Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet: Part 2

Yesterday as part of my blog series, Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet, I gave you a sneak peek into my second grade classroom with a focus on my guided reading area. I use the district prescribed curricula along with our reading, writing, and math strategy animals to help my students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate the Problem-Solving Pond along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance the required Saxon math curricula.

Astute Hoot Math Intervention Kit_RGB

Special Spaces

Problem Solving Pond

In our sequel, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel swoops down to catch her dinner at the local pond when she grabs Upton, an enchanted fish. Upton oversees Problem-Solving Pond and promises to introduce Hazel to his animal friends, all who teach a special problem-solving strategy. Using these strategies and Upton’s guidance, Hazel blossoms into an accomplished mathematician who is able to tackle problems with ease.

Math book_CU

In order to recreate the Problem-Solving Pond, I covered a bulletin board with fadeless blue water paper and added green tulle and silk pond stems to border the pond. Upton’s Solving Word Problems Poster and Strategies Banners are prominent features of Problem-Solving Pond; I reference them throughout each lesson. I printed our Problem-Solving Pond Bulletin Board Set added Velcro to the back of each strategy animal allowing me to detach to use during lessons.

Bulletin board setpondI found this stuffed animal on Ebay that looks just like Upton and hung it with fishing wire and a plastic hook. During guided practice, I toss Upton to students and he helps us complete the problem-solving steps. Students LOVE solving problems with him!

Problem-Solving Pond Upton with studentI also found inexpensive jars at Hobby Lobby to hold our hands-on tools such as Max’s Counters, Brian’s Slide and Learns, and Fiona’s Fact-Fluency Pencils and added these adorable labels.

Hands-on toolsDuring center time, students solve their Saxon story problems using the strategy animals and our Problem-Solving Journals. They also use our hands-on tools such as Problem-Solving Mats, Brian’s Slide and Learns and Fiona’s Fact-Fluency Flashcards to reinforce learned strategies and concepts.

Math Journal_CUMath Mats_CU

Students enjoy using the Astute Hoot rug to discuss their journal samples. They stand on the strategy animal that they used to solve the story problem and then discuss the strategies, process, and thinking they used.

breaking_badger_matRead tomorrow’s blog to see my Writing in the Wild West classroom space and accompanying hands-on tools.



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


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