Part One: A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

Greetings from San Francisco International Airport.


First off, I am one of the luckiest teachers on the planet. My school provides me with everything that I could need to do a good job. Alas, after reading some impressive postings about teachers around the world, I decided to share my day’s schedule for all to see.

5:55 AM iPhone Alarm goes off.

5:58 AM get out of bed, stretch,shower, shave, brush teeth.

6:21 AM Kiss wife, meet Taxi Ken

6:23 AM Think of family back in the states, check Facebook, Twitter accounts. Wish I was home for Thanksgiving.

6:38 AM Say goodbye to Ken, arrive at school. Greet security in Cantonese.

6:41 AM Log on to SKYPE . Try to connect with my sister.

6:46 AM Start setting up for Thanksgiving/International Day celebration.

6:57 AM Read and reply to first email of the day.

7:01 AM Prepare my Keynote presentations for the day.

7:05 AM Greet incoming colleague. Laugh about the Petraeus affair

7:20 AM Get my first cup of coffee, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich, banana for breakfast. Grateful to my wife.

7:31 AM First kid shows up. He speaks to me about a documentary he saw last night  about the history of tea. I look surprised by his info. Tell him about my trip to Sri Lanka.

7:34 AM Another kid tells me that his mom translates my blog posts and sends them to her teacher friends in Taiwan. I am very pleased already with my first two experiences with my students.

7:40 AM Start storing food for Thanksgiving Feast.

7:45 AM Begin to miss home big time

7:47 AM Shake hands, make eye contact and greet each kid with a “Top of the Mornin’

7:52 AM Chitchat ends, kids read silently with their log books, notepads and independent reading books.

8:00 AM Daily Devotion begins.  Recite poem of the Week “When Children Eat by Margaret Yoder

8:08 AM We begin first reading group session with A Hundred Dresses. I am highly complimentary to the four students and their ability to share their thoughts on the story. I compliment them on their work with literal understanding. I give them tips on how to think deeply when conversing. I am grateful for all my work with Accountable Talk.

8:40 AM I wish each kid to have a good recess and to enjoy each other’s company.  Remind them that we are on this earth to be good to each other.

8:45 AM Check students’ word study sorts and note exemplary work.

8:50 AM I drink my second cup of coffee.

8:52 AM I converse with fellow teacher about the ukulele.

8:56 AM Begin to input data into math progress spreadsheet.

9:10 AM I get wrapped up into a conversation comparing Hong Kong and American mathematics teaching.

9:24 AM Tested “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” DVD.

9:37 I fine-tune Math Keynote for Open Response problem solving assessment.

9:40 Students arrive from Chinese Studies class. I instruct them to take their seats to begin Math assessment. Students begin and are highly engaged.

9:57 Compliment my teaching partner’s unit reflection lesson.

10:30 I meet with kids to discuss Thanksgiving and Writing Celebration decorum.

10:38 Begin walking the students to Physical Education class. Notice that my wife texted me to call her immediately. I instantly begin to panic and worry about my folks back home.

10:40 AM High five 60 students as they are obviously excited about their strength test.

10:42 Back in my classroom, call my wife and discover that all is well. She just wanted to chit-chat and see what I wanted for dinner. I laugh and breathe.

Final cleanup before Thanksgiving. Lay out tablecloths on desks. Pass out plates, plastic knives, forks and spoons, Class looks great.

11:30 AM Begin readers’ workshop minilesson.

That is enough for now. More to follow on the other side.

I am off to Osaka, Japan.





How to Teach Fourth Grade: The Math Test

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Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics. 

Simeon Poisson 

My students recently just finished their Everyday Math Written Assessment for Unit 4 and I thought that I would share some of my ideas on issuing the typical fourth grade math test. I hope some of these ideas help.

First of all, my students enjoy math class for they are highly motivated and obviously supported. I view the parents as partners in learning. They play an important and irreplaceable role in math comprehension. I am fully aware that for a good many of my students, my role in their math learning is middling, at best. That said: we have a lot of fun exploring the subject.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I pre-assess each student before the start of each unit. From there, I heap a great amount of responsibility on the students to take charge of their own math understanding. They learn with partners and speak in conversational tones throughout most lessons. My job is to pair up the students with similar ability partners. Next, I steer the conversations so that each student becomes a little stronger in their understanding. Soon I will have the students write daily reflections on their new learning.

At the start of each math test, the students sit in “test mode” seating. Each kid is responsible for setting up dividers and each table group’s “go getter” are responsible for distributing the tests. Students look over the test and one or two students proactively volunteers to pass out needed math tools such as rulers, calculators or protractors.

Each test  an assessment for learning. Therefore, I routinely help out students as they learn. I pat the kids on their backs and compliment them throughout. For this specific test, the kids asked me to define terms like “withdraw” or “deposit. ” Both terms were not on my word wall so I happily explained what the words meant.

I review before each test on my interactive whiteboard. I am a pretty demanding teacher but I stop coaching in while the kids are taking their assessments. Rather, I celebrate their learning and cheer them on and do whatever else I can to boost their confidence.

I assign the first student to complete the test to collect the remaining tests and to alphabetize the tests according to last names. This helps me grade and input data on an excel spreadsheet.

Each grade-level focuses on a different algorithm throughout the year. This helps the student develop mastery with the four operations while the teachers develop mastery in routinely teaching a particular method.

I accommodate the students with graph paper and hands-on learning tools, such as base-ten blocks. All are welcome to use the tools regardless of their learning needs.

This helps all develop confidence in mathematics, my only goal during testing days throughout the year.


Poisson, S. (n.d.). Mathematics quotes. Retrieved from

Teaching Math Mastery in the International School Fourth Grade Classroom

” In this changing world, those who understand and can do mathematics will have significantly enhanced opportunities and options for shaping their futures. Mathematical competence opens doors to productive futures. A lack of mathematical competence keeps doors closed…All students should have the opportunity and the support necessary to learn significant mathematics with depth and understanding. There is no conflict between equity and excellence.” NCTM (200, p 50)

As an international school fourth grade teacher, I realize that I have 22 students of widely varying degrees of mathematical understanding. The following is a body of thought on how I approach teaching in my classroom.

I believe that each child  be encouraged to take control of their own mathematics learning. This means that I am to create an environment where students discuss findings, compare ideas, and peer tutor. In creating such an environment, I first need to develop a highly structured classroom with easy access to mathematical tools. The students need to develop relationships inside the classroom. I need to develop routines and habits that foster thinking. This is a constant work in progress that finds me tinkering to find small, incremental improvements that alone are not readily noticeable. The students need help each other without exception.

You need lots of math manipulatives.

Curriculum is to fit the student population. This means that school leaders must constantly investigate results to find trends in student math learning. Teachers are to understand reasoning behind decisions and differentiate expectations for each child. I strongly believe that mathematics teachers need support from school leaders. This includes regular, focused and differentiated professional development for mathematics instructors. School leaders must recognize and foster collaborative activities among teachers.

Students learn what the teacher teaches each day. They easily see when a teacher does not deeply understand mathematics instruction. I am a big believer that elementary school teachers need to support each other in explaining ideas that develop teacher ability. This means regular, intentional time for teachers to look over student work and to discuss ideas in how to teach a particular concept.

Assessment is an integral but not overwhelming management aspect. I tend to focus on a bevy of pre assessment strategies so that I can pinpoint my instruction and find a “just right” learning for each child. I teach students to constantly use reflective assessment tools that show and celebrate their “new, big, idea” from each day’s lesson. I post “exit slips” each day and make sure that exemplar posts are widely viewed.

I believe that technology plays an ever increasingly important role in the mathematics classroom. I am a huge fan of ViHart,  Khan Academy and Brainpop in helping me accelerate student understanding. I use these sites religiously. They are excellent tools in a differentiated mathematics classroom.

That is all for now.

Teachers,“How do you approach mathematics instruction in your classroom?”   Please feel free to comment below.

Good luck.

National Council of Mathematics (2000) Principles and standards for school mathematics Reston VA

How to Teach Mathematics to Fourth Grade Students

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In two days time, my students will have their first unit math test in geometry. I figured that this is a good time to reflect upon how I teach math in a fourth grade classroom.  I hope it helps.

Pre-assess each unit.  Before starting any learning experience, intentionally pre-assess each skill. Assess each student’s level of understanding and differentiate your instruction from your findings. I try to rearrange my math groups each day according to pre-assessment results.

Differentiate your instruction for each group of students that you teach. I cannot stress this enough. Your students must have a “just right” level of learning for each student, each day. This becomes a habit, in time.

Move it: I begin each year teaching my students the value of seamless transitions. Move your students often in the math class by rotating them to learning centers.

Teach each child each day. Never allow for a student to miss the opportunity to work with you. Structure your lessons so that you have meaningful contact with each student.

Allow the students to use calculators: “Calculators should be in or on students’ desks at all times from kindergarten through high school.”(Van de Walle, 2004)

Converse: Hone your conversation skills so that your students explain their learning in correct common mathematical terms.

Notice student improvement each day and compliment often. I do this regularly by allowing for the students to write and post their big learning for the day.

Assessments are for learning: Each test given to a student is an assessment for understanding. I routinely aid fourth graders in understanding the directions, checking work, and defining terms while they are taking a test.

Distribute all paper assessments to parents. Collect signed assessments and file in a student portfolio. This is a terrific public relations strategy. Evernote helps me immensely in conducting this task.

Post the essential learnings and enduring understanding for each math unit. I generally begin each math lesson reviewing the essential questions from the unit.

Recognize and meaningfully celebrate student thinking.

Name the steps in each algorithm that you teach. Allow for the students to finish your sentences for you. Let the students keep the conversations going.

Post lesson goals and aims, essential questions, and mathematical words to know.

Compete in World Maths Day Competition. This competition is extremely motivating.

Problem of the Week: Here is where I allow for my gifted and talented students to truly engage in higher-level mathematics. My former students reply how much they enjoyed watching me dance when they successfully completed a Problem of the Week.

Pi Day: My students have been known to memorize Pi up to 47 digits. We celebrate each March 14 at 1:59:26 PM. I let the students organize the festivities.

Start a Math Olympiad team: Math Olympiad is a fine program. I have been a PICO for years at my old school. There is time to still sign up. Math Olympiad is highly recommended.

Appreciate the Beauty: Study the math masters and share your love of mathematics with your students. This means so much more than posting a picture or quote from Einstein! Each math idea is an invention. Teach the students that mathematics is forever evolving.

Instructional Videos: If you are going to show them, keep them short and “laser-focused” on the goal at hand. Ratey the Math Cat is perhaps my all time favorite.

Allow for the kids to create presentations for teaching. Share the results on Vimeo, Edmodo,a class twitter account, or a class website.

Store the answers to word problems in an accessible folder and let the kids check their answers themselves. This frees you to more effectively engage.

Read: The Housemaid and the Professor, Fermat’s Last Theorem, and The Man of Numbers. These are amazing books.

Master the interactive whiteboard. It took me four years but I no longer call it the “The StupidBoard”

Teach all the units. Do not allow for any unit to go longer than necessary.

Collaborate with colleagues and ask them for help,regularly. Schedule the lessons so that you both are teaching the same lessons daily. This helps tremendously.

I have a few more ideas and practices, but perhaps for another time.

Have a great year of Mathematics instruction.


Van de Walle, J. A. (2004). Elementary and middle school mathematics: Teaching developmentally. Allyn & Bacon.