One Woolly Wombat

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

One Woolly Wombat, by Rod Trinca and Kerry Argent

Counting books are great. Austrailian counting books with adorable Australian animals are even greater. Especially if that counting book goes all the way up to 14 instead of the standard ten. You can find this book in the red “Math” bucket in the bookroom.

The numbers in this book are written out in word form, rather than in standard form. This might be helpful for second and third grade teachers working with their students on spelling the numbers correctly.

One Woolly Wombat is a recent addition to our mentor texts in the bookroom, so if it meets your needs, make sure you stop by room 301 and thank Anne and Tin for putting the most recent book order together!

There are no lesson plans included with this book. There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:


  • Determine and analyze author’s purpose and support with text. This is so much more than a counting book. It introduces students to Australian wildlife, shows them the word forms of their favorite one-digit numbers, familiarizes them with Australian slang, and entertains them with animals in silly situations. By the way, if you want to learn more about unique Australian animals, check out this fantastic web site.


  • Use the pictures.. Do the words and pictures match? This could be an important lesson on a time when this strategy can fail. If a student doesn’t know what a echidna is, looking at a picture of one won’t help them decode the word. This is a great opportunity to talk about what to do when one reading strategy isn’t working. This is also an opportunity to encourage students to read widely and engage adults in conversation — the more words they’ve heard orally, the better they’ll get at decoding them in their reading.
  • Blend sounds; stretch and reread. There are plenty of blends and digraphs in this book, both at the onset of words and in the middle. There’s not much text, so it would be relatively painless to type the text into a Word document and then project it onto a screen. I’ve typed the text for you here: One Wooly Wombat . If you project the document onto a whiteboard (or SmartBoard), you can then highlight or circle all the blends and digraphs.


  • Practice common sight words and high-frequency words. I imagine it must get a bit tiresome in the primary world to use the same twenty or so numbers each year. If the text in this book isn’t at your students’ reading level, perhaps they can at least practice finding and writing the number words they see.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!



So, You Want to Start a Math Team: Planning Ahead

Read other entries in this series here:

Part 1: Thinking it Through
Part 2: Planning Ahead

After much soul-searching and schedule-finagling, you’ve decided that a math team is in your future. Huzzah! Before you start bringing in the students, you’ll want to make sure you’re fast friends with your school’s office manager, who is usually in charge of updating the school’s event calendar. This will save you a ton of time because the front office will be able to field many parent questions without needing to contact you personally. I’ve laid out a plan of attack aligned with the school year so you don’t feel like everything needs to be done at once.

When should I start my math team?

You can start your team at any time during the year, but it helps if you start it after a schoolwide event like a concert or an open house. That way, you can have a math team sign up table where you can answer family questions and promote your awesome program!

School Year Guide to Math Team
This plan assumes you will start your math team meetings in mid-September. It can be modified to suit your needs. This plan also assumes your school is in Western Washington, and includes local and regional math competitions.

July / August

  • Reserve the classroom space for your team. Fill out necessary site paperwork.
  • Print up and fill out activity permission forms. You might want to add additional information to the standard permission slip — we add teacher’s name, grade, and e-mail address. When we had bus transportation available, we asked if students were bussers.
  • Ask your school’s webmaster to post a blurb about your school’s math team on the school website.
  • Give your school’s office manager a tentative calendar for math team meetings and events. If you don’t know the specific date of a competition, for example, make sure the event says “tentative weekend for Snowball Math Jam” or something similar.
  • Extra credit: Contact the school district’s public relations representative to see how you can get in touch with them if your students are doing something exciting or noteworthy.


  • Find out when your school’s open house or orientation nights are. Make a sweet Math Team sign (you might want to invest in a long-lasting vinyl one — these can be useful in helping parents find their students at a crowded math team competition), and have a table with information, permission slips, and a calendar of events.
  • Decide if you want to have a separate Math Team parent night to provide additional information. Ours wasn’t terribly well-attended, but it was helpful because then families couldn’t make excuses like, “Oh, I didn’t realize I needed to pick up my student…”
  • Speaking of which, talk with administration about what your school’s policy is when students’ rides don’t pick them up on time. If more than one person is in charge of your team, figure out a system for who will stay late with students.
  • Have your first Math Team meeting! Your first meeting will probably focus on expectations and include a math-y ice breaker.
  • If you’re a Title One school, contact the Title One coordinator to see if you can have snacks provided for your after school program.
  • Extra credit: Contact Blue Highway Games and plan a school game night. Talk with your PTA to see if part of the proceeds can go directly to math team.


  • Congratulate yourself on starting a math team!
  • Make sure you have all students’ information organized, probably in a binder.
  • Decide if you want to have an Excel document with students’ information. This can be helpful when it comes time to send home flyers, to see who’s been coming most often, and to figure out how many bus riders you have.
  • Extra credit: Design a sweet T-shirt. If you’re a uniform school, see if you can get the shirts approved as uniform.


  • Decide if you’re going to go to any winter competitions. If so, print up permission forms and field trip request forms. School administrators usually need to approve events 20 days prior.
  • Print up sample tests and other materials if you choose to compete this winter.
  • If your team is using merit badges, have a merit badge ceremony and consider displaying the badges publicly so other students might ask to get involved.


  • The Thomas Jefferson Winter Middle School math competition is usually the first or second week in December.
  • In 2010, Green Gables Elementary School had its first Snowball Math Jam for elementary schools in Federal Way. Keep your fingers crossed that it will happen again next year!
  • Consider an end-of-the-year celebration.
  • Have the principal read an announcement highlighting all the fun that’s been going on at math team, and encourage new students to sign up to join after winter break.


  • Organize any new student information.
  • Review expectations and possibly have another ice breaker at your first meeting of the year.
  • Print materials for Math is Cool competition. The old tests from Math is Cool are good preparation for pretty much any math competition.
  • The Mt. Rainier Math Invitational is usually the last week of the month.


  • Make sure you’re balancing out competition preparation with fun activities to keep students excited about math team!
  • Consider joining the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics. Their Teaching Children Mathematics publication has great activity ideas for math team.
  • If your school has 6th graders, the Math is Cool 6th Grade Championships are held in the middle of the month.
  • Extra credit: Find out when your school’s track team is planning on having practice. Some of your students may want to do both track and math team. How will you accommodate for that?


  • The Math is Cool 5th Grade Championships are held in the middle of the month.
  • Track teams often start practices this month.


  • If you’re in Federal Way, sign up for Wildwood’s spring math competition!
  • Join us the last Friday in April for our competition.
  • The Math is Cool 4th Grade Championships are held in the middle of this month. Decide if you want to send 3rd graders to this competition as well.
  • Several competitions are at the beginning of May, so you will probably want to print out permission slips for the May competitions this month.


  • Find out if your school has an end-of-the-year awards ceremony. Ask if math team can be included. If the office staff is in charge of making awards, make sure all members’ names are spelled correctly and that you’ve made your requests as clear as possible. Provide a sample award, if possible.
  • The Seahurst Elementary Math Bonanza is held in early May after school at Seahurst Elementary School in Burien.
  • The Middle School Math Olympiad is held in early May at Marvista Elementary School in Normandy Park.


  • Celebrate your students’ hard work! We’ve started a S’Mores party tradition, and we hand out paper plate awards for students who’ve been with us all year.
  • Make sure all your math team information is organized so you won’t need to hunt for materials in the fall.
  • Extra credit: Take a few minutes to reflect on what worked well this year and what you need to tweak for next year.

Hopefully this list is helpful rather than overwhelming. Many thanks to Tom Clymer, who has a bunch of great information on his Math Club’s page. Month icons from Trixinity.


Green Gables Snowball Math Jam 2010


I just got off the phone with Mr. Brown (I’ve been holed up inside all day dealing with doctor/insurance/money drama, so I missed the competition), and Wildcat Math is a force to be reckoned with!!!

In the team competition, WILDWOOD PLACED FIRST AND THIRD!

1st Place

3rd Place

And in the individual competition, Sam and Hannah TIED, then on a tiebreaker, Hannah received 2nd and Sam received 3rd.

All your hard work and teamwork continues to pay off, Wildcats! Last year, the team competitions were our weakest point. Looks like we’ve shaken that off!

It’s also exciting to note that Jasmin and Eli placed at their FIRST math team competition ever!

I am SO PROUD to be your coach, and I am SO PROUD to be a Wildcat!


So, You Want to Start a Math Team?

Part 1: Thinking it Through

Congratulations! Thanks for being a teacher, family member, administrator, or volunteer who loves and values math! Copious amounts of research verify that our kids (and teachers!) need to change their attitudes toward math, particularly as they get older, and particularly if they’re female. An elementary school math team is a terrific venue for improving those perceptions, and they also foster teamwork and school pride.

Math Teams are fantastic for a billion reasons. Wildwood Elementary started its 3rd – 5th grade math team in the fall of 2008, and the amount the kids (and we adults!) have learned in three years is remarkable. In this series, I’ll detail some of the ideas and resources we found to be the most useful.

Before you get overwhelmed or get ahead of yourself (or both), ponder these logistical questions:

Who’s going to run this thing? If it’s you, sweet! You don’t need to have calculus under your belt in order to be an effective math team coach. If you want to help but you think you need someone else to take the lead, contact existing math teams at your district’s middle and high school levels. Often, coaches will have suggestions for you, or they might even volunteer to help you get started! Of course, your elementary school principal, math facilitator, or other interested teachers are great resources too. Personally, e-mail is the best way for a family member to reach out to me. If you’re more of a phone person, calling after school is best. Before school, my brain is filled with the day ahead of me.

Where can we meet? How often? If you haven’t already contacted an administrator or classroom teacher, talk with your school’s office manager about securing a space and a time. Wildwood meets on Tuesday afternoons for an hour after school. During competition season, we also have an optional Thursday practice. We started our practices in the library, but it wasn’t always available. Now, we meet in my classroom, but my students always grab a few extra chairs before the end of the day so everyone will have a seat for Math Team.

What paperwork do we need to fill out? For our math team, we needed to send out the district’s blanket Activity Permission Form. (we had to explain to a lot of families that it was just a generic form, as it included statements relinquishing liability for “bodily harm.” “Is this a contact sport?” one parent asked us) We had to fill out a facility use request for our meetings. We also needed to file field trip requests and collect permission slips for every competition, even if students were responsible for their transportation.

How many people do we anticipate? How many can we handle? We had a TON more people our first year than we anticipated. Part of that was because many parents believed Math Team was a tutoring assistance program rather than a challenging enrichment experience. Clarity in your initial conversations with interested families will help your program run smoothly regardless of the number of students. Our first year, we were able to handle 50 students with two teachers. We enlisted the help of high school math team members, and meetings this year seem significantly less draining.

What does transportation look like? When Wildwood had an after school program, we spoke with transportation, and on Tuesdays our Math Team kids were able to hop on the after school bus. Now that that program has been scaled back, we give our kids a carpool form at the beginning of the year to link kids who aren’t able to secure a ride with nearby teammates.

How will we reach all our eligible students? We translated our math team flyer into several languages and we had an information table open at Open House and at conferences. We talked with teachers about personally encouraging their exceptional students to join. I talked up math team in my daily class meetings.

How will we communicate with students and families? We send home flyers in students’ weekly Thursday folders. We use the district’s automated call-out system for reminder messages. Next year, we’re going to request families’ e-mails on our beginning-of-the-year permission slip.

Come back and visit us on Tuesday, and we’ll help you plan the year ahead of you. Be there or be the rectangle with the largest area!


Expanded Form

I’ve had notes from some families asking about students writing numbers in expanded form and looking at the value of particular digits in a number. I hope this post will help clarify this subject for you!

We use place cards from the Montessori program to help us visualize how numbers break apart.

These cards can be stacked on top of each other to show what a number looks like “normally,” then they can be pulled apart to show how much each number is actually worth.

So 427 would expand into

400 + 20 + 7

And 602 would expand into

600 + 0 + 2 (you don’t actually need to write the +0 part, but I do just for consistency)

You can also do the opposite, and turn a three-number addition problem in expanded form back into standard form.

So 800 + 70 + 9 would condense into


and 700 + 3 would become


I will upload more photos to help show this process as they become available!


Number Munchers!

Back in the day, when my elementary school got its first-ever computer lab, one of my favorite games was Number Munchers.

Now, the NCTM just pointed out a great math game site to me that includes a similar game!

Math Games

Visit Hooda Math for this and other math games. What fun!

Happy Independence Day weekend, and I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite scientists!

“My interest in science is to simply find out more about the world. And the more I find out, the better it is!” ~Richard Feynman


Release Time!

Some of the most invigorating and inspiring experiences I have had as a teacher have been when we visit other schools. Last week, our third grade team had a half-day of release time to visit Adelaide Elementary. Former Wildwood teacher and friend Jake works there now, and I interviewed with Jason back in the day when I was first applying to be a teacher (I dare you to find a more passionate, driven leader — he’s great). They are an incredible bunch.

The school is calm, and you can tell the kids are excited to be learning there. Here’s their behavior rubric that’s posted in each class and in the halls.

Behavior Rubric

Behavior Rubric

Sondra Maier, one of the school’s literacy coaches, showed us around their Teacher Resource Center, a kind of uber-book/supply room that goes beyond just function to be a place that’s truly inspirational.

Holy cow, leveled books


All their books are leveled so they can be pulled for guided reading groups. Each book set is in a bag with an index card, so teachers can check out an entire bag of books at a time.

A book bag

A book bag

The leveling is done based on AR level, but I think we’re looking to level our book library by Guided Reading level.

DRA books

DRA books

Intervention materials

Intervention materials

Professional development books

Professional development books

I loved that the TRC seemed like a place where teachers were really being motivated to improve their practice, not just taking care of business.

Note the sharing board, where teachers can post ideas, new graphic organizers, blacklines, etc. (sorry the image is rotated funny)

Note the sharing board, where teachers can post ideas, new graphic organizers, blacklines, etc. (sorry the image is rotated funny)

When we were there, a team of 1st grade teachers were meeting to put together their reading preassessment for next fall. They were focused and working thoughtfully. I wanted to join them!

This is a board where staffers can see thumbnail sketches of how students are doing.

This is a board where staffers can see thumbnail sketches of how students are doing in reading (and math).

I’m a visual person, so I love that each pocket shows an approximate level of where each student is currently performing. That way, intervention specialists can make sure that no students are slipping through the cracks.

Sample focus board, so students know what they're expected to know and why.

Sample focus board, so students know what they're expected to know and why.

Sondra took us into two 3rd grade classrooms to observe their reading block. Adelaide uses this framework as a bit of a guide/backbone for their literacy program during the school year:

K-5 Reading Strategies

K-5 Reading Strategies

And Adelaide’s TRC doesn’t just help teachers with reading materials. Oh, no. Last year, they collected all math manipulatives from the teachers, organized them, cleaned them up, and stored them all in a central location. That way, no one winds up hoarding anything, and intervention specialists always know what materials are needed.

Holy cow, manipulatives.

Holy cow, manipulatives.

...and more maniuplatives (with a cart of shared reading texts)

...and more maniuplatives (with a cart of shared reading texts)

I’m dying to show you the organizational systems we saw in the classrooms we visited, but I’m waiting to get the teachers’ approval. Fingers crossed!


The Learning Gap

Now that my book is grossly overdue at the Seattle Public Library, I’ve finally finished The Learning Gap: Why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education. (My overdue fees are going to hurt all the more because the whole book is available for free online…)

There were a lot of interesting ideas and observations in this book, which was written in 1992. I have a few major concerns with some of Stevenson and Stigler’s arguments, but I think their main takeaway is definitely worth taking a look at.

My scanner is MIA, but for example, I thought you needed to see this graph on what parents in Beijing value versus parents in Chicago:

Defining the Ideal Teacher

Defining the Ideal Teacher

Look at those huge differences in clarity and sensitivity, as well as enthusiasm. What do you think causes them? How would you answer this survey?

I am now on the lookout for a “Math Set.” Stevenson and Stigler mention this manipulatives kit, and many other researchers quote it, but I can’t seem to find a set that contains “a box of colorful, well-designed materials for teaching mathematical concepts: tiles, clock, ruler, checkerboard, colored triangles, beads, and many other attractive objects.” (186)

I also wanted to share this passage:

If we were asked briefly to characterize classes in Japan and China, we would say that they consist of coherent lessons that are presented in a thoughtful, relaxed, and nonauthoritarian manner. Teachers frequently involve students as sources of information. Lessons are oriented toward problem-solving rather than rote mastery of facts and procedures, and make use of many different types of representational materials. The role assumed by the teacher is that of the knowledgable guide, rather than that of prime dispenser of information and arbiter of what is correct. There is frequent verbal interaction in the classroom as the teacher attempts to stimulate students to produce, explain, and evaluate solutions to problems. These characteristics contradict stereotypes held by most Westerners about Asian teaching practices. Lessons are not rote; they are not filled with drill. Teachers do not spend large amounts of time lecturing to children; and the children are not passive automatons but active participants in the learning process. (176-177)

Definitely something to think about.

Finally, here’s what the authors recommend we should do to define our solution to improving instruction in US public schools:

1. Free Teachers (give them more time to prepare lessons and for professional development)
2. Improve Teacher Training
3. Make Systematic Use of Learning Principles (research-based instruction)
4. Teach to the Group (hold high standards?)
5. Consider Increasing Class Size (with the opportunity for “more time each day to plan lessons, deal with individual children, and consult with colleagues” (212))
6. Revise Textbooks
7.  Free Children (more frequent, shorter breaks)
8. Eliminate Tracking
9. Respect the Age of Innocence (keep learning fun)

Make Realistic Assessments (of their students) and Raise Standards
(American kids were always the worst at math, but their families always thought they were better at math than anyone else)

Value Education
Believe in Effort

If you’re interested in more, here’s a thoughtful article from the NCTM.