Cha-cha-cha Changes, in Math that is

Recently, I gave myself permission to let go of our math adoption.  I haven't been happy with it for quite some time and I see no need in using something that I don't feel meets my kids' needs (with the approval of my admin, of course!).  I'll still follow our grade level pacing guides and teach the same skills as the other 2nd grade teachers in my building, but I'm not using the curriculum anymore.  I'm going to rely solely on my interactive math notebooks, guided math groups, math centers (that I implemented last year and blogged about here), and supplements either I make or find on TpT.  Thankfully we were granted an awesome calendar curriculum this year by The Math Learning Center, which spirals skills throughout the year, providing additional practice and review.  The program also has awesome assessments and manipulatives.  However, it's not a complete program.  It's just a supplement.

Earlier this year, I started using interactive math notebooks to supplement the curriculum.
Via Instagram

My favorites are Yvonne Crawford's that go with every Common Core math standard.  You can find them on TpT here.  They are super fun and have several activities per standard.

The other ones I love are by For the Love of Teaching on TpT.  Kimberly's go along with the topic from Pearson's enVisions.  I like these added hands-on activities to reinforce the skills.  Since I'm actually ditching the curriculum, I think that continuing to use these activities, the kids will get enough of a taste of doing math the enVisions way.  I like these packs better than the actual curriculum in the fact that there are journal prompts for kids to explain their thinking and there are I Can statements that kids glue on the page.  My school is big on the kids knowing what they are doing and why, so these packs are great for that.

Another tool I began using is the rekenrek.  Nope, that wasn't a fake cough.  A rekenrek is a Dutch math tool, similar to an abacus, with 2 rows of 5 white and 5 red beads.  It helps children develop number sense from 0-20 by physically moving the beads and thinking in groups of 5 and 10.  Another weakness I have been seeing in our math adoption is a lack of number sense.  It focuses too heavily on standard algorithms and not enough on mental math.  There are mental math chapters, but they fly through the strategies so fast that the kids don't end up actually learning them and applying them when faced with problems.  Daily practice on this rekenrek and sharing our thinking helps students try new ways of thinking.

To get started with rekenreks, I first found a DIY tutorial.  I didn't want to buy them and I thought that the kids would feel more ownership if they made them themselves. 

Lucky for me, Math Coach's Corner has an awesome post about how to make them.  I followed it to a T.

I rounded up my supplies online (remember, Lanai has hardly anywhere to shop and no where to buy craft supplies!  Amazon loves me!)

Here were my directions:
  1. I pre-cut the foam sheets down to 4"x6" using a ruler and a sharpie.
  2. I made dots as to where the pipe cleaners will be poked through the foam.  I measured the dots 1" from the edge of the foam and tried to center them.  
  3. I then passed out the foam and the pipe cleaners and showed the kids how to poke holes in the foam.  
  4. Once they each had both stems sticking in one side of the foam, I passed out a bowl of white beads to each table group.  
  5. They took out 5 beads and threaded them on the top stems and 5 more for the bottom stems.  
  6. We did the same with the red beads.  
  7. We poked the other end of the pipe cleaner into the foam and twisted the stems together on the back. 
  8. I had each student write their name on their rekenrek with a Sharpie.

Now, how do you know what to do with them?  Remember The Math Learning Center who makes my calendar program?  Well, they have a rekenrek guide for FREE!  

K-5 Math Teaching Resources has a handy page about the rekenrek with possible lessons and even free downloads.  

I also found a free resource on TpT that explains the thinking behind the rekenrek and gives some lessons, as well.

After teaching a few of these lessons, my mind has already started spinning with other things we can do with our rekenreks!  The kids love them, I love how hands-on they are, and I know that our math discussions will start to become much more rich, detailed, and authentic.  I'm excited for our future in math!

Do you use rekenreks?  Have you started interactive math notebooks?  Did you throw your math adoption out the window?  Please share so I don't think I'm the only crazy math teacher out there! :)


  1. Nicole! I love this post!!! What a great accumulation of resources!

  2. These are some amazing ideas. Thank you, so much for sharing. I love the rekenreks!

  3. Oh yes I sure did throw out our math curriculum! It was not all bad, but very heavy on language for first graders who had trouble reading. I found that low readers who were great at math were now lagging in both! So we purchased some JUMP math workbooks, and supplement with manipulative centers such as you've shown here, and also a very long list of "daily math" activities so we are touching on each strand of math every day together. Thank you SO much for this great collection of resources to add to my collection!
    Whimsy Workshop Teaching

  4. Thank you so much for this math information! We just started using enVision last year and I do NOT like it for my first/second graders. You have given me so much new info. to think about and use. Thank you so much!

  5. Have you seen this?

    I used it with my number sense intervention group last year and it was amazing to me how poorly they did and they were in third grade. I hadn't ever heard of rekenreks before that!

    This was a great post!

    Tales from Outside the Classroom

  6. Excellent post! I'm feeling really bad, I made some rekenreks this summer and I still haven't used them. It didn't even dawn on me to have the kids make their own. You gave me even more info, I think I will be able to use them. I'm about ready to throw out my math series too. I think it does teach number sense, but it just seems to jump all over the place in one lesson. Thanks for your post!
    I'm Not Your Grandpa, I'm Your Teacher