teaching with the Box Method for Multiplication

box method multiplication math game for elementary students, teachers, and parents

What is the Box Method for multiplication?


The box method is a strategy for multiplying large numbers. It is an alternative to the standard algorithm for multiplication.

The box method is based on an area array representation of multiplication. An array is proportional to the size of the numbers being multiplied. With the box method, students create equally sized “boxes” for finding partial products. This is an efficient use of their space and time. Otherwise, the two strategies are essentially the same.



The box method makes use of place value and partial products. Students break the factors of the multiplication problem into place value parts: hundreds, tens, ones, etc. Then they multiply each part of each factor. The box method should be taught not as a procedure, but as an illustration or representation of real area or objects.


Why not just use the standard algorithm?


The standard algorithm for multiplication is an efficient way to multiply large numbers. However, it is challenging to understand how and why it works. It is an abstract way to multiply. Teachers often require students to memorize the procedure for the standard algorithm through rote practice. When students lack understanding for how the algorithm works, they often make procedural mistakes.

Learning the box method for multiplication before using the standard algorithm gives students a base for understanding how and why strategies for multiplying large numbers, including the standard algorithm, work. The box method illustrates the concept of multiplication.

Once students understand and can use the box method, they are more likely to understand the standard algorithm. Therefore, they are less likely to make mistakes using it.


box method multiplication, common core elementary math


Introduce the box method with arrays and manipulatives (blocks).


By the time students are ready for the box method, they should be familiar with using area arrays as a way to represent multiplication problems. For example, they should be able to create an array for the problem 3×5. The box method will take this skill one step further.


Using base 10 blocks to create models of the box method is a great way to solidify understanding.  Have students build a model for a 2×2 or 1×3 digit multiplication problem. Then ask them to use the blocks to help them fill in their written box method drawing.

box method for elementary math teachers and students
This student has created a physical model of 12×22 using base 10 blocks. He will use this model to help him fill in the box method on his paper.


To link the box method to previously learned arrays, spend some time having students create large arrays on grid paper with 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication problems. The box method is one step more abstract than an array because the box method does not show every individual square.


Creating a huge array is time consuming and challenging, but it will help create buy-in for the box method. After counting out and tracing hundreds of squares on grid paper, students will want to learn a more efficient strategy!


It’s important to continually make explicit connections between the drawn models on grid paper, the physical models built with blocks, and the box method.  Ask students to explain how each part of their drawing or base 10 block model relates to each part of the box method.


Why practice the box method with the Box Method Game?

box method multiplication math game for elementary students, teachers, and parents


When students play the Box Method Game, they are collecting pieces of a multiplication product, card by card. They methodically create a solution for a multiplication problem using the box method. Playing the game helps students understand each part of the box method structure. It’s almost like they are building a puzzle organized by place value. There are several reasons I love to introduce the box method with the Box Method Game.


First of all, the Box Method Game reinforces the benefits of using place value to solve problems. Breaking down numbers by place value is a strategy that works across operations. The cards are a visual reminder that each place value is ten times larger than the one to its right. Also, the game constantly reinforces the place value structure of the box method.


Secondly, the game cards are visual representations of base 10 blocks. It can be challenging for students to jump from concrete tools, like base 10 blocks, to abstract representations, like numbers. Using the cards is a reminder to students that they do not always need to have actual blocks – they can use or create drawings of blocks to help them solve problems. This idea fits with the CPA model for instruction (concrete – pictorial – abstract).


Lastly, I love that when playing the Box Method Game, students do so much mental math.  Depending on the cards they have in their hands each round, they are constantly analyzing the multiplication problem (2 x 245, for example) to figure out how many thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones the product will have.  The mental math is possible because students break down the larger factor by place value and write it in expanded form.

box method multiplication math game for elementary students, teachers, and parents

An Overview of 4th Grade Common Core Math

This is my 4th grade Common Core Overview!


Click Here OverviewI took all of the 4th grade Common Core math standards and boiled them down to about 20 important concepts. I wrote learning targets for each, and paired each target with 1-3 math problems.


There are several ways to use the 4th Grade Common Core overview:


  1. Confidence Builder:

I created this overview for my 4th About 2/3 of the way through the school year, I showed them the one-page blank version of the overview (the one without problems) and told them, “These are all of 4th grade math standards, packed into 20 boxes! You can do this!” Seeing this limited amount of math made the Common Core standards feel manageable to them. We made a plan to spend the rest of the year mastering each of these concepts.


  1. Self-assessment:

I handed them a copy of the one-page blank overview and asked them to write down a 1, 2, 3, or 4 in the top corner of each box (see scale below) as we talked about the types of problems that fit each learning target. I told them to be honest with themselves and me. I also pointed out that we had not yet covered all of the concepts, and that we would continue to strengthen our skills in all of these areas. I wanted them to feel OK about where they were. After all, this was about getting each kid to a “3” or “4” – it was OK if they weren’t there yet.

1 = I do not know how to do this!

2 = I think I can get started, but I’m not confident I can get an accurate answer.

3 = I can answer this type of problem accurately.

4 = I know two or more strategies for answering this type of problem.

4th GradeCommon Core Math Overviewwith How To Use Tips

  1. Practice Activity:

In my classroom, I had kids rotate through math stations throughout the week. For a few weeks, one of the station activities was working through the large version of the overview with sample problems. I would circulate with a pen and put a star by problems that had been solved accurately, and where I could see work shown. For the most part, I did not focus on how the problem was solved. It was OK for the kids to use inefficient strategies. The focus was on understanding the concept and solving the problems accurately.



  1. Growth Mindset:

After kids had a chance to work through the overview, I handed back the one-page version of the overview, where they had pre-assessed themselves. I asked them to write down a new self-assessment score for each concept. Afterwards, we had a class conversation about the growth the kids had made, and which concepts still felt shaky. I took these and the worked-on packets to help me plan and differentiate lessons.
Math Overview 23 LTs


  1. Assessment:

After a few weeks of math activities and support informed by the packets and self-assessment, I handed fresh copies of the overview to students, with new problems to match each learning target. These were to be treated as assessments. Students worked independently on them for a few math periods. As students handed them in, I checked them over and asked them to try again on problems they hadn’t solved accurately. I marked problems with a star if they were completed accurately, or an arrow if they needed to be tried again. This arrow helped me remember later which students had trouble with which problems. Once a student had completed the packet with 100% accuracy, I asked him or her to make example posters for each learning target that showed 2-3 neat strategies for solving each problem. These students also began to work as student leaders, helping students who had done as much as they could independently.


  1. Reflection:

Along with several whole group and 1-on-1 conversations about this process, students walked their parents through the process and showed their work during student-led conferences. They showed their parents their self-assessment scores, their practice work, and their assessments.


  1. End of Grade Preparation:

In the days leading up to the end of grade standardized tests, I used the overview as a reminder to my nervous students that there was not an endless amount of math on the test. They had seen it all and practiced it all, and they could do it!

Here is a preview, and here’s where you can buy it.



Math Overview 23 LTs

4th grade common core overview