Molding mathematicians at Hartley Elementary

Hartley Elementary School first-grade teacher Amber Atkinson recently used a word problem about donuts to teach her students about “10s and ones,” part of a larger math unit on place value. The donuts weren’t real of course, but the students were gobbling up the math lesson.

“It was a day of a lot of productive struggle - a lot of them seemed to have a lot of ‘aha’ moments that will really deepen their understanding,” Atkinson said.

At the beginning of class, Atkinson presented the following world problem: Each box in the donut shop holds 10 donuts. There are six boxes and eight extra donuts. How many donuts are there in the shop?

She then asked her students - her "mathematicians," as she called them - to answer three questions as they worked their way toward the answer: What do I know? What do I need to find out? How will I represent this problem?

Students worked with partners and drew visual representations of the problem on small whiteboards. Atkinson then brought the students back together as a group and discussed students' answers, encouraging them to use the word "because" when they explained their work.

Near the end of the hour-long class, students worked on additional problems with 10s and ones, with each problem visually represented on a worksheet. Sticking with the baked goods theme, one of the problems used pictures of muffins, both individually and in boxes of 10.

“I think connecting it to real-life scenarios really helps students understand it,” Atkinson said. “We also talk a lot about these story problems. We talk about what do you know, what are you trying to find out and do a lot of planning and thinking together. We want to make sure they really understand and conceptualize what’s happening in the story so they’re able to go do the mathematics and solve it.

We really try to connect story problems to every kind of learning we do in mathematics. We very rarely do equations only.”

Josh Males, LPS K-12 mathematics curriculum specialist, said Atkinson’s lesson was a great example of the shift that has occurred in mathematics instruction.

“One of our goals for mathematics classrooms across the district is for students to really be doing the mathematical work in classrooms as opposed to having the teacher be the one doing the work,” Males said. “We want the students in there participating and talking together, doing that work and really digging in to it.”

Published: January 3, 2018, Updated: February 13, 2019

"A lot of them seemed to have a lot of 'aha' moments that will really deepen their understanding."

Amber Atkinson, first-grade teacher, Hartley Elementary School