Filling the Numeracy Gap: Build Recall Skills



Hear the confidence? Hear the enthusiasm for learning?

Distribute 2 waysThey have been working with BERCS materials to build mental fluency with 2 and 3 digit numbers. BERCS materials build multiplicative reasoning, alongside fact recall.

100 grid 77 =They have been working with a BERCS approach to building 2 and 3 digit number.They have a conceptual understanding of “place value” that goes far beyond: ‘line up the digits.’









Hear the thinking, questioning, self correcting?


These students are building recall and memory skills as they practice thinking and talking their way through solutions.The focus is not just get an answer. The focus is know your answer is correct. Know you can think your way through problems. Hold facts at your fingertips and recall them as you need to apply them to solve problems.




Visual spatial reasoning tools develop both RECALL & REASONING skills. BERCS Cards are visual spatial reasoning tools.


AREA MODELS are visual spatial reasoning tools. 

BERCS provides a framework within which teachers can develop concept based approaches to teaching the basics for Number and Number computation.

If you want to fill the Numeracy Gap in your classroom, teach your students to:


       then SELF ASSESS

Teachers interested in learning more about BERCS and using BERCS materials to support the development of reasoning and recall skills for their grade should consider attending a Thinking101 Summer Event.

Parents interested in learning more about using BERCS home materials to support the development of reasoning and recall skills for their children should consider attending a Thinking101 Summer Event.Screen Shot 2019-06-09 at 12.50.20 PM


Teaching division?… Do you know the “basics”?

The trouble with teaching division……


Not multiplication

NOOOOOOOOO !!!!!!!!!! Do not even try to make this make sense. It is wrong thinking.

Not multiplying

Oh dear….. What are groups of numbers and what will you add to solve 3.45 times 6.76 or how will you solve 3 eighths times 4 sevenths?


What is multipl

Telling me a dog is a dog does not explain what a dog is. (We will not even mention the inability to form a statement to explain)


I do not show these examples to have you laugh at, or be amused by, students’ lack of knowledge or communication. I find these examples to be a sad testament to our lack of understanding. These were offered by excited and well intentioned grade 5 students.

They are not funny. They scare me.


Teachers so often ask me to help them with division and my answer is always if students do not understand multiplication and are not able to recall some small multiplication facts you should not be teaching division. It makes no sense.


Division is the inverse of multiplication. That means without multiplication, there is no division or without division, there is no multiplication. They are one and the same.

While you could learn to divide first, then learn to multiply, teachers never have this option because from the moment they start to talk about numbers, well meaning adults are encouraging your children to memorize silly little facts like 2 x 5 = 10 and 10 x 10 = 100. This is not understanding multiplication.

The Alberta curriculum is quite clear in Grade 3. The outcome begins with the statement:

                 Demonstrate an understanding of multiplication as equal groups and arrays. 

“And” in math means they go together so teach them together.


Area models built with square tiles or square grid paper make visible the commutative connection between “basic facts” like 3 *4. By simply viewing the array from a different perspective you can see there are 3 groups of 4 or 4 groups of 3.

3x4 4x3 turned comm

This understanding is a key to division.

The Alberta curriculum is also quite clear in GRADE 3 that students are to

  • represent and explain division using equal sharing and equal grouping


There are multiplication equations to describe each array “and” for each of those 2 multiplication equations, there are 2 ways to express and describe a division.

If the array above is 12 cookies, you could share out in sets of 3. How many groups or sets of 3 can I make?

multiply see 3 in each set?


When I label an array as 3 by 4, the three is labelling the sets of 3 that are running horizontally. There are 4 of them. Therefore 12 ÷ 3 came to be interpreted by many teachers as “how many threes are in 12?” You can see there are 4.

3 in each set multiply


But wait,

that 3 at the top of the array also signifies there are 3 equal groups in 12. See the 3 columns or groups?multiply 3 of 4


If I change my story a little, I have 12 cookies and 3 bags. If I want the bags to be equal I can put 4 in each. Do you see where the 3 bags are in the array? Do you see how I know each bag will have 4 cookies?

multiply 3 groups of 4

The Alberta curriculum make clear in the outcome in Grade 3 that division is to be taught and interpreted in two ways.

What if the array we started with represented 12 cookies and I wanted to give out 4 to each friend? How many friends can I feed?

multiply 4 in each 3

Looks like I can feed 4 friends with 12 cookies because 4 x 3 = 12. Same array, different interpretation.

multiply 4 sets of 3

What if I had 12 cookies and wanted to pack them into 4 boxes. How many would go in each box?

multiply see the 4 sets


We cannot and must not teach division as just set of facts to memorize or a list of rules to follow.  Teaching for understanding means understand FIRST…. not solve and memorize equations and facts FIRST.


The evidence is clearly established that once you think you “know how” to do something you are much less likely to care how or why it works. When we focus on memorizing meaningless facts and multi step algorithms like “long division”  before we develop with students an understanding of how multiplication and division are related both visually and spatially students do not come to understand. That is what makes teaching division so difficult. They have no way to make sense of what they are doing or why.

They “get” answers that have no meaning.

Long division means what?

My BERCS cards are set up to be puzzles. Puzzling attracts the brain. Puzzling takes the pressure off “know the answer” quick as you can or fill in the blanks by moving the focus to hmmmm I wonder what is going on here? Puzzling engages students in thinking, talking, comparing, connecting all the components of LEARNING.

Is this solved with multiplication? with division? or with understanding both?Division cards

It is just the basics, folks….. THINKING 101.

Basic Number Relationships….Is thinking your goal?


As number sense is foundational (Baroody et al, 2009) and predicts later skills (Edens & Potter, 2013), guiding the child to know and enjoy numbers is critical. Other research into the connection between body, mind and emotions (Alcock & Haggerty, 2013) points to mathematics strategies that are tactile, fun and shared. Peters and Rameka (2010) explain that as ECE teachers we need to be confident that practices and resources will foster learning and enjoyment, not simply temporary gains in particular skills.


Reading the paragraph above inspired me to write today’s post. Chunk-itZ are a thinking tool that have emerged and evolved across my work with learning to teach mathematics through thinking and reasoning.  The Chunk-itZ hook students because they fit together in puzzles. 






As students puzzle, teachers observe & listen for opportunities to prompt lessons around number, space and shape.


Do you see 3 and 2? How about 5?

Do you see a staircase?

Do you see a decagon?



                                 Ideas about number emerge.

The best way to learn mathematics is to follow the road that the human race originally followed: Do things, make things, notice things, arrange things, and only then reason about things.

    ***WW Sawyer

Ideas that form the foundations for multiplicative reasoning and what teachers refer to as  ‘place value’ emerge.

As he was exploring the ChunkZ, a Grade one boy called me over to ask: “Is this 1 “two?” Then turned it over and finished his question: “or two “ones?”

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I said: “hmmmm, interesting. How much is each of them worth?”

He responded, “they both are worth 2 but one is a 1 two and the other is 2.”

I asked, “What would this be?”Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.33.57 AM

He responded: “Two ‘twos’. That’s four.

I turned the pieces over and asked: “And now what do I have?”

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He responded: ” Two ‘ones’, and that is still four.”

“And what about this?”

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He responded: “three ones, that’s 6 cause each one is a 2, or if you turn them over three twos and that is still 6.”


He is demonstrating the ability to unitize. He recognizes that we can talk about numbers as single units or as one unit of… this idea is critical to understanding place value which is based on multiplicative reasoning.


Ideas about what it means to be equal emerge.

5 equals 5





Can you “see” 4 and 1 inside 2 and 3?







Do you see how 5 + 2 and 4 + 3 are related in this puzzle?


ChunkitZ engage learners through visual spatial reasoning.  As they turn and trace the pieces to make their puzzles, learners develop intuitions and insights into how parts are related into wholes. In the hands of a skilled teacher, those wholes can be identified and related using numbers and number expressions.  Those wholes can be described and related using the attributes and properties of shape and the vocabulary of space.

This three has 6 sides. What do we name any 6 sided shape? Are any of your puzzles hexagons? Can you use ChunkitZ to build a hexagon shaped puzzle?



This student counted the sides of the three Chunk and said it has 6 sides. He then built a ’12’ puzzle by putting 2 three ChunkZ together and was wondering how many sides it would have. Will it be twice as many sides?  






Nearly a century of research confirms the close connection between spatial thinking and mathematics performance. The relation between spatial ability and mathematics is so well established that it no longer makes sense to ask whether they are related. 

***Mix & Cheng, 2012

      The connection does not appear to be limited to any one strand of mathematics. It plays a role in arithmetic, word problems, measurement, geometry, algebra and calculus. Researchers in mathematics education, psychology and even neuroscience are attempting to map these relationships.

Combined with dot collections, Chunk-it tasks differentiate to challenge ALL learners as they develop, adapt, practice and refine key skills and attitudes that are critical to developing more than just RECALL of facts. ChunkitZ engage young learners in mathematical REASONING that will make the difference to their success across all the strands and all future grades. In the hands of a skilled teacher, the discussions and drawings form the basis for teaching children to explain their thinking through oral and written communication. Reading, writing, symbolizing the mathematical relationships, those are the goals. Automatic recall of facts are just a given, it comes and it lasts.

ChunkitZ help develop proportional reasoning which forms the foundation for making sense of multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. Outcomes related to proportional reasoning include comparing size of units to number of units needed when measuring (Grade 2), understanding the relationship between minutes and hours, days and weeks, months and years (these are all ratios), cm to m and mm to cm and m (more ratios) making sense of how multiplication facts are related and how area grows, making sense of how fractions are related and how equivalent fractions are related… the list goes on.

Here is a task for proportional thinking: I show this puzzle on the overhead or on a task card. Students work with the full size Chunk pieces to reproduce it without coming up and direct comparing.

Chunk pages 1

He is directly comparing. He is fitting the pieces in to make the puzzle. The beginning of proportional reasoning.


The task above is very different from the task below. I show this puzzle on the Smartboard or give it to students on a small task card and they build it with the Chunk pieces which are 3 tior four times the size.  The outline they create will be similar (the same shape, angles are same) but not congruent (same side lengths). This is a much more sophisticated version of the Grade one matching above. And Grade 5 to 8 students love it.

Once they get good at it they are able to also double and triple the dimensions of the shapes, using chunk “ones” as their referent.

Make my Chunk puzzle





Effective Instruction is built on COMPARE

Sitting in chairsWays of Knowing, Knowing Ways: Whitecourt 2017

JULY 10 to 14

Effective instruction encourages students to match, sort, classify and COMPARE. Thinking begins from these simple skills.

As you introduce a new concept be thoughtful. If we only allow one way to build, one way to explain, one way to represent we narrow INTEREST, ENGAGEMENT, UNDERSTANDING and ABILITY.

We make it simple cause we think we are helping. Quite the opposite, we are removing the most important component of learning. COMPARE, describe, explain, discuss, adjust, refine, come to consensus. Once students are willing to engage in learning, you can teach them anything.sorting words for place value

We sorted words. This represents a sort. Do you see any reason for the sort as it sits? Look very closely. Using the words, seeing, saying, spelling them is a critical literacy connection. Students cannot understand a concept they cannot communicate around. Knowing and using the language matters.




CONSIDER AND COMPARE THE STUDENT RESPONSES BELOW. We were identifying the equivalence of one tenth to ten hundredths.  Each representation contributes to part of the understanding.  But what is still missing?

My goal as a teacher is to help students see the connections before we decide how we will as a class represent decimal fractions.


tenths to hundredthstenth hundredth

Spatial Reasoning=Math Success

Study the power of visual spatial reasoning to impact student success in math and science.

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The materials, year plans, lessons and BERCS CARDS  I am sharing at this Summer’s Institutes are designed around visual spatial models that support and sustain attention to the development of reasoning and problem solving skills AS, not after,  students learn, study, & practice in order to efficiently RECALL FACTS.



animate brain

Isolated practice with individual facts does not generate success with reasoning and problem solving. Facts memorized in isolation lack meaning and so are easily mixed up or even forgotten. Students resort to finger counting when under pressure.


As you preview BERCS materials some imagery will pop out at you. Rectangular arrays are everywhere….Student BERCS Sheet

Part whole relationships abound

What covered cardsIf then rods


Imagery linked to symbols prompts and sustains recall.

Cool Fractions eighteenths


Student practice is tailored to meet their current physical, emotional and academic levels of development. The cards provide a range of challenges to allow students to progress toward mastery.

BERCS Cards are supported by a variety of practice pieces. Oral and written.

more WC WSBERCS cards provide you ready made, differentiated independent practice centres. All you do is choose a method or medium through which students will  communicate their learning.









Students can work in pairs or alone. They can use all the cards or just a few.File folder dots


2DM divideparts of set 1


Decimal Numberlines

Ways of Knowing: Subtraction

Number One:

If you want to build proficiency with subtraction at any grade, you must not be afraid to move things in your head.

Start by moving things in real time and discuss the affects of the move. So here is aChunkz Fives ChunkitZ puzzle. I see 3 and 2. That’s 5.

How do I know this is still 5? I turned the 2, changed my five(quarter turn left)  flipped it over (reflected) and slid it down to match the left hand side.

8 dots = 8 dots

I see 8 = 8 because I see 6 + 2 in each of them.I turned the 6 (one quarter turn to the left). Then I slid the dot on the far left side of the middle row down below and lined up with the middle bottom dot. I slid the dot on the why does 8 = 8far right side of the middle row up. It is above and lined up with the middle top dot. It is still 6 and 2.

NUMBER TWO: Subtraction is an action that emerges when you want to make things equal or maintain equality. These are not equal. One way to make them equal is to remove from one side.Not equal dots

IT IS CALLED SUBTRACTING not take away. first I did a quarter turn to the left. Then I removed one dot and pushed the other to the right. Yes, the action was a removing action but the mathematical term is subtract and the sign we use is a subtraction or minus sign. WHEN make equalSTUDENTS HAVE THE VOCABULARY, THEY CAN JOIN THE MATH COMMUNITY. Vocabulary is a part of community. You have to speak the language to join the club. we correct DA DA to become daddy or dad or even father but we leave take away??? I do not agree. You do not take away to solve every subtraction problem.

Number 3: Addition and Subtraction are RELATED. Teach them together, first as a relationship.

If you can add, you can subtract. Since 1997, the Western Protocol for Mathematics and the Alberta Program of Studies for mathematics which emerged from it, has stated this What's missingas an outcome in mathematics. Students need to know and understand that addition and subtraction are related. In the 2004 revision, the statement think addition for subtraction was used as a strategy. HOWEVER, it is not just a strategy it is an actual property of our number system. The focus is relationships before equations. WC If thenUnderstand the relationship, talk, describe explain the relationship. Then introduce the notation.  Not the same day, but once they can explain…..

INVERSE OPERATIONS, is a critical understanding students need to be able to apply when they work with integers, rational numbers and algebra.

Number 4: Subtraction is not just a “taking away”.

It is a comparison. Taking part of the whole away can reveal the answer but the comparison might be phrased as difference between. In that case you are looking at 2 lengths or heights, or weights or quantities and comparing them.

My sunflower is 4 meters tall. My mom’s is 3 metres tall. How much taller is my mother’s sunflower. (You do not see taking a sunflower away in your head. You see the space between the sunflowers.)

inverse to 1002 digit inversNL 3 digitScreen Shot 2017-05-10 at 3.39.09 PM

B.E.R.C.S. cards and tasks were designed to prompt and promote visual spatial reasoning. They focus on the relationships that matter. They prompt communication, problem solving and critical thinking. Use them to support your Guided Math approach. Use them to open lessons as warm-ups or as the introduction to a lesson. Use them with small groups or individuals for added practice. Use them to differentiate so that every student builds his or her full potential.

Want to learn more? Join me at a Summer Institute:Lethbridge, Whitecourt, Edmonton, Grande Prairie  2017

Spatializing math “facts” builds executive functioning skills….

Math facts are much easier to learn and remember and more rapidly recalled from memory when we embed them within physical, visual investigative tasks. The intent of working with blocks, tiles, grid paper and the like, in math class, is to ENGAGE the senses in the learning. The mistake teachers often make is to turn using the manipulative into just another set of rules. The materials should be used flexibly. COMPARE!




Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.49.09 PM

These are all ways to see 7. What do they have in common?

Students should never be afraid to test out a turn, or a flip, or a slide…  What changed, what stayed the same.

The COMMUTATIVE PROPERTY emerges when we encourage students to move materials and images:

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.14.12 PM

I store blocks in fives of one colour. I want students to trust the five from mid Grade one on…  I can move the image, I can move the symbols…


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Understanding is grounded in the physical experiences. Language is a symbol system for communicating understanding. When we start in the real world of objects and materials, every student can begin.


The imagery continues with models into 2 and 3 digit numbers. The blocks become cumbersome so we gently but intentionally move to hundred grids and numberlines.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 11.33.28 AM


B.E.R.C.S. cards and tasks are designed with spatial reasoning in mind. But any tools for thinking can be proceduralized into meaningless rules if we do not learn how to use them. Teachers have no choice. We must continually learn……

do do birdEVOLVE or GO EXTINCT…








The imagery continues into multiplication…


Students build multiplication models with grid paper or tiles, with cusienaire rods & diagrams. Flips (reflections), slides (translations) turns (rotations) do not change the product.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.35.46 PM


Students physically experience the commutative property. Link the images to the equations and practice mentally transforming both imagery and symbolism.




Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.36.40 PM

The Commutative Property for multiplication is spatial.


So what’s up with xy or yx?  x + 4 or 4 + x?

Algebra becomes a puzzle not a chore!

EDMONTON AUGUST 8 to 12, 2016

What do these books have in common?

dreaming up  a seed is sleepyOne Plastic Bag

What’s the basic math in the samples below?

another buttons more

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 5.36.52 PMpirsquare

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Registration will be live this week.. Mark the dates on your calendar. August 8 to 12.

Register for 3 days or all 5. August 8, 9 , 10 the math focus is on making sense of early numeracy (Pre K to Grade 3) and filling the gaps for students who are still struggling with the basics by Grades 4 and 5.

August 10, 11, 12 the math focus moves to how multiplicative reasoning emerges and can be nurtured beginning as early as Kindergarten. Then studying the links to division, fractions, place value and beyond.(Specific focus Grades 3 to 7).

School leaders, numeracy and math coaches and consultants, teachers who cover more than one grade need to participate in the whole week.

Registration will be online this week, meantime mark your calendar.. or email