I have been excited and anxious about this September. It is my first year teaching grade 5. I am not sharing a room with another teacher this year, and I now teach all subjects like all elementary generalists are supposed to do. I spend less time teaching math, or rather I try to spend less time teaching math. Recommended time allocation is 25% for Language Arts and 15% for math. Can I add math journaling to 25%?

I spent a large part of my summer getting my head around grade 5 topics and outcomes and trying to plan. My google drive notes progressed from “Grade 5 Math Miscellaneous” to “Math Weekly”. For the first few weeks I tried to choose a range of activities that would allow me to set up norms and routines as well as get a sense of how my students solve problems and work with numbers.

Observations: Are You Good At Math?

On our first week, I asked my students to share with me if they think they are good at math, explain how they know, and tell me if other people know about their math abilities. Grade 3 responses last year revolved around calculations, but the majority of the students had good confidence about their math skills. Apparently, something changes by the time they reach grade 5.

good at math

good at math1

good at math3

good at math2

It sounds like some students are trying to give up already. Something to be mindful of.

Successes: Visual Patterns

I love starting a year with Visual Patterns: A perfect example of low floor/high ceiling routine. I get inspiration from visualpatterns.org and eventually move on using the patterns that students have created as prompts.

We started with these patterns.

Students created their own and used Desmos to graph them. I plan to continue working with patterns throughout the year. Building more patterns. Writing expressions. Building patterns for expressions. Checking their predictions with graphs.


Challenges: Subtraction

Grade 5 curriculum in Alberta doesn’t mention addition or subtraction of whole numbers. I guess the review is assumed though I wish it was explicitly mentioned. I wasn’t about to dive into decimals operations and multi-digit division and multiplication without ensuring addition and subtraction skills are ready. We started our number talks with subtraction strategies, but I also gave my students some questions to answer that would require them to use subtraction: a mix of word problems and pure arithmetic questions, spread around a few days. Here are some examples. What do you notice and wonder?



I see a pretty vast range of different understandings of numbers, place value and operations.

  • Understanding of one-digit operations however without understanding of place value
  • Confusion with the algorithm
  • Understanding of place value however uncertainty how to apply this understanding to subtraction
  • Understanding the relationships between addition and subtraction
  • Flexibility with different subtraction strategies and confident understanding of place value

I tried to choose the prompts that would call for particular strategies like adding up or making friendly numbers. About 90% of my students chose to use the standard algorithm for all the prompts, and  50% were getting lost in it. Here are some strategies that students generated. Where do I begin?

subtraction poster

Closing Thoughts

It seems like the map of understandings is expanding the older the students get, and I find students in very different places. I wonder how grade 7-12 teachers manage to navigate it. How does differentiation look like in different classrooms? Yes, all my students were able to access visual patterns lessons at their level, but they all need to master subtractions skills as well. How do I support my students in getting access to the skills and problems that are currently very challenging for them and the challenges are different for everyone?


One thought on “I Might Need Help Getting Started

  1. Hello. This is a wonderful, reflective blog post. The visual models of function tables and patterns were awesome. I loved that! The challenge of subtraction and basic math facts for grade 7 – 12 teachers is a struggle. My name is Shawn and I am an interventionist this year for grades 6, 7, and 8. I am currently working through Alg. 2 on my own as I believe we should know the curriculum 2 years ahead and 2 years behind the current grade level we teach so that we understand where the students are going and where they have come from. One are where your questions about addition and subtraction would be extremely important is factoring. How do kids factor functions when they cannot find a common factor. for they cannot determine which two integers when added together equal 6 but when multiplied equal -16. Tough skill. In the end though, we do exactly what you are doing. We deal with the students we have and find ways to help them. My job has been so rewarding for that. I can actually push into classrooms and help kids understand what the teacher is saying while they are teaching so that the kids and keep up conceptually with the teacher. I help kids in small and large groups understand the concepts they are learning. This is a very reflective and eye opening post. Thanks for sharing your start of school. Keep up the fantastic work, you definitely care for these students and that alone will help with their growth mindset which seems to be very low from the first question you asked them, “are you good at math?”


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