Category Archives: Maths

Teaching Measurement using Google Maps


Just a simple activity using a tech tools to enhance student understandings.

This week I have been working on area and perimeter with my 4/5s. This has included a lot of estimation. It became clear early on that students were unsure how to estimate common units for measuring length (i.e. mm, cm, m km). To provide a reference point for estimation, I asked students to create a poster for themselves to be able to remember the sizes of these measurements, with the intention that this would make it easier for them to estimate with a visual cue.  Most chose to use the app Pic Collage to display their work.

For example, to remember the size of 1 millimetre, some students took a photo of the thickness of a fingernail. For 1 metre, they referred to the length of a classroom table.

Kilometres proved to be difficult as it is a difficult distance to visualise. So we used Google Maps to experiment with distances and see a visual representation of exactly how far 1 kilometre is. Students found a familiar local point on Google Maps and used the directions function to map the journey to another familiar location that was 1km away (for example, the local Coles or skate park).


Storytelling to Teach Subtraction

IMG_2358I always advocate for storytelling in maths as a way to engage students and apply some context to the skills being learnt. Last time I posted about this a lot of people were interested as the concept was new to them, so I’m sharing another lesson I did.

The What and Why:

The skill being taught in this lesson was applying subtraction strategies to find the missing number/the difference – we had been learning how to count back, use a double and make to a 10 (the three mental strategies advocated by King George Booker in Teaching Primary Mathematics) and when it is most efficient to apply each strategy.

In Teaching Primary Mathematics it is explained that that to develop the subtraction concept, students first need verbal action stories, to model with materials and to record with symbols. They then need to apply the addition mental strategies (outlined above).

The Story:

Students beginning to use the count back strategy.

Students beginning to use the count back strategy.

One morning, as the sun was coming up over the mountain, the little village of <insert silly name> was just waking up. All the villagers said good morning to each other and talked about how lucky all (“let’s all count them by 2s”) 20 of them were to live together so happily. They went about their days doing all the things they liked to do.

After a busy day, the sun was setting and the villagers were all turning in for the night, when suddenly a figure swooped down from the night sky and roared his terrible roar <kids do roar sound>! It was the most fearsome dragon of all… Scrumplybum! The villagers screamed and ran for their lives but some were scooped up into the greedy dragon’s mouth and swallowed whole!

The next morning, as the sun came up, the villagers counted their numbers… (“Who was left? Let’s all count how many villagers are still there.”). There were only 13. They wondered “How many of our friends have been eaten?”. 

We then discuss the strategies we could use to work it out, and each student has a go at how they might apply a strategy they know. This is all noted on an anchor chart to record with symbols as we go. This also allows differentiation, as you can guide students towards a certain strategy where needed.

To check our answers: Unfortunately for the dragon Scrumplybum, he had been way too greedy that day and he was full! He made a massive belching sound and out popped the villagers, still alive but very stinky! 

We repeat the story to practise again a couple of times, and each time the students take over the story a little more. This is the gradual release of responsibility, with the students becoming more and more independent each time.

By the end of our whole class focus time, they are primed and ready to go with their own story. Sadly, the villager puppets get shafted for counters but students are more than happy to pick a villain from the puppet box and get going.

The Evil Lion even got his own den for this story.

The Evil Lion even got his own den for this story.

*These stories aren’t very pre-prepared. You could plan it out if you want, but I embellish as I go, and just make sure I have the important points planned so as to make the maths work how I need it to.
*I use materials to act out the story. If you’ve got puppets or soft toys, use them!! If you don’t, get to Ikea, stat!
*Make sure you keep it fun… I like to leave spaces for the kids to add to the story, such as adding in sound effects or music, and making up character names or situations. For this story the ‘Creepy Baby’ puppet was the hit. Vomit and farting sounds also do the trick.


How do you incorporate storytelling into your maths teaching? 

Any suggestions for me for the older years? 

Pirate Treasure and Paper Bags: Storytelling in Maths

In my first year of teaching I was sent to a maths PD with Michael Ymer and he stressed that much of maths can be taught through storytelling. I think (but I’m stretching back a bit) that his main reasons for this were 1) It’s super engaging for students, 2) It allows for lots of incidental learning.

This has stuck with me big time. It’s something that seems simple but when it’s not a focus, it can sometimes drop off. This term I’ve started teaching division to my grade 2s. This has the potential to get dry very quickly by way of “There are xx chickens and xx henhouses etc boring boring!” So, I focused on trying to integrate some storytelling into my lessons.

Here is the story I told on day one.


I have something here to show you all today. In my hands I’m holding a wrapped up package which has a mysterious-looking pot inside it. On the holidays I did something special. I went to the airport, got on a plane and travelled to a little island in the middle of the ocean. The island was so tiny I had to travel on a seaplane to be able to land. I swam up to the beautiful, white, sandy beach and crept into the jungle. Interest is mounting and students are shushing each other to hear what happens next. It was very hot in the jungle and insects were buzzing around me. I thought it couldn’t get any hotter when suddenly I came to a beautiful pool of water at the bottom of an enormous waterfall. I swam under the waterfall and found myself in a cave of blue, clear water. At this point, students are bursting to know where this is going and what it has to do with maths. I keep them going a bit longer. I peered into the water and noticed something sparkling. I reached down and picked up… this! I reach into the pot and dramatically pull out a gem that I got in a bag of a billion plastic gems for $2 at The Reject Shop once. I look again and find this many more.  I pull them out and we count them to find 20. I was so excited that I went straight home and showed my mum. Do you know what she said? She said “Could I have some of your beautiful gems?”. Of course I told her she could so we decided to share them equally, so it would be fair. We then get into the maths! We discuss how to share and have all those lovely conversations to elicit their prior knowledge about what it means to share. But do you know what happened next? My brother and sister came in and do you know what they said? They said “Could we have some of your beautiful gems?”. Off we go, sharing between four people. But do you know what happened next? By this point, they know Dad’s about to walk in and demand some beautiful gems so I let them take over. We continue adding people until eventually Lucy the cat walks in and says “mioaw” and it’s all over.


From there, all the kids need is a handful of gems and some bears to act as family members and they are good to go! There is some debate over whether the story is real or not (and how much they could sell the gems for) but for the most part they just want to be part of this imaginative story that seems too good to be true. They are more than happy to tell exactly the same story to their partner as if it were their own, and practice sharing their gems between their little bear families.

They have now practiced efficient methods of counting, equal shares, dividing an amount between various numbers of people, as well as beginning to use sharing language.  Too easy.


Day two was party bags.

I told them they were having a little party with xx people coming. They drew that many people/groups on their paper bag (read “lolly bag”). There’s something magic in being able to dream up any lolly you’d like. Yellow unifix became the most enticing bananas, the white ones were marshmallows, while things formally known as pencils became the highly sought-after lollipops. Students would roll to find out how many lollies altogether, collect that many and then share, and draw to record. We even delved into remainders on the second day of the topic.

Having a story as a premise for a maths lesson is a simple way to engage students but is really effective! It encourages a lot more discussion, language use and reasoning because students all want to be part of the story, and will reason with each other to get it right. It also makes the concept less abstract than just using numbers; students are able to apply the concept to a situation they understand and care about. It’s also just really fun!

iPads as tools, not toys: Teaching fact families

Photo 207

My class has been working on fact families (seeing how numbers relate to each other using addition and subtraction) for about a week. I gave them a task to see how they were able to use what we have learnt so far and put it all together. 

They were asked to work with a partner (only due to not having 1:1 iPads available). They chose 3 numbers to work with as their fact family for the task. Some chose a new family they had recently learnt and memorised (e.g. 5, 7, 12), some chose two find parts and find out the whole by adding them together, and some rolled a dice to find a part and a whole  and some just got a stack of unifix and broke them into two pieces!  I was impressed to see the range of ideas they had to make and show their families, just at this stage. 

Then, I gave them a choice of out of three familiar apps to use to show their fact family and the related number sentences. The choices were Popplet, Educreations and Skitch. Each of these apps allow for adding text, inserting images and some drawing, but each with differences that allowed students to show their learning in their own way.

Every. single. group. nailed it and I was really impressed to see the way they tailored the task to suit themselves… some used materials and took a picture of them, some arranged it into a house to reflect a task we had done earlier, some labelled with the part-part-whole language we have been using.

To collect their work at the end, I had them all screenshot their work and Instashare it with me.

Let me know if you try something similar and tell me how it goes!

Here are some examples:

Beautiful popplet by some students who wanted a challenge with their numbers.

Beautiful popplet by some students who wanted a challenge with their numbers.

These students used Educreations to show a few different fact families.

These students used Educreations to show a few different fact families.

These students wanted to show what they'd done with materials and inserted a picture of their work into Educreations.

These students wanted to show what they’d done with materials and inserted a picture of their work into Educreations.

These students used the labelling function in Evernote's Skitch to show their understanding.

These students used the labelling function in Evernote’s Skitch to show their understanding.