My One Hundred Hungry Ants Obsession

Lately, I have been obsessed with children’s literature across K-5. My most recent obsession is the book One Hundred Hungry Ants. I did this in Kindergarten and this in 4th grade and today I invaded a 3rd grade classroom with it!

I followed the same pattern I usually do, I read the story aloud and did a notice/wonder. These are all of the things they noticed:

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The last one led perfectly into asking about the ways the ants rearranged themselves. I wrote the combinations they recalled from the book and asked them to chat with a neighbor about patterns they see.

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The discussion started with the 50+50=100, 25+25=25 and 10+10=20. Another student said they had the same things but it sounded different because she saw 50 was half of 100. They moved away from that and went to divisibility by the numbers that did not show up like 3,6,7,8, and 9 and pointed out that all of the second factors were multiples of 5. At this point they were focusing primarily on the second factor until someone pointed out the increasing and decreasing pattern happening. Then we got into the doubling and halving, quadrupling and dividing by 4 and multiplying and dividing by 10 of the factors.

I asked them if that would work with any number I gave them. They were quiet so I threw a number out there for them to think about, 24. They had to move into another activity so I left them with that thought. Before I left, however, one student said yes for 24 because 2×12, 4×6,8×3. Another student said it could be sixteen 1 1/2s and then thirty-two 3/4s! Wow!

Tomorrow they are going to investigate this further to see if they can come up with a conjecture about this work! So excited!

Literature & Algebraic Reasoning

I read the book One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab to two Kindergarten classes this week. If you have not read the book, Marilyn Burns does a great post about it here. After reading aloud, making predictions and doing a notice/wonder, I placed 10 tiles in the middle of our circle in an arrangement like this:

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I asked the students who could be standing on the beach and they quickly guessed a dog, two people and two snails. I asked if they could give me an equation for the feet they see and they said 4 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 = 10. I asked if anyone had a different equation and they switched the order of the numbers, but agreed there was still 10. I did a few more arrangements before sending them back to their groups to investigate with the tiles. The directions were for one student to put out the arrangement, the groupmates guess who was standing on the beach, and write an equation for what they see. Their equations were all so different but the ways they were composing and decomposing the tiles to make new arrangements was really interesting!

We brought them back to the carpet and asked what they noticed about all of their equations. They said they all ended in 10 and equaled 10, so I asked if that meant we could write the equations so they were equal to each other? I asked two groups to share one of their equations and I put them equal to one another on the board. I asked if that was true? How could be we prove it? Their first answer was like, duh, they both equaled 10 so yes. I asked if they could combine or break apart any of the numbers like they did with their tiles to prove it. One student talked about combing the 1’s circled in the picture below.


They had to leave for lunch so I left them with an equation to talk about when they got back!

This lesson was such an amazing way of allowing students the space to think about equality and the meaning of the equal sign. It took one student talking about the ways he combined the numbers to open up the conversation and possibilities for future equations. I would love to see what the students could do if I wrote one equation on the board and asked students to write all of the different ways they could fill in the other side of the equal sign.

One Hundred Hungry Ants – 4th Grade

Next year, we are restructuring our RTI block to be a time when students are working in small groups in their classrooms. This is a really exciting change from our previous model in which students were pulled from their classroom for intervention. This change will shift our Learning Lab focus to planning small group activities, however the first, REALLY important, piece we need to focus on is how small groups work in the classroom. I think the K-1 teachers have a much better sense of how centers work within the classroom, although we still want to move from the current centers to more strategically planned small groups. So, with only a week and a half left of school, Erin and I are playing around with some ideas in the classrooms as a part of our planning! Fun!

Erin and I planned for a 4th grade class today where we were going to test out a small group scenario. We started in a way I imagine everyone could kick off the year next year, involving students in the process. We asked them what they needed in order to learn in small groups. Below are all of their great responses, most of which were accompanied by an example of something they had experienced during small group work.

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I launched the small group task by reading One Hundred Hungry Ants aloud, pausing occasionally to ask for predictions. After the reading, I didn’t preview the task, but instead sent them off to work in their small groups. This was for two reasons: to see if the wording of the task was clear enough for students to follow independently and to see how they worked as a small group. We choose to give everyone the same task today to see how it went but we are trying different small group tasks tomorrow.

Each group had a journal, storyboard, and this task card:

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They worked for about half an hour and had some great conversations. I especially liked the conversation sparked by the third question because number choice is something I find so interesting. They also had to do some serious negotiating to decide which number they would do as a group since everyone had different reasons. In one group a student wanted to pick 2 because they would “get there faster,” another wanted 75 because “it could make a lot of combinations, but be less than 100 so they could still make it in time.” In another group, a student was saying he didn’t want any prime numbers because you could only do two lines with them.

This one was great because they changed the storyline from finding a picnic to getting to Dairy Queen, but when they get there they had forgotten their money so they still got no food. Different story, same ending.

This one was so interesting because, unlike the book, they used the commutative property, seeing the arrangements as different situations, which the book did not do:

This group saw a lot of doubling going on in their arrangements when they chose 50 instead of the 100 in the book:

We came back together and talked about the patterns they saw.


While the math conversation was interesting and I can definitely see some great generalizations stemming from this work, tonight I am thinking more about the questions I am left with about small group work…

  • Could a teacher work with primarily with one group, realistically, without continuously checking in on the others?
  • How can we structure the work so everyone in the group is working on the recording at the same time and can see what is being written? We saw a lot of the journal or storyboard sitting in front of one student. Not that the others weren’t contributing, but they all couldn’t see what was being written. I think dry erase boards can work well here.
  • What type of formative checkin can we do with each group that doesn’t add to an already growing pile of papers to be graded or give feedback?
  • How do we control the noise? The students were not being purposely disruptive or off-task, they were just loud and began talking louder to hear one another.
  • What does this look like at other grade levels?
  • How can we keep this interesting for students to do every day while not making it a planning nightmare?
  • How can we embed more student choice in the task?

More to come tomorrow when we tackle these tasks:

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Being THAT Teacher

Before reading on, please know the point of my post is not testing but instead the poor administrative decisions being made in its administration. In our school and district, testing is fairly uneventful. Since Smarter Balanced, our Department of Education has done a good job lessening assessment requirements across the state and I feel the environment around testing has gotten relatively better. We now have only one testing period, instead of three, during which students spend approximately a week (of just mornings) taking the tests, with their teacher, in their homeroom.

Unfortunately, a school in another district was given the autonomy to treat testing much differently.

Current Situation

This school year, one elementary school spent 1-2 weeks of precious instructional time to give every 8, 9, and 10 year old in the school a standardized interim assessment midyear. This assessment was not mandated by state. It was completely optional, however the administration at that school was given the autonomy to make the students take it. It was the only school in that district to give this assessment.

Based on that assessment each 8, 9 and 10 year old in that school was given a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4. Little did the students know, that score defined how they were grouped from that point forward. The scores were used to group or re-group students for building mandated test preparation for one to two months before they took the spring test. As if each student associating their academic ability with a number was not bad enough, when spring testing began, every other student in the class knew that score as well because they were pulled to test by that score.

This is where the standardized test becomes quite un-standard.

Students in that school were tested in groups based on those interim scores First the 4’s, then the 3’s, then the 2’s, and I am assuming the 1’s were left for last to allow for more test prep time.

Even more interesting is how the proctors rotated mid-test. Let’s say it was the 5th  grade “3’s” turn to test. Those students left their homeroom to go test with one of the other 5th grade teachers. The rest of the students in the proctoring teacher’s homeroom, who did not get a 3, were shuffled out into the other 5th grade teachers’ classrooms. Not to worry, that teacher doesn’t have to do that everyday because another teacher from the 5th grade administered the second or third part of the test to the 3’s, and also with the 4’s, 2’s and 1’s. So, technically speaking, a teacher could administer the test three times before they administered it to the 1’s? Interesting. [This changed immediately after I brought it to the district office’s attention. Funny the grouping couldn’t change immediately, but this could.]

As with any great testing situation, it also came with the go-get’m pep talks from the administration. Sending the over-achieving 4’s into panic attacks and the test-prepping 2’s seeing their work as drills before the “big game.”

I can only assume the administration believes there is no harm being done to children administering a test in this manner or why else would they do it, right? There is no way they can think this is bad for students’ mindset and image of themselves as learners or they wouldn’t keep doing it, right? And, worse, what if the superintendent found out, investigated, and did not see enough wrong with the situation to bother changing it immediately?

The most heartbreaking piece was hearing what students were saying and doing….

I am going with the other dumb kids that got a 2 to do test prep.

I am not a 3, so I am not testing today.

“I don’t need to have any more novels to read because we are test prepping in reading.”

“I didn’t test with my friend ___ because she is a 3 and I am 4.” 

“I got called in from recess after 5 minutes because I had to finish my test.” 

“Don’t opt me out because then I am bored.  At least the test is on the computer.

An 8 yr old gets sent to the nurse with what seems to be a panic attack after being given the 4’s pep talk before taking the test. Not to mention, she has a pre-existing heart condition after having heart surgery at 2 weeks old.  Upon picking her up from the nurse’s office, the parent was told by the nurse to take the child immediately to her pediatrician because she was stark white with an incredibly high heart rate. 

And these are only from three students, can you imagine if you collected them all?

After hearing this, I was thinking to myself, there is no way the superintendent would ignore my concerns of such blatant disregard for students’ well-being and emotional safety in a school when brought it to his attention.

Evidently, he can ignore these concerns, for weeks. After three weeks, he responded with a message that basically said, “We have looked into your concerns and your opinion has been considered. I will not meet with you because you do not have children in the school.”

Wait…I cannot be an advocate for children if they are not mine? Isn’t that all part of being an educator? Standing up for what is best for them? Any and All of them?  Maybe that is the problem here. They are not the administrations’ children, so why care what is happening to them? I have been teaching for 20 years, not one student has been my child, but I cared about them as if they were.

After three weeks of ignoring my requests, a family member who has children in that district requested a meeting for us. She had previously met with the building administration about this same testing situation so she was invested in this situation. Upon her request, we finally got a meeting date with the superintendent.

Before the meeting, I was still hopeful for change. That was, until we arrived for our scheduled meeting and was told by the curriculum director that the superintendent was meeting with someone else at the moment but we could go “get him if we have any questions.” Really? We waited 3-4 weeks for a meeting and he isn’t there when we explicitly requested he be there? We said we would wait and after the 10-15 minute power trip wait, he finally showed.

The parent started with the firsthand student accounts described above, accompanied by quotes from her children in regards to the teacher testing “pep talks.” It was gut-wrenching as she held back the tears that come when talking about your children. It was so disheartening and equally as infuriating to see the smirk and hear the chuckle that came from the superintendent as if to convey the “Oh, the silly things kids say” message as the parent spoke. I felt me heart actually beating out of my chest at that moment.

How could he not be infuriated by this happening in one of the elementary schools in his district? How did he not feel responsible? How could he give autonomy to a building principal who is so obviously not doing what is best for students?

After establishing the principal had not communicated any of these testing procedures to parents and told blatant untruths about other related items, the meeting continued to be about all of the great things the principal says he is doing to ensure the students do their best on the test, you know, for the student’s sake. Are we really trying to convince ourselves that the test score is not more about the school looking good than the child’s testing pride?

Then the blame game began. I was also told that the teachers in that school requested to give the interim assessment so the principal agreed. So, what, not his fault? Am I to believe he accommodates all of his teachers’ requests as willingly?

After hearing that the building administration “didn’t mean to make the students feel bad,” I couldn’t listen to one more thing. There is too much information out there to use that excuse…you didn’t mean to? Are you kidding me?

It unfortunately ended with the superintendent not being about to assure us this would not happen again next year. He said “we could expect change” but could give no specifics. That is not good enough for me since also finding out that this same issue was brought to his attention last year with no changes.

Fortunately, there are so many wonderfully caring people surrounding this principal and superintendent that I have talked to, that I DO believe these testing/grouping situations will not happen again next year.

The saddest part for me was the dismissive, “my school/district, my way” nature of this principal and superintendent. I am embarrassed for them as educators in this situation. 

As teachers, we want to empower our students. We want them to have a voice, share their thoughts and opinions, feel as if they can take control of their given circumstances and make change. However, as adults the harsh reality of what is really like to make change in education leaves us, at times, feeling powerless, like our hands are tied. Oftentimes it is because we don’t want to be THAT parent or THAT teacher, afraid of the repercussions for our children or ourselves in the workplace.

Sadly, I find myself in that place. Knowing this is wrong for students, wanting to make a change, fighting to do so, yet feeling like I am the one in the wrong because I am calling out bad practice.

This entire situation reminds me of a quote from a post by this author to school superintendents about data walls in schools, “This madness in our education has to stop. All of you run schools or districts and you have the power to put an end to this absolute insanity happening in our schools.”

It truly is insanity and this superintendent had the opportunity to make it right and he didn’t. Sad.

I truly always believed if people in education could not answer, “Why are we doing this?” with “Because its what is best for children.” then it would indicate a needed change.

100 Hungry Ants: Math and Literature

This week the Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers planned with Erin, the reading specialist, and I for an activity around a children’s book. This planning was a continuation of our previous meeting about mathematizing. We jumped right into our planning by sharing books everyone brought, discussing the mathematical and language arts ideas that could arise in each. I made a list of the books the teachers shared here.

We chose  the book One Hundred Hungry Ants and planned the activity for a Kindergarten class. We decided the teacher would read the story and do a notice/wonder the day before the activity. We thought doing two consecutive readings may cause some students to lose focus and we would lose their attention. Based on Allison Hintz’s advice, we wanted the students to listen and enjoy the story for the first read-through. Here is an example from one classroom:

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So many great problem and solutions, cause and effects, illustration and mathematical ideas were noticed by the students.

The following day, the teacher revisited the things students noticed and focused the students’ attention on all of the noticings about the ants. She told the students she was going to read the story one more time but this time she wanted them to focus on what was happening with the ants throughout the story. We had decided to give each student a clipboard and blank sheet of paper to record their thoughts.

We noticed a few great things during this time..

  • Some students like to write a lot!
  • After trying to draw the first 100 ants, students came up with other clear ways to show their thinking. I love the relative size of each of the lines in these!
  • A lot of students had unique ways of recording with numbers. Here is one that especially jumped out at me because of the blanks:

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Students shared their recordings at the end of the reading and it was great to hear so many students say they started the story by trying to draw all of the ants, but changed to something faster because 10o was a lot!

After sharing, we asked students, “What could have happened if they had 12 or 24 ants?” We put out manipulatives and let them go! So much great stuff!

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Next time I do this activity, I would like to see them choose their own number of ants.

Just as I was telling Erin that I could see this book being used in upper elementary grades when looking at generalizations about multiplication, I found some great posts by Marilyn Burns on this book for upper elementary and middle school:

Excited to do this in a 1st grade classroom today!

Measuring Tools in 2nd Grade

Last week, the 2nd grade team and I planned for a measurement lesson. Their measurement unit falls at the end of the year, so this was actually the first lesson of their unit.

We focused on work on the first of these two standards, anticipating the other would be a natural part of the work as well:

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We put out the following measuring tools: square tiles, inch bricks (unlabeled ruler from Investigations), a ruler with inches and cm, and a tape measure in cm.


The teacher launched the lesson by introducing the “Land of Inch,” a context that Investigations uses in the measurement unit. The introduction involved showing a picture of the 4 places in the Land of Inch: the castle, a cottage, apple orchard, and stable. The students discussed why they thought each one was in the Land of Inch.

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On a piece of paper, partners were asked to put the places of the Land where they thought they belonged and measure the distance from the castle to each, choosing whichever tool they thought was appropriate. The only stipulations were that there must be a path from the castle to each and each must be a different distance from the castle.

There were some really cool things that came up as we watched them working:

  • Every group took only the straightedge ruler and tape measure.
  • All of the straight lines were measured with the straightedge.
  • They all noticed the unit difference. We did not state what the unit of each tool was beforehand to see if they noticed.
  • They labeled 12 inches as 1 foot.
  • Students measured the curved paths using both the straightedge and tape measure.
  • Some students wanted to change centimeters to inches because it was the Land of Inch so they lined up the tape measure with the straightedge.


  • One group recorded their measurements in ranges. They had no interest in starting at the end of the ruler. They just put the ruler down and wrote the two measurements it fell between.


We wrapped up the lesson asking students to talk about why they chose their measuring tools. We had planned for them to share these ideas before they did a different journal prompt we designed last week. However, as they were sharing, there were one or two students doing a lot of talking (great stuff, but a lot) so we decided to have them reflect on their own before having this conversation.



This student did a great job of explaining when they used one tool over another:

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This student discussed why they chose to use the ruler but not the square inch tiles at all because it would take too long. So while both tools were the same unit, one tool has connected units versus individual units that need to be put together.

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This group noticed that the centimeters (on the tape measure) would take them longer than the straightedge because there were more centimeters than there would be inches.

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There were a couple instructional prompts we are revising for the next time this lesson gets taught by one of the other 2nd grade teachers that were there:

  • We didn’t let them know the paths didn’t have to be straight until after we saw them get started that way. Need to launch with that.
  • We didn’t have out meter or yard sticks, oops, need those next time. Talked about it during our planning, but we completely forgot.
  • We didn’t do a poster share which I think we want to incorporate next time because they all wanted to share. So maybe just two groups explaining their choices.
  • Wondering about the writing connection as they all had interesting reasoning behind where their places were located. Could they write a description about the placement and reasoning for their poster and then have other partners try to match them up?

Next up, reading Inch by Inch and the lesson inspired by the TCM article Inch by Inch in the most recent publication.


RTI for Adults

I want to preface this post with a few things I believe to be true about RTI (Response to Intervention):

  • Some students need small group instructional time for intervention.
  • Some students enjoy their RTI classes because they like their RTI teacher and feel successful on the work they do during that time.
  • The RTI structure was originally designed for Kindergarten and 1st Grade students.

Understanding these things, sadly this is what I also believe to be true about RTI:

  • Pulling students out of class for Tier 2 and 3 instruction negatively impacts how they view themselves as learners.
  • The current system negatively impacts the way we talk about students, pushing educators to refer to students as a number.
  • After 2nd grade, the majority of students become “stuck” in a tier forever.

Questions I continuously ask myself about RTI are:

  • Why RTI?
  • If we focused our attention on differentiation during core instruction (Tier 1) would this be as necessary?
  • Does the current RTI structure lay blame on the student’s ability to learn as if their learning was not impacted by prior learning experiences?
  • Can we pretend that students aren’t impacted by pulling them out of their regular classroom for intervention classes?
  • How does a student who is labeled as “working on grade level” and not being pulled for “enrichment”during RTI time feel? Do they feel as if they aren’t capable of that work? How does that impact their future educational decisions?
  • How do we fix this?

And the questions that intrigue me most right now:

What if we treated teachers like we treat students?  

Would thinking in those terms give us a clearer lens in which to look at RTI?

I love that our school is currently looking at ways in which to improve this structure. I truly believe that every single teacher has the best interest of students at heart when designing this intervention structure however, I don’t know if we consider all of its implications in terms of a student’s confidence and perception of themselves as learners. I think we all want them to be successful but at what expense?

My colleague, Brandi, and I had a long conversation around all of these questions and ultimately ended thinking about the question, “What would happen if we treated adults in this way? Should we expect children’s view of themselves as learners differ from a teacher’s view of themselves at teachers?”

Our conversation inspired her to write a mock lesson plan for how a principal could run a faculty meeting that would offer teachers insight as to what being pulled for RTI would feel like. I loved it so much, I had to ask her to share. While this is a lesson plan for teachers, I believe all people involved in education policy and decision-making such as principals, district office personnel, board members, state and national legislators would benefit from this activity.

Lesson Plan for the Principal: Treating Teachers as Students

Start the staff meeting announcing that he or she has decided to make the meetings more productive by splitting the staff into three groups.

  • Exemplary teachers: the teachers who are at the top of their game and need to be challenged
  • Average teachers: the teachers who are doing a good job but who still have room for improvement
  • Teachers in need of extra support: the teachers who need more support than others.

It is important to remember to be positive when telling the extra support teachers which group they are in, because if this is done positively and said nicely, they will understand that there are always people who do well and always people who struggle and the strugglers should be willing to accept help.

Announce who falls in each group in front of the entire staff. The extra support teachers (~15%) report to the principal’s office for intensive instructional strategies for behavior management and/or content professional development to improve their classroom instruction. The average teachers (~75) will remain in the cafeteria with either the reading or math specialist for an extension of the work they are currently doing in class, nothing too exciting, but is on their current working level of teaching. The exemplary teachers report to the assistant principal’s office for new, exciting technology initiatives or content extensions that are above and beyond what they are currently doing in class. 

Wait. (Prediction: people should be murmuring and making little grimacing faces).

Ask if anyone has any thoughts on this process. Hopefully everyone will have figured out by now this isn’t really happening — BUT that it is exactly what we do to kids each day.

That KNOT in your stomach as you worried you would be pulled into the “needs help” room – the fear that your name would be called and you would have to get up and leave.

The ANXIETY over which of the three groups you fell into. The greater ANXIETY over knowing where everyone else fell.

The ANGER over the potential to be Average when you had a really great lesson last week and nobody saw it!

The ANNOYANCE that someone has judged you and you don’t know what they based their information on.

Discussion. Before even knowing which group they had been placed in, I imagine most teachers would have gone through this range of emotions. Most teachers would prefer not to have anyone know if they were being placed in the extra support group, just as they would not want anyone to know if they were on an Improvement Plan or Expectations. But are we taking equal care of 6,7, 8, 9 and 10 year olds feelings the same way?

Ask anyone if they would feel PROUD to be pulled into the extra support room – whether they can admit to needing it or not. Ask them how frustrating it would be to work hard and collaborate in that room, put together an exemplary lesson, and then pull it off in class only to be pulled back into the principal’s office at the next staff meeting with nobody having seen it or realizing you had improved.

End lesson plan.

I wonder if people would take a different stance on RTI (or tracking in general) after engaging in this activity? Like I stated previously, I know some students need extra support, but I just wonder if we can find a way for that support to happen in the classroom with the student?

Could working with teachers on ways to support students who may struggle while at the same time challenging those who are finished quickly be more effective and less damaging to students?

Could this work with teachers lessen the number of students who need extra support year after year and truly help us identify those with learning disabilities so we can appropriately address those needs?

I never like complaining about a problem if I haven’t thought about a solution and although I do not have a complete answer here, I do believe we can do better. I believe we can take responsibility as teachers to try and best meet all students where they are, as impossible as that may seem. Through collaborative content professional development and managing small group work in the classroom we can improve the current structure.

I know we are all trying to do our best by the students, but I think we can take better care of our students’ views of themselves as learners and would love to hear ways in which others are doing just this.