Before our 9 day vacation, I started a series of posts about how I do math in our classroom.  The first post was all about CGI and doing Math Mysteries {word problems} with my firsties.  As I posted about earlier, I do Math Mysteries in my classroom 3 times a week...usually on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

So what do we do the other two days?  I probably can't fit that all in one blog post, so I'm going to divide it up.  We do Counting Collections on Mondays and we do Fact Fluency on Fridays {which I'll post about later...}
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Last year was my first year to really do both of these things consistently.  And I probably didn't start until around October after talking to some other friends about it.  So I'm still somewhat of a newbie balancing Counting Collections, Math Mysteries, and Fact Fluency {plus a daily dose of Math Wall...}  It's not perfect, but so far it's working really well in my room and I'm excited to see what it's like this coming year!  You can check out my Counting Collections Packet here.  Everything you need to set up including pictures, materials, plans, etc is here!

So here was the problem: One thing I had noticed as a big problem with my firsties coming in last year is their inability to count and understand our system for counting.  They could rote count fairly well {MOST of them anyways! :)} and they could even "rote skip count" by 5s and 10s...but they just had no number sense or what skip counting actually means.  Plus, let's face it: almost 100% of my first graders coming in cannot write all of their numbers correctly.  Especially those darn teen numbers {anyone else have littles that think 13 is 30. every. single. time???}  And while some people might see rote skip-counting as an okay skill, I see it as "not enough."  Kids have to be able to understand that when I count by 5's I'm counting 5 more each time and that I'm actually counting in groups of 5.  When we practice rote counting during Math Wall, I make sure that we go over the groups of  language over and over and over because I believe it is what builds the foundation for multiplication understanding.

I have used Counting Collections in the past, but it's been a once-every-two-months kind of activity.  After doing it consistently on almost a weekly basis for most of the year last year, I'm convinced that Counting Collections has a regular place in the K-2 classroom. {I even have friends that teach 3rd-5th grade that use counting collections to count things other than whole numbers, like money and fractional pieces...can you imagine the awesome practice counting pieces of objects by halves or fourths??}

So what exactly is Counting Collections anyways?  Counting Collections is an activity in which students work in partners and groups to count a collection of something.  Yes.  It's really that simple.  They might count beads, pasta, q-tips, blocks, stickers, or anything else super el-cheapo that you can find around your room or house!  All I bought were the cheap ziploc tubs to store them in.  $16 total investment and I'll be able to use it every week year after year!  You can see in the picture below all of the collections I used.  And I didn't buy a single thing.  This was all old manipulatives we weren't using in my room anymore, or things from my house or pantry.  And this is really impressive considering I'm not even a pack rat.  So my friends who like to collect things *wink wink* will really have some fun things to choose from!

So what did you do to set it up in your classroom?  I spent several hours just counting. and counting. and counting.  Each tub has a certain color label on it.  Find the tubs I used here.  The tubs are color coded by number range.  My pink tubs have 1-20 objects in them. My orange tubs have 21-50. Yellow has 51-100 objects.  Green 101-120.  Blue 121-200 and white has 201-500 objects.  I made a key so I would know and remember how many pieces were in each tub as kids counted.  I gave my kids a counting assessment {that you can find in my Counting Collections Packet} which was basically an empty 120's chart.  I gave them 20 minutes to start at 1 and count/write numbers as high as they could go.  Then I was able to see who needed to be counting in what range.  Obviously, I have the most yellow and green tubs because that is the "on grade level" counting range for first graders according to Common Core.  And I had the most kids on my assessment that stopped counting somewhere in that range after 20 minutes.

Once I have my firsties grouped by color, I assign partners of kids with the same color.  This will be their Counting Collections partner during the entire quarter.  I reassess them each quarter so that I can change their assignments up as they grow...and it's a great thing I do because last year I had a kiddo that could only count to 7 on the first assessment and the next time--just 9 weeks later--he counted/wrote numbers all the way to 120!  I just about screamed for joy!!!  Counting Collections really, really does work!  I keep a color-coded record sheet of partners with a spot for me to record anecdotally how they are counting each week.  That's just another formative assessment for me to keep track of my kids...and it's great proof for parents!

So what does the first Counting Collections lesson look like?  The first time I did Counting Collections we did it as a whole group ONLY.  No one worked in partners.  I got a pretend collection and told them the goal of Counting Collections: I can count objects to 120.  I asked, "How could I count my collection of pop cubes?" Someone inevitably says, "1, 2, 3..." and will come up and count all of them.  We will count them all by ones together.  Then, I will ask, "Is there another way I could count them?" Usually, I will have someone that will suggest counting by 5s or 10s.  But you have to be really careful here because some kids will still pull one pop cube, but rote count by 10s.  This is what I was talking about earlier where kids can rote count but don't understand that it means groups of.  Once we have come up with several ways to count, I pick one way and model how to record it on the recording sheet {also included in the packet for kinder, first and second grade.}

Throughout the model lesson, we are talking about my expectations and goals for Counting Collections and we are charting those on our Counting Collections anchor chart...
At the beginning of the year, my kids are also becoming more familiar with our Standards for Math Practices so I always try to tie those practices back to our goals for Counting Collections.  You can find some kid-friendly posters I made for each practice here.  This Counting Collections anchor chart is posted and reviewed every single week before starting our counting time.  We focus a lot in the beginning on how to handle the collections, and honestly, I didn't have one issue with throwing, chewing, or using the collections appropriately.  They are just too engaged to mess with that!

So what does the daily grind of Counting Collections look like?  Once I've modeled sufficiently for a lesson or two, the kids start counting with their partners.  In my room, they have a specific counting spot they go to every week so they are not wasting time looking for a spot.

I start off each lesson with a goal of what I want for my kids {usually a math practice like "Attend to precision" or "Model with math" or even just "Cooperating with others."} It's especially perfect when I can use the same goal we are working on in Math Mysteries in Counting Collections that week too.  It really helps the kids make stronger connections!

Then I send the kids off to count with their partners and tubs.  They only get one tub for the day.  The first thing I tell them to do {and that we model together during the first lessons} is to make a plan for counting.  I walk around and ask each group, "How are you going to count today?  What is your plan?"  I'm wanting them to tell me, "I'm going to count by 1s," or "We are counting by 5s," etc...  That way I can watch for a little bit and see if they have that "group to group correspondence" {counting by 5s by counting a group of 5, not just rote counting.}  Each group counts differently.  In the beginning most count by 1s

and several of the ones that count by 5s or 10s don't count correctly {they rote count without counting groups}.  But that's okay because it's a great thing for me to walk around and conference with them about.  And it's also something we will talk about as a whole group later!

And there are always a few in the beginning that actually count the groups of 5s or 10s correctly...or by 20's as in this first picture! {Thank you, Jesus!}


 You can't get a better visual for grouping objects than this in my opinion.  It is so SO powerful!



As the year progresses, their counting gets more sophisticated and efficient.  It is truly remarkable!
These partners are counting by 100s later in the year...

When they finish counting, they record their total and fill out their recording sheet to show me how they counted.  For my early finishers, they recount their collection a different way on the back of their recording sheet.  This keeps them from going through tons of collections and it also keeps them in their counting spot and more on task.

At the end of our counting time {about 20-30 minutes}, we clean up and meet back at the carpet for share time.  Share time for Counting Collections is similar to share time in Math Mysteries.  I pick 2-3 people that did or did not meet our goal for the day and they talk about how they counted their collection.

I use highlighter to mark on their papers if I need to go back and model how to label counting or how to notate their thinking with equations.  Here are some examples from last April...


So how do you fit it in to your daily and weekly schedule?  Counting Collections takes a total of 40 minutes to an hour in my first grade room, depending on the length of share time.

Last year, I started doing Counting Collections in the Fall every single Monday.  That first semester my firsties really needed that counting practice every single week.  But by the second semester and especially the 4th quarter, we didn't do it every single week.  3rd quarter we probably did Counting Collections almost every week {maybe missing once a month for another math skill game} and in the 4th quarter we only did it every other week or so.  They just got so good at it that I felt I needed to focus on other areas for skill practice.  That doesn't mean they will be great in Counting Collections in their second grade classroom---because my second grade friends have their collections set up to count objects up to 1000 and beyond.  And just because they can count to 120 or 200 in first does NOT mean they can efficiently count and write numbers to and past 1000!  So I think it is definitely has its place in kindergarten, first grade and second grade!

Read the next few blog posts about setting up math in the classroom with fact fluency, number talks, and math story problems!

And check out my Counting Collections Packet for more details on my plans, pictures, lists of collections and keys, assessments, handouts and more!


One thing that I've learned from teaching in a very high poverty and high ESL school is how unexposed my firsties are to the world.  While most don't skip a beat on pop culture trivia, previous firsties have been known to ask, "Who is Washington D.C.?" and "What is a museum?"  and the only airplane they've ever seen in real life is the kind made from paper.  They just have No. Clue. Whatsoever.

Seeing that firsthand, year after year, has given me and the Mr. even more of a drive to make sure our kids see and experience things outside of Arkansas.  And it's not because we want them to say they've been to cool places.  And for me it's not even about learning about other places {although I know that is important, too.} Then main reason I want Cooper to travel and "see" other places is because I think it is so important for kids to see that the world doesn't stop with them.  Kids are naturally egocentric...but from the beginning I have done my best to say things and plan experiences that help my little boy realize that, "The world does not revolve around Cooper."  That may seem harsh...and maybe it is a little.  But I want him to hear that from us over and over.  Because as much as I love him...it's not about him.  It's not about me.  It's about others.  I don't want to end up with a selfish, me-first 20 something later on down the road.

So, excuse me for a blog post while I write about our personal family memories we made together this week...

You know those people that buy books about places they are vacationing to and plan out the details of it, all the way down to detailed vacation Excel spreadsheets?  ...well, that's my husband!  And I love him for it...

But you know those vacations you go on that turn out nothing like you actually planned {and I do mean NOTHING!}??    ...Well, that was this year's vacation...

This year we visited our best friends in Boise, Idaho, and drove over to Yellowstone for a few days.  We had SO MUCH FUN!  My friend's husband is in his first year as an assistant coach at Boise State.  We knew we wanted to come visit at some point, so we just decided to make a vacation out of it!  I've never been to Idaho or Wyoming {where most of Yellowstone is} so I was happy to cross those 2 states off of my list.  It is absolutely beautiful up there.  And it was 91 degrees in Boise at one point that week....and the air wasn't even thick at all. {Can you imagine, Arkansas friends??}  Ahhh, life with little humidity!!

We flew in to Boise on Sunday.  It was Cooper's first airplane trip!  And he did great!  He loved watching for our airplane to arrive....

...and begged to ride in the car seat through the airport!

Ready for takeoff. {Daddy looks a little nervous, don't ya think??}

Less than a minute after we took off Cooper was asleep...Thank you Jesus!  {Oh how I love to watch sleeping babies!}

I was so so SO relieved!  He's a GREAT traveler, but I was worried about his ears bothering him because I've always heard you never really know how that's going to be until it happens.  And he was absolutely perfect for all of our flights!

My friend, Lindsey and her oldest daughter Addison, came to meet us at the airport.  Check out these two...they were beyond excited to see each other.... :)

Monday, Lindsey and I decided it would be fun for the kids to try out a kids museum in downtown Boise.  The river runs through downtown and there is a perfect park close to the museum.  So we decided to pack a picnic lunch to eat in the grass and play at the park and then go to the museum.

...And then we got out of the park and saw goose "poo" everywhere.  Like every 2 inches... Now I know why my dad has spent most of his adult life hating and trying to kill those animals! {Sorry, PETA!}

So then we decided to eat on the concrete area.

....And then Cooper stepped through fresh goose "poo" in his Toms and got it all over the picnic blanket...

So then we decided to just shove our faces with our lunch and get the heck outta there!! ha!!

Cooper enjoyed the kids museum.  Especially putting the golf balls down the little turny thingy {how about that official term??}

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Cooper kept wanting to knock down Addison's house, so we finally just had to let him do it on purpose!



Addison and Cooper got to play meteorologists!


Tuesday morning we left right after breakfast for Yellowstone.  My parents had gone the previous year and had given us lots of helpful tips...like packing sunscreen for the higher altitudes!

...but then we got there and it was 35 degrees.  And raining a very, very cold rain.  And what we needed to have packed instead of sunscreen was a couple of parkas.  {When we looked at the weather before we left Arkansas it said the high would be in the 50's with a 20% chance of rain.}

We pretty much looked like idiots in our flip flops and shorts and capris!  Luckily I had packed Cooper all jeans to wear, but hadn't packed socks!

We checked into our BEAUTIFUL hotel Tuesday afternoon.  We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn.  It is over 100 years old and an actual log cabin.  It was really, really a neat place to stay in the park.  And very close to Old Faithful.


We found out Old Faithful was about to go off, so we went to go watch.  We were there just in time {2 minutes early}...

...but then we realized that Old Faithful had gone off 5 minutes before the posted time.

So we headed on to the Grand Prismatic.  My parents had talked and talked and talked about how beautiful this was.  And had shown us pictures...
Google it.  This is really how it looks on a normal day.

....but when we got there, it was so SO cold, that the steam was too heavy to really see anything.

Believe it or not, this is the same pool as the picture above...you just can't see much from the steam!

It was still really awesome to see all of the steam coming up and you could see some of the colors in the pool, but it just wasn't the same!  Who would've thought we would have 30 degree weather in the middle of June??  Apparently Arkansas isn't the only place on Earth with crazy weather!

We got back that evening, ate dinner and went to bed.

Wednesday was our full day to drive around the park and see the sights.  We were so excited.

....And then we woke to it pouring snow outside.  Absolutely. POURING.

So we stopped by a souvenir shop before we headed out and bought $100 worth of fleeces, hats, gloves, etc... so we would be prepared.   Once we got back in the car I took off the tags and got us all ready to be bundled up.

...And then an hour into the drive our sweet, amazing traveler started crying uncontrollably.  Being close to his morning nap time and being that he had really struggled napping in the car on vacation, I just assumed this was a tired cry.

So Justin pulled over to take some pictures of some bison we saw on the side of the road and I started unbuckling Cooper to hold him for just a little bit and try and calm him down.

...And then before I could even get him all the way unbuckled, he threw up.  And then threw up all over the car seat.  And then threw up all over the car seat beside him.  And then threw up all over his backpack.  And then threw up all INSIDE of his bag of "treats" {iPad, headphones, books, games, toys, snacks...} And then he threw up a little more. And we were stuck in the middle of nowhere...

I wish I were kidding.  Really.  I do.

So we did what any other parents would do in our place an hour away from a hotel or any sign of civilization: I stripped Coop down to his diaper, wadded up his throw up stained clothes, and held a crying sick baby while Justin cleaned up the entire mess of throw up with baby wipes.  Yes.  Baby wipes. In the snow.  Wearing shorts.

Note to self: Always carry a towel with you when traveling with kids.  And a change of clothes that actually fits.

We turned around and headed back to the hotel.  Cooper and I would stay for the rest of the day and hang out while Justin drove around and saw the sights without us.  I am normally not a crying person.  But by the time we got back to the hotel with a screaming sick baby I had broken down and cried...mainly just because I was so sad for Cooper and so sad that all this was keeping us from getting to experience Yellowstone together. And I was sad that Justin was having to drive on his own without any company.  But more than anything I was just sad that my baby boy was sick and we were in between hotel rooms and not supposed to be able to check in until 4:00 that afternoon.  How was I going to care for a sick, naked, feverish, vomitting boy in the lobby of a hotel?

So, then Justin went in and talked to the staff....no hotel room was ready.  We ate lunch and then Cooper and I went in to the hotel to hang out in the lobby.  Luckily, I checked on our room before we settled in the lobby.  Our room was ready.  At 12:45.  Thank you, Jesus, for that miracle that I am sure seems so small to some but was a HUGE blessing to us!

Cooper and I settled in and my 101 temp boy slept on and off for the rest of the afternoon before finally going to sleep for the evening at 7:00.  Snow, puking, fevers, and sleeping....ahh, the vacation life in Yellowstone!
You really can't tell from this picture just how HARD it was snowing out there, but it was crazy!!

Meanwhile, Justin drove all afternoon and saw Yellowstone...without us! :(



We did manage to sneak off and watch Old Faithful actually go off that night though.  Another wonderful reason that we stayed right next to the geysers!

Thankfully, the next morning {Thursday} Cooper's fever had broken and he was much better {minus a bland appetite for several days}.  We took a family pic by a gorgeous waterfall...

...and then drove out of Yellowstone and through the Grand Tetons....which were GORGEOUS!  And the weather was actually clearing up and nice.  We stopped and took a few pictures, and drove on back to Boise.

And then promptly spent the next hour scrubbing the rest of the vomit out of the car and hosing down the carseat...

Friday morning the plan was to just play outside before the adults went on a date in the afternoon.

...And then a bump on Cooper's hip that I'd been watching closely started looking really bad.

...So I finally scheduled a doctor's appointment with the pediatrician our friends use.  Thank the Lord I did because Cooper had a infection that had an abscess.  Thankfully, we caught it just in time to do antibiotics for now.  My poor baby who has only had 2 sick visits to the doctor in close to 2 years now {YIKES!} had to go to the doctor on vacation....bummer!

That afternoon, the four adults went on a double date and hiked Table Rock Mountain.  And Cooper stayed with a non-family babysitter for the first time! {And did great!}

Omiword...I had no idea that this "hour" long hike was going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done!  One of us even mentioned quitting about 75% of the way up {but I won't mention names, Lindz!}  I'm so glad we finished and I'm so proud of all of us!
{My crazy hubby would like me to point out that he is on day 7 of his vacation beard by this point!}

And we might have been slightly delirious by the time we got to the top too!


I just love this sweet lady!  Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with such precious friends!

Such fun memories!

Saturday we toured the Boise State campus and checked out all of the football facilities!  I was glad I got to go since it's doubtful that I'll be able to go to a football game this year up there!!



After watching Emerson crawl all week, Cooper decided he needed to crawl all over campus just like his little girlfriend...silly boy!

I'm so glad that after spending a week with our sweet friends that Cooper learned to love them as much as Mommy and Daddy do.  {This was completely spontaneous...Justin was actually trying to get him to run in for a touchdown!}
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Melt. My. Heart.

After the tour, we splashed in the freezing cold river! {Major kudos to Daddy for braving the cold water with Coop!}

Saturday evening we grilled steaks and ate popsicles outside.  We stripped the babies down to their diapers.  We ate popsicles...and two little munchkins ate sidewalk chalk while others of us actually used the chalk! :)  We played duck, duck, goose.  The kids splashed in the water table and danced their Happy dance jigs!  It was just good old-fashioned fun...can't you tell by the look on these dirty little sweeties faces...errr...bodies?!?!

Really, the picture just doesn't do the dirt justice.  It was really one of those left-a-6 inch-dirt-ring-around-the-bathtub kind of bath nights.

Sunday morning we traveled all.day.long. Phew!

We had the most wonderful time relaxing and visiting with friends this week.  And even though it seemed like at times that nothing was going the way we wanted it to or like we had planned...we lived to tell about it, as the old saying goes.  And, truly, it was absolutely perfect...even with all of the imperfections!  And, hey....at least we got a TON of great stories to share out of it!


For over 6 years now, I have been teaching CGI {Cognitively Guided Instruction} Math.  It is something I immediately fell in love with in 2008 and I have seen my kiddos math thinking grow by leaps and bounds.  They are no longer just math "do-ers," they are math "thinkers."  They can attack virtually any math problem with perseverance and success!  Growing math "thinkers" also means that I am growing good problem solvers who will be able to tackle any problem {math or otherwise} they encounter in life with thought, perseverance, and confidence!

There is no way that I could explain CGI in a blog post.  Or two.  Or two hundred posts.  It's not because it's difficult...in fact it's based on a very simple concept: kids learn math best when they are able to experience and discover math in a way that is developmentally appropriate and at their own level of thinking.

It's because you can't be "trained" in CGI on a blog.  You have to experience it.  And work with colleagues to figure out how to best make it work for you.  I would STRONGLY suggest reading this book...

I would also highly recommend asking around for local CGI trainings.  I know they are offered quite often in our state and in others.

Because CGI is a completely different way to think about math, there is no way you can do CGI with a traditional math work book or even a teacher's manual...because it is so kid-based.  So my weekly math schedule looks completely different.

I teach CGI {math word problems} 3 days a week for about an hour each day.  I use word problems that I write on my own using kid names in my classroom and numbers that are best suited for my kids.  Sometimes, I even give groups of kids different number sets when I have groups that are really struggling...or really soaring!  I use the math mysteries I put together in this combo pack.

There are over 300 math mysteries for you to print off (try them for free here!)and use during the entire school year.  They are sorted by month and themed around each month...there are problems about shamrocks for March, and candy canes for December, etc...  You customize them by adding your own student names from your classroom and your own set of numbers in the 4 rectangles.

I use one math mystery per day.  You will notice that students will solve the math mystery 4 different times with 4 sets of numbers.  They may solve in anyway they choose that best makes sense to them {using tools, drawing pictures, counting and recording numbers, a series of equations, etc...}  The main rule in CGI is that I do not stand up and say, "Today, we are all going to solve this word problem using the number line."  I simply present the problem, students solve in a way that makes sense to them, I conference with students and question them to find out their thinking while they are solving and then we share a few kids' work.

For my early finishers {we all have them, don't we??}, I have them turn to the back and divide their paper in fourths again and solve the same problem with 4 more sets of numbers that are even harder.  They get so excited when they "make it to the back" and get challenging numbers from me!  This past year I had about 4 kids who were adding and subtracting within 10,000--with and without regrouping.   And I did not have an unusually "high" class this year either.  That's just CGI for you....letting kids solve problems the way they think about it allows for more substantial growth than practicing number lines and base ten blocks.  These kids were using some extremely sophisticated thinking that I dare say some adults would struggle to understand!  Every year, these little 6 year olds blow my math junkie mind!! ;) Every.Year.

You would think that after doing this for a few days, they would get bored, but I can promise you they don't!  My kids get more excited about math mystery time in our classroom than almost any other time of day we have!

The other amazing thing about CGI is the amount of Common Core Math Standards that are covered in one lesson.  In first grade, I can cover at least 10 standards each day during CGI...at least!  I have yet to find a more efficient and effective way to teach the Common Core Math Standards in my classroom!2

I'll be blogging again soon about what I do for math instruction the other 2 days of the week when I'm not doing CGI {Counting Collections and Fact Fluency}....so check back in or follow me on Facebook or BlogLovin' at the top of my page.


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