A Balanced Math Program

With the endless humdrum of the math wars happening, it is easy to forget that what teachers really need is simple help to understand practical ways to improve or acknowledge their math program.  We have heard both sides for decades. One side is about the context and deeper conceptual understanding while the other side worries about the basics. To be fair there really shouldn’t be any sides. Mathematics is a combination of both concepts and procedures. Even more realistic you will never find a teacher that doesn’t do both.

I love this picture from one of the presentations that Matthew Oldridge and I do on this topic:

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 12.07.09 PM.pngWhat it shows is a continuum of teaching. At times, we may be closer to the fully guided while at times we do some unstructured unguided lessons. However, most of the time we are some where near the middle. For myself I lean more towards the 3/4 mark of the line.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a balanced math class but since then I’ve had some small tweaks that I thought would be useful to highlight.

When I first thought of this subject I thought of six things that should be in the program (you can read about each section in my post):

  1. Guided Mathematics
  2. Shared Mathematics: Students work together to “Mathematize”
  3. Conferencing/ Monitoring
  4. Congress
  5. Reflection
  6. Math Games and Math Facts

Now my opinion about these things haven’t changed I still think you need to have all of these components but I want to simplify a bit and think more about the practical side.  For this reason I want to steal a little line from the Leaf’s Head Coach Mike Babcock, think of a five day block of time.

Now, before I go into detail I want to preface that this is just my opinion and in no way is this the only way. I think as teachers we need to have professional judgement to choose what is best. I also don’t expect to have these ideas prescribed like a five day must follow. I just want you to reflect on these components.

I broke it into five days because I really felt that it was easy to look a five day segment in time. Some times these components may take more time or less but on average I try hard to stick to this.

Day 1: Problem Solving

I am a firm believer that our math program should be predominately a place where students are problem solving and exploring math concepts. During this time, the teachers role is to explore the concepts with the students. It is a fine balance between a guided approach for some to a more let kids explore. As a teacher I am also conferencing, questioning and monitoring students work. I am checking it to landscapes of learning and thinking about how I will debrief the learning. What misconceptions are students having? How are they tackling the problem? What collective conclusions are they making? are all questions that go through my head.

Day 2: Congress

This to me is one of the most important things we can do in a math class and where that shared, guided and explicit instruction is happening. During this time, I am questioning and explicitly linking the math concepts to their problem solving. Where I may allow students to wander a bit in exploration I am tightly keeping the reigns around the big ideas and misconceptions I observed in the problem.

Day 3: Number Talks

These have been one of the best decisions that I have made as a teacher. Number talks allow me to discuss strategies, talk through misconceptions and help students visually see the mathematics that is happening around them. Number talks is also a 15 to 20 minute exercise so they happen frequently and often in the classroom. Another great aspect is that it allows students to communicate and talk about math in a meaningful way.

Day 4: Reflection

The more I read about this topic the more I believe that this needs to be integrated more in the classroom. We need to explicitly show students how to reflect about their learning and how to set goals in order to improve. This year in my class I have purposefully set time aside for students to regularly talk about their math learning.

Day 5: Purposeful Practise (Math games, Centers and regular practise)

Yes I said it Purposeful practise. This may be in a worksheet but if it is I hope it is geared toward each child’s needs. For me purposeful practise is about seeing where a child is developmentally and finding things that may work for them. This year it has been center work, using board games or math games and digital games like knowledgehook and Mpower.  The important part is understanding that it is purposeful and meaningful.

Overall, I think we need to think less of this war between concept and procedure and meet in the middle. How can we help our students learn and build bridges mathematically.

I would also love to hear your thoughts. If you have any opinions or questions please feel free to leave a comment.

Here is my slide deck on a balanced math approach.

Tedx Kitchener


So on September 28th, I did one of the craziest things I have ever done in my life, I did a Ted Talk.

Before I get into my experience I want to share this one with you. This talk was shared with me a week before my own. The message spoke to me about doing things that make you happy. More importantly it spoke to me about keeping what is important infront of you and being in that moment. It is so easy as a teacher to get caught up in the busy-ness of school that we forget what matters. I also loved it because if you are afraid of doing something I would encourage you to embrace and go for it. Have a listen:

I started off the post by saying that this has been the craziest thing I think I have ever done and it is true. Sharing my story not only in front of a live audience of 1500 people but also having it for the world to see is quite frightening. But this has been a really great experience.

The process started in April, almost 5 months before I actually went on stage. I have always wanted to do a Ted talk but never felt worthy enough or felt like I had something to say.  However, my journey with Izzy has changed a lot of that. If you have been reading my posts you know that lately have been centered around her and the struggles we have been through.

She has been one of the greatest influences on me as an educator

And so my journey to do a Ted talk began. As soon as I was chosen the TedxKitchener team got to work on mentoring and helping. There was deadlines that at first didn’t seem close but it is amazing how fast they come up. Our first deadline was getting a script ready so we could have a mentor critic and offer advice. I really valued this process as it allowed an unobjective person to see my thought process. Was it clear? Did it accomplish my goals? What biases did I have? My mentors were amazing and helped so much with the process.

Once this was cleared it was time to practise. I think this was the most daunting task for me. We were told that our speech should be rehearsed enough so it was like singing happy birthday.  We were told numerous strategies:

  1. Listen to it in the car
  2. Practise while doing exercise
  3. Read it over
  4. Practise in front of people

But to be honest, none of these really worked. In fact, I found this part to be the most daunting. I didn’t know how I was going to do this. I read it over, I would listen to it, I even ran and listened but nothing seemed to help me. I didn’t want to share with people as I didn’t feel comfortable with what I was saying. All I could do was just keep reading. Well two weeks before the event I still didn’t have it memorized but decided to do my best and bite the bullet. I printed off a list of the important points that I wanted to talk about next to the full script (almost like my coles notes). I then just went at it every day for about an hour. Every morning I would run I would still listen to it. At e-breaks I went for walks and would talk to myself (I am sure many people thought I was nuts). On my planning I would talk to a screen (which I am sure my teaching partner thought I was nuts). But by the end I had it memorized (nothing like last minute to make you learn).

This though did not stop the nerves. Just before I went on stage I was pacing back and forth20170928_185328.jpg

I could see the crowd filling in. 500 educators and 1000 students from all over Canada where coming to see people do amazing talks.

and then this happened…… (click to hear)


It felt like a rock concert or the intros to WWE. The energy was amazing. I felt myself getting pumped up.  I was jumping up and down behind stage and then the MC introduces me and out I went. The rest is History.

Tedx was one of the coolest experiences that I have ever done. To be able to share my story about Izzy and that all children want to matter was remarkable. I wish I had the video to share but it will be up soon.

In the end, Tedx might not be for you but we all have something we want to achieve but are too afraid to do it. Don’t hold back, run towards it and enjoy the experience.

I want to thank the Tedx committee for letting me experience that.  Stay tuned for the video when it is edited.

Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iK1EmMg95tI