Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources

3 Strategies Every Support Class Needs

  1. What do you notice? What do you wonder?
  2. Math/Number Talk
  3. Number/Problem Strings

If you have not heard of these three ideas, you need to look them up. They have changed how I structure support classes. They have changed how I support students. They have changed my students.

Notice/Wonder – This was introduced to me through Morgan Fierst @MsFierst, Minneapolis public school teacher and 2016 MN math teacher of the year. She used pictures to illicit information and curiosity.  This idea came from Annie Fetter @MFAnnie. I encourage you to watch the video. But the main ideas are 1) it’s a way for students to connect their ideas and thinking with each other and 2) let students know that their ideas and thoughts in math are useful and valuable. This has been one of the best ways for me get all students talking out loud about math.

Math/Number Talk – I use the words math talk and number talks interchangeably, but I know many who don’t. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s about getting students to talk about their strategies and ideas. You as the teacher are responsible for modeling their strategies and connecting their ideas. I fell into math/number talks while at a workshop with Terry Wyberg @TerryWyberg, University of Minnesota math education professor. Jo Boaler, professor at Stanford Univeristy, has an online course on how teachers can learn math. We are so good at algorithms and tricks that Boaler was to defunct this and have us learn real math with real concepts.  Fawn Nguyen, math teacher in California, has developed two websites that I use on a regular basis for ideas: and She has tips and more resources, like Jo Boaler. Math/Number talks need to have multiple access points and strategies. Many secondary teachers have shied away from this strategy because of its popular use in elementary classrooms. The video gives a good example of how to do a math/talk in high school. All the students are engaged in the same problem and are looking for various strategies. The most powerful take-away from doing math/number talks has been allowing students to use any and all strategies. They don’t feel that they need to have the most sophisticated strategy for their strategy to be seen as valuable.

Number/Problem Strings – A number string is a set of related math problems, crafted to support students to construct big ideas about mathematics and build their own strategies. Last year when I was looking for additional resources to use in my support class, I found this Math Routines pdf online. Then at MCTM in April 2016, the keynote speaker, Pam Weber Harris @pwharris showed the power of what problems strings could do to introduce or strength student skills and generalizing. I use number/problem strings to build pattern recognition and to build upon what they already know. Too many students shut down when they see a problem they can’t do, but seeing the build up and relationship a difficult problem has with an easier problem encourage and distress my students. As problems get harder students get more confident and actually start to see how “easy” problems can be because they see the pattern and relationship.

If I spend my time only on these three strategies during my 85 minute period, I feel that it’s time well spent. I have seen so much growth in their math skills that I can’t say enough good things. But more importantly to me is the growth in their confidence. They feel like it’s math they can because it builds on what they know. Their ideas and voices matter. They matter, and to me, my students in math support class need to know that every day.