Meet Max Modeling Mouse

Greetings I’m Max the Modeling Mouse.
I solve problems by using things from my house.
Beans, cubes and counters are useful math gear;
Use them to model the problem so it’s clear.

Max Modeling Mouse is the first strategy animal in our Problem-Solving Pond: A Common Core Math Strategy Unit. The Problem-Solving Pond  was created to help teachers overcome Common Core math challenges and employ problem-solving strategies with confidence and fidelity.  Read more about Max’s strategy below or download the complete unit here.

WHAT is modeling?:  Students use manipulatives, counters or drawings to model, or represent the mathematics of the story problem.

WHY is modeling important?: By making a visual representation, students are able to see the situation presented in the problem.  Modeling is critical to student understanding as it allows students to see, feel and process math in a concrete way.

Jake Mouse

HOW do I teach modeling?:  Select appropriate manipulatives (beans, cubes, coins, place value rods) and make a visual model of story problem.  Write equation below the model to solidify understanding.

Alec Mouse

WHEN should I use modeling?:

This strategy is ideal for presenting a new mathematical operation.  Most teachers use this strategy with K-2 mathematicians, but this is also beneficial for older students as it works especially well with money, fractions, ratios and percentages. Modeling is a great way to double-check solutions because the visual representation increases understanding of the problem.

Helpful hints:

  • Create rules and expectations. Before introducing manipulatives, establish rules and expectations for use. Explain the mathematicial purpose of them as well as how and when to use them. Practice essential routines such as getting out manipulatives, freezing at teacher’s signal (with hands-off manipulatives) and cleaning up quickly and quietly.

Manipulative rules

  • Prepare manipulative bags. Count out specific manipulatives and store in individual Ziploc bags or small Tupperware containers so they are ready to use at any time.  These individual units can be stored in student desks or in a large container.

Manipulative bags

  • Store manipulatives in a common area. Purchase an inexpensive storage container with shelves and house manipulatives here. Label each shelf and include a picture or glue on an example for student reference.

Manipulative storage

  • Allow time for student exploration and play. Before students use the manipulatives as mathematicians, provide time for exploration and play. This will help students stay focused and use them correctly during math time.

Check out our other Problem-Solving Pond strategy animals coming soon:
–Drawing Dragonfly
–Tallying Toad
–Counting Crocodile
–Hopping Hare
–Tabling Turtle
–Break-Apart Badger
–Equating Earthworm
–Fact Fluency Fox

Math Animals with names


Why? The Simple, Yet Essential Question

As teachers, we are programmed to listen for the correct answer and are appeased when we hear it, assuming that students understand and are ready to move on. However, this is a serious misconception as students are missing out on a vital opportunity to explain and justify their thinking.  Asking “Why?” provides critical insight to student understanding as students give the following responses:

  • A strong explanation that describes process to class
  • An inaccurate explanation that shows a student’s misunderstanding or inability to justify an answer

Besides assessing understanding, asking “Why?” provides students with opportunities to:

  • Notice mistake(s) and self-correct the answer
  • Reveal mistake(s) or misunderstanding shared by the class
  • Take risks and build confidence
  • Strengthen communication skills
  • Give alternate explanations
  • Summarize explanations given by other students

Including this simple question has major consequences: it promotes a language-rich classroom; supports inquiry-based instruction; and builds classroom community.

Asking good follow-up questions can open the door “why-d” to learning.

Download our FREE Essential Questions & Prompts, a sneak peek at our upcoming Common Core Problem Solving Unit.

Shopping for Standards: Setting Up a Classroom Shop


Looking for a fun, easy way to strengthen students’ money skills? Set up a classroom market! This guaranteed favorite can be used throughout the year and modified according to instructional needs. Follow these easy steps to create your own classroom market:

1.Setting up shop: Visit your local dollar store for grocery baskets, cashier receipt pads, calculators and price labels. (Make sure each student in the center has a grocery basket so each has opportunity to shop.) Make a store awning using a cardboard science project trifold and cover it in fabric. A simple, inexpensive cash register can be found on e-Bay or local thrift shops.


 2. Providing products: Bring in canned products, purchase plastic play food or pull out Treasure Box trinkets. My market is   holiday-based to appeal to student interest so it changes regularly. Students can shop for Thanksgiving dinner, holiday gifts, school supplies, etc. Changing the product once a month promotes engagement as students are excited to see and purchase new items.


3. Pricing power: Price items according to students’ instructional needs. If you just introduced money, keep prices low and easy to count. This provides counting practice and builds number sense. As students become proficient counters, increase the prices and have students add more complex numbers. You can also add dollars and cents to increase difficulty.

4. Hiring help: For the first month or two, the teacher or parent volunteer will be the cashier, checking students’ totals and helping them make change. As students become proficient with these skills, allow students to be the cashiers. Students can partner up; one student will be the cashier, one will be the shopper and then they will switch roles. Another option is to allow one or two students can be the cashier(s) for the whole group.

5. Synthesizing standards: Add functional text forms to incorporate reading and writing standards into the market. Simple items such as shopping lists, receipts and inventory check-lists require students to read and write a variety of functional text, an important component of informational text.


Set up a shop in your classroom and you’re in store for endless instructional possibilities!


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