February 2017 - Down River Resources | Your Elementary Math Guide
texas kindergarten

Texas Independence Day marks the date that Texas became an independent Republic. Texans annually celebrate on March 2nd with parades, festivals, events and family festivities. It is a proud day in Texas history, ya'll. You may be looking for some great engaging resources and ideas on how you can bring this celebration into your classroom. I loooove teaching Texas history through math and reading as it presents so many advantageous cross-curricular connections.

kindergarten math centers

Engaging Ways to Learn about Texas Through Math

Students in kindergarten, first, and second grades enjoy hands-on learning activities for math. This is exactly why I used this modality for this special bundle of math centers to teach about the state of Texas' symbols. Number puzzles are some of the most beloved math centers in my classroom and that has been the case in every grade I have taught! Kids are drawn to games! Plus, they love a challenge. 

The Texas-sized math center bundle helps me meet many math standards including how to read and write numbers to 20, and counting forward and backwards within 20. This bundle includes three centers: 
counting forward number puzzles

Counting Forward 1-20 Number Puzzles 

- Students need to unscramble the pieces using sequencing skills.
- There is a printable support mat for diverse students who need help organizing the puzzles pieces as they go.
- It includes English and Spanish recording sheets where students will write the number sequence from the puzzle down so they are learning and working during math centers.
*BONUS: The recording sheets hold students accountable AND it creates an additional opportunity for them to practice writing their numbers.

Counting Backward 20-1 Number Puzzles 

- I have seen tremendous progress mastering counting backwards since I have found ways to integrate it into our learning more frequently. 
kindergarten clip cards

Counting Clip Cards 1-20 

- There are eight pages or 24 clip cards.
- The most common use of clip cards is using a clothespin to mark the number that matches the set shown on the card.
- You can also laminate and use dry erase markers to mark the correct answers.
- There are 8 printables included in English and Spanish.

I use these centers for two weeks in my classroom. Since the number puzzles come in a set of 10, I have my students complete 5 puzzles within one center per week. The students really need the extra time to record their work instead of doing more puzzles.

Engaging Ways to Learn about Texas Through Reading

I pair the Math Center Bundle with another Texas-sized bundle that I have been using for awhile. It comes from Rachael of Sweet Sweet Primary. (She makes the cutest centers for the K-2 classroom.) Each component of the Texas bundle is unique and allows me to meet literacy standards as we go through our Texas unit. Plus, there are many great things I can use for a quick bulletin board display.

Her bundle includes: 

Texas Write Around the Room

- I tape the colorful Texas symbol cards around the room. Students walk around during literacy centers and match the symbol on the card to the symbol on their paper. They use the card as a scaffold to spell the words.

Cowboy Glyph

- Students answer questions and build a cowboy based on their answers.
- When finished, we display them all together to graph how many students in our classroom have done each activity.
- This is one of the activities that make a great bulletin board!

Texas ABC Order

- I follow the same procedure as listed above taping the cards around.
- ABC order is so tricky for students and it is great to find a set of cards that has a couple of words that begin with the same letter.
- This is the time of year where I want to start challenging my students! 

Texas Our Texas Unit

- Personally, I think this is where you get the Texas-sized value.
- My favorite component from this resource is the mini-book of Texas Symbols. It has two variations so its provides another way for me to support diverse learners in my classroom. I have a few kiddos who need occupational therapy and cannot use their hands well. There is a completed book that students just need to color. This is a terrific way that I can modify the book to allow my students to participate along with their peers.

There is just too many things that I love about this bundle. You'll just have to check it out for yourself! 

I hope this inspires you to celebrate Texas history and maximizing on the opportunity to teach social studies through math and reading and if you want to use my math centers or Rachael's literacy centers you can find them in our TpT shops.

What is your favorite Texas activity to use in your classroom?

kindergarten interactive math notebook

Interactive math notebooks are revolutionizing today's classrooms.While some school districts have made them a mandatory tool in the math classrooms, other teachers are using them independently and seeing results. I was one of those teachers who wasn't happy about implementing an interactive notebook in math, but once you "fold and flap" the fun doesn't stop! If you want to create an interactive learning environment where all students can learn and grow, it might be time to invest in interactive math notebooks. Whether you need to buy actual the notebooks or you need to "buy-in" to the reasons you should be using them regularly, this list is for you! If you believe in any of these 10 things...take your sign and own it!

10 Benefits of Using Interactive Math Notebooks in the Classroom

first grade interactive math notebook
1. Helping students organize and synthesize information, interactive math notebooks promote learning to diverse students. Note-taking allows students the ability to organize information on topics or subtopics.

 2. Teachers can use the interactive math notebook to plan lessons to reach a broad spectrum of intelligences in the classroom. Howard Garner, developmental psychologist, determined that there are eight different types of intelligences including: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. While individuals tend to strong in some areas and weak in others, it is significant to expose learners to all of the types of intelligences. 

3. Interactive math notebooks engage the brain's hemispheres that control processing visual information, auditory information and memory, and feeling and touch. All of these processes are applied when using interactive math notebooks. Students see information, hear the teacher talking, and touch the folds and flaps used in math notebooks. Decision-making planning and problem solving are also integrated as students have to space things out and decide how to organize pieces of information too.

interactive math notebook measurement
4. The teacher has an important role in the effectiveness of the interactive notebook. So...if you hate them...you know what that is probably going to mean for your students. It's time to give a try and see the results. I do not think you will be disappointed. Once I started using folds and flaps, my students were so happy and excited to "get out" their notebooks. The groans were no longer echoing within my four walls.

5. Students are able to personalize the content knowledge. It is important that teachers allow students to be creative in this process, even though we all want each notebook to look identically beautiful. (I'm sooooo guilty of doing this in the past. Perfection is not the requirement for this notebook.) While all of the students should have 2-D shapes on page 14, the way the students can record the information can vary. 

6. The interactive math notebook can be an important tool to help students remember and review information needed for assessments. Many of the pages in the interactive math notebooks contain vocabulary and important concepts that are often needed to be successful on assessments.

kindergarten interactive math notebook7. There is a special way that an interactive notebook is set-up. The left side pages are for students to demonstrate learning while the right side pages is for the teacher to provide content knowledge. The right side is where most of the folds and flaps I use go, as they are directly provided to the students. Anything that the students complete on their own, without my guidance, is placed on the left side pages.

8. There are many special activities that you can do within an interactive math notebook because of it's unique set-up. (See images.) There are designated items that can be placed on each side of the notebook. Try using a different one each time for a while and note your students' favorites!

9. Interactive math notebooks provide a home-school connection. Teachers can provide a quick overview of the notebook at open house, parent night, or conferences. By taking the notebooks home, students are able to study and review the concepts and parents have an aid when assisting with homework.

second grade interactive math notebook
10. Long-term memory is important to you in the way your students learn. Two main questions should be answered when planning a lesson for an interactive math notebook. “Does this information make sense?” and “does this have meaning?"

If you are interested in providing a learning experience where students are encouraging to remember and apply the content knowledge, interactive math notebook are right for you! Teachers can clearly see if students are understanding information and can attach a meaning to it right inside those two covers. Many teachers use the interactive math notebook as a tool to formatively assess students through a math unit as it gives insight into their thinking about a particular topic.

I hope this post has inspired you to use interactive math notebooks in your classroom and if you would like to use my interactive math notebook resources they are in my TpT shop.

What is the most important sign to you that you need to invest in interactive notebooks in your classroom?

kindergarten geometry first grade geometry

Shapes are fun to teach in the math classroom. After all, anytime you look around, whether it be the classroom, your house, or the grocery store, shapes can found! Or can they? "Shape" is a common term usually used for both two-dimensional figures AND three-dimensional figures. Did you know that while this is common, it is a misnomer? 

Two-Dimensional Shapes and Three-Dimensional Solids are Found in the Real World

Two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional solids are a large part of the kindergarten, first, and second grade math curriculum.

The basics of geometry learned in these grades build the foundation for the upper grades. Students will apply this basic knowledge of shapes and solids as they make generalizations of their properties and attributes (mostly in third and fourth grades) and the volume of solids (which will new information in fifth grade.)

As we reflect on how important geometry is the math classroom...let's not forget how practical it is too! Geometry is EVERYWHERE. I was working on geometry resources while President Elect Trump was being inaugurated. From the markings on the streets and symbols of our government, to the emblems on the vehicles, geometry was jumping off the television screen. 

How Do We Differentiate Between "Shapes" and "Solids?"

Two-dimensional shapes are also referred to as plane shapes. These figures are flat. In geometry, a
 plane is a flat, infinite surface. It is a two-dimensional shape because they have an infinite length and width, but no thickness. (A line would be one-dimensional.) Basic shapes include circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares (TEKS K.A) 

kindergarten geometry first grade geometryFirst graders also learn rhombuses and hexagons (TEKS 1.6D,) while second graders learn polygons with 12 or fewer sides.

Three-dimensional solids are unlike the shapes as they have a third dimension or thickness.  Three-dimensional solids have width, depth, and height. Solids include cubes, cylinders, spheres, and cones (TEKS K.6B.) Solids can have flat surfaces or a faces. These faces are the two-dimensional component of a three-dimensional object (TEKS K.6C.) 

For example, a cube (imagine a tissue box) is composed of squares, which is the two-dimensional component of this three-dimensional shape. The squares are called faces as they are flat surfaces.

First graders and second graders also learn rectangular and triangular prisms (TEKS 1.6E & 2.8B.)

I hope this post inspired you to look at geometry from a different perspective.

How do you differentiate between shapes and solids in your classroom?

There's a phrase that is becoming all too popular in education right now. Have you heard? It's #teachertired. It's a silly question to ask you if you've heard of it, because you ARE living it. Whether you go to your classroom early in the morning or stay late in the afternoon, you are #teachertired. As a new mom, my perspective has changed about how I approach the resources that I use in my classroom. I no longer have time to cut, laminate, cut, and repeat. Not all of us can rely on volunteers or others to help us. This struggle has helped me hone in my vision for math centers for kindergarten and first grades that will save your sanity by simply printing and placing in a center!

Yearlong Math Centers for Kindergarten & First Grades 

These English or Spanish math centers cover various skills including: reading, writing, and representing numbers 0-20 (games were created in number sets 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, and 16-20 to use year-round and for differentiating math centers,) collecting and organizing data, identifying two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional solids, and identifying U.S. coin names and their values. All of the skills are bundled or they can be found individually. 

Here's how you can save your sanity with these centers. (Print, add a large paper clip + pencil and

1. Decide how you will set-up your yearlong center and place it on auto-pilot! Here are your options for setting up this center:
  • Print one copy per center. Place copy in a sheet protector and store in a binder or dry erase sleeve. (Add paperclip, dry erase marker, + cleaning wipe)
  • Print one copy per student, partnership, or small group. Place copies in a basket or bin for students to grab. (Add large paperclip + students bring them school box)

    • TEACHER TIP: If two or more students are working on one game board, have each student write their names at the top in the color they will be using. They should do all of their work on the page in that same color. Each student will use a different color. The teacher can keep track of each students' work by a quick glance.

2. Choose if you want this to be a "free choice" center or if students will practice a specific game each time they visit this math center.

  • Some schools are moving to student-directed selection of centers. If you fit into this category, print sets of each game, place the sets in different binders, folders, or envelopes (as shown in the photo to the right.) Label each envelope with the skill or number set that it contains. Putting a completed version on the front can help students who need a visual support.
  • Most other teachers want to hone in on a particular skill after it is taught so students can practice and apply their new learning. If you fit into this category, select the game board that you want to use for the week, print the copies you need, and go! (See the photograph with the yellow basket above. This is most likely what this would look like in your classroom.)
    • TEACHER TIP: These math centers are great for differentiation too! If your class is working for Spin and Write numbers 16-20, but you have a mathematician who is struggling writing numbers 6-10, provide a game board with those numbers for him. 

3. BEFORE you allow the students to play these games within math centers. It is essential to model the appropriate behaviors and run through a practice session where a small group of students go to the center and model the appropriate behaviors that you have already discussed with the group.

>> This one classroom management component will save you an inordinate amount of sanity! <<

  • Think about all of the desired behaviors that you expect during math centers. The more specific you are at labeling the correct behaviors and reinforcing those labels during the practice session, the better the students will be at following the desired behaviors.
    • How will the students know that they are to be in the Spin It! center?
    • Will they play alone, with a partner, or in a small group?
    • Do they take the materials to their desk or work in a designated space?
    • What will this center look like when students are done with the materials? (The above photograph shows a student cleaning the sheet protector before returning the materials back to the center.) 
    • TEACHER TIP: Used children's socks work great as erasers for dry erase markings!
  • I know this part might seem time-consuming, BUT if you teach your students correctly the first time, you will not have as many disruptions to your math time in the future. It is worth the investment now. I promise. One of the biggest problems implementing centers is not teaching the students the step-by-step systems they need in order to be successful. I was guilty of this when I started teaching. We have all been there. Let's face it, it is our problem ALL YEAR LONG if we do not get them completely the task correctly. 
By incorporating these steps to stepping up a sanity-free math center, you can run this center on auto-pilot by simply changing out the pages each week for your students.

I hope this post has inspired you to incorporate no prep math centers in your classroom and if you want to use my no prep math centers, they're in my TpT shop.

What saves your sanity during math centers?

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recently released some important insights into the instructional strategies for intervention that are most effective in helping students with difficulties in mathematics. As a classroom teacher and instructional specialist, I witnessed too many students struggling with math skills and processes. By the end of the school day, the students are burned out and ready to be watching cartoons and eating snacks with their shoes off. (Aren't we all though?!) These insights can help us better serve these students and maximize their intervention...AND we can approach this in a fun way. What if there was one simple, but effective intervention you could use with your struggling mathematicians?

Using 4 Powerful Math Strategies during Intervention

Students who are historically struggling and students with special needs, are not the only ones in the classroom that need additional support in learning mathematics concepts. We need to approach math instruction so all students, especially those who are struggling can be successful. The NCTM highlighted four research-based strategies that are most effective. These intervention include:
  • The use of structured peer-assisted learning activities.
  • Systematic and explicit instruction using visual representations.
  • Modifying instruction based on data from formative assessment of students.
  • Providing opportunities to think aloud while they work. 

4-Step Process for Simple, but Effective Math Intervention

1. Purchase some fun materials for the students to use in the intervention setting. 

Preferably, these are materials that the students do not use during the regular school day. I often look for items in the Target Dollar Spot, Walmart seasonal aisles, local dollar stores, and, my favorite, Saturday morning yard sales. I used a 98 cent package of four sticky darts in the seasonal Valentine aisle at our local Walmart. 

2. Pair your "fun purchase" from step 1 with classroom materials that you already own. 

I typically pair my fun purchase with dry erase boards, ten frames, or other math manipulative. For this activity, I used some poster board I already had in the closet and some extra copies of math printables.

3. Attach a skill that the students are struggling to master. I identify this skill during the school day while I am supporting all of the learners. I take special notice of the struggling learners through the various formative assessments. 

I often do an additional explanation in small group for the focus skill. I then model the skill using visual representations and manipulatives and have the students work together with a buddy while they talk out what they are doing. This combines the first strategy that the NCTM suggests of peer-assisted learning activities and the fourth strategy of thinking aloud while students' work.

This is a great time to practice all four of these strategies as you have more time to really focus in on what these students are doing and saying. Their communication helps you know how to better serve them in the classroom. I pretend I am invisible often times to allow for more natural conversations among the students.

4. Use the combined materials to practice the math skill for the duration of the intervention time or the next day, if needing to chunk the lesson into smaller parts for mastery. 

In the photographs, I show the a few examples to show how this can be used across the grade levels. I prepared the board BEFORE intervention time, to maximize our time together. The intervention game is the same premise in all of the examples. Students take turns using the darts to hit one "target number." This is the only part of the intervention done individually. After Student 1 hits a target number, ALL of the students participate in the following activities. (They complete them individually, but they all participate.)

Kindergarten- Students will read, write, and represent numbers to 20. I try to make this skill as specific as possible, so the lesson might focus on numbers 1-5. (TEKS K.2B)

I re-used pieces of my students' favorite math center, 1-20 Number Puzzles. Students simply take turns hitting the "target" which is any number representation and then practice reading the number aloud and writing the number on a whiteboard. (I also included some thinking aloud during this time. I inquiry, "How did you know that is the number 4?"

First Grade- Students will generate a number that is greater than or less than a given whole number up to 120. Focusing on the specificity of the lesson, I might focus on generating numbers that are greater than a given number between 20-50. (TEKS 1.2D)

I wrote two digit numbers ranging from 10-50 on the "target." When the student hit the target, all of the students read the number aloud and wrote a number that was greater than on their white board.

Second Grade- Students will use standard, word, and expanded forms to represent numbers up to 1,200. Again, I try to make this as specific as possible, so the lesson might be focused on expanded form using numbers 500-1,000. (TEKS 2.2B)

I wrote the standard form of numbers I selected between 500-1,000 on the target. When the student hits a target number, all of the students read it aloud before writing the number using expanded form on their white boards.

I hope this inspires you to find some basic materials and make a fun math intervention using the four suggest math strategies from the NCTM and if you want to use my 1-20 number puzzles they're in my TpT shop. 

What are some great, fun finds you have used in your classroom for math interventions?

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