Math Word Problem Routines in First Grade

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 Math Mysteries!

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!

You can find a year’s worth of customizable math mysteries right here.  Because you add your own names and numbers this can be used from kindergarten all the way to fourth grade with whole numbers!

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}.

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