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?”

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.41.07 PM       Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.33.26 AM

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?”

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.34.37 AM

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

“And what about this?”

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.34.27 AM

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





Literacy Links to Math

Teaching early childhood mathematics as the subject of research is undervalued next to literacy.

(Linder et al, 2011).

Balance in Kinder

This is a highly mathematical structure built by a Kindergartener. Do you know how to pull the mathematics out of this task in a meaningful way? Do you know how to evaluate his knowledge and skills?

A body of research supports the realization that mathematical experiences, interactions and investigations in preschool & Kindergarten predict future schooling outcomes. But Edens and Potter (2012) identify a gap in research concerning “ways to provide opportunities to advance children’s early mathematical skills development.”


Bobis et al, 2005 go on to state : If preschool is so influential on future success, teachers need to focus on how to promote authentic mathematical learning in a holistic play based environment


Children need encouragement and opportunities to practice with teachers who understand the mathematics children are doing is VITAL. The teachers’ subject knowledge and confidence have influence on the development of children’s mathematical thinking.   Teachers have a huge significance in how we perceive learning outcomes.  (Anthony & Walshaw, 2007; Clements & Sarama, 2003). But the most frequent comments I hear from teachers during working sessions are:” I did not know this is what that outcome meant!”  “I wish I had been taught math for meaning.” “I had no idea this was so important in learning math.” ” I need to teach this much differently than I have been!”

Constance Kamii has written several articles that I have found quite useful. Take a read and see what you think.

Arithmetic for First Grade Kamii

Kamii Line Up the Fives

Both offer activities that have opened adult eyes to  “see” the assumptions we make about what is easy or hard in math.

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 7.54.29 AM

Remember what is “first grade” in the Kamii article is based on American curriculum. Expectations in early grades are very different. Her tasks are informative.

Want to make a shift in your attention to numeracy ? Looking for ways to make the mathematics in your “games” and centres authentic? Hoping to make literacy connect to math in more learner friendly ways?   

C Kinder not accurate

If you are not puzzling, you are not preparing learners for success in mathematics!

Consider joining me for the first 2 days of Summer Institutes 2018. Pre School, Kindergarten & Grade 1 teachers, we will dig deep into the foundations for mathematical thinking that our students are missing at all grades and how to address them in  “play- puzzle-  think”  ways.    

Calgary August 7 & 8 

Edmonton August 13 & 14

Grande Prairie August 20 & 21

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 1.14.28 PM

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

Bridging the Numeracy/Literacy Gaps

Where are you looking for answers?

Changing Curriculum will not change student engagement, student knowledge, student success.

TEACHER Knowing.

 That is what will change results for students.

Teachers who teach students how to think, reason, remember and recall.

Teachers who teach students how to communicate, connect and critically think.

Teachers who “know” mathematics as a way of thinking, reasoning and explaining the world, not as a set of “rules” to memorize or “answers to try to remember.

Teachers who continue to study and evaluate their own practise. Teachers who understand the human brain seeks always to understand.

This Summer… Join the Evolution!!!

University of Lethbridge: K to 3 July, 2017

Hilltop School, Whitecourt: K to 6  July, 2017

WECA, Edmonton: K to 3 only   August, 2017

Grande Prairie, AB: K to 6  August, 2017

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

Join the Evolution: Infographics

Summer Institutes 2017:

Finding Common Ground:


Thinking101 Institutes are dedicated to fuelling the evolution of learning that is teaching. Every summer, every session deepens the connections between Numeracy, Literacy, Science and Math. The ARTS are INFUSED throughout, a little or a lot. An approach to teaching and assessing that values- no prizes visual/temporal spatial reasoning is an approach that includes EVERY LEARNER, EVERY CULTURE, EVERY BACKGROUND.

It embodies and encompasses a holistic world view, a holistic learning view… we all share the gift of coming to know as a body mind connection… Visual models can bridge any gap be it:  Literacy, Numeracy, Remembering or Recall.

Infographics is more than reading graphs and organizing data. It is an approach that makes connections and patterns burst forward as students discuss and COMPARE.

The focus is thinking and comparing: the teacher role is to prompt, probe, prod…. immerse students in the vocabulary, shape and mould the pathway from seeing and experiencing through thinking and doing to understanding the conventions of the discipline. We do not start from memorizing symbols and rules… but we can certainly end up with understandings of the symbols and rules.

How does this:knot 12

Link to this:


And to this?:Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 10.22.38 AM


And to this?robotic-assembly-line


Or to this:Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 10.12.16 AM


The only way to face the future is together, another one jumps the cavern

the only way to survive the future is to evolve… Join the EVOLUTION…..


Summer Institutes 2017:

Finding Common Ground:


Thinking101 Institutes are dedicated to fuelling the evolution. Every summer, every session deepens the connections between Numeracy, Literacy, Science and Math. The ARTS are INFUSED throughout, a little or a lot. An approach teaching and assessing that values- no prizes visual/temporal spatial reasoning is the BASIC SKILL for learning, anything even MATH FACTS!

This summer my new word is INFOGRAPHICS. The topic is huge and all encompassing. Making sense of the mathematics that is all around us, often used to influence us, often used to bias our decisions. Infographics refers to an approach to actively, deliberately teaching students to connect  and communicate the development of their literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills through the use of graphics based artifacts. STEM, STEAM with a focus on learning to think, not a focus on making products.

Over the next few weeks I will share samples to demonstrate the breadth and scope of using INFOGRAPHICS as the organizer for curriculum. Here is one:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 8.06.39 AMScreen Shot 2017-04-25 at 8.05.56 AM

As a class we looked for connections between the problem told orally and the diagram this student created to share her solution. Here is what we came up with through that discussion. We can now use the information on the diagram to re write the problem or to improve our own solutions.we did

or to start building the number relationships that will support the kind of number practice Grade twos need to constantly engage in. Do you understand this table that we created from information in the picture?the table

Can you make a t table? Here is a different problem. Build a t table to show some solutions.

My dad gave me 12 nails. He said I had to let my sister hammer more than 6 into the wood.

How many could I let her hammer? How many will I get to hammer?


They will learn arithmetic faster, more fluently, with confidence, speed and accuracy.


Here’s an article to consider: screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-9-46-26-am



The evolution has begun, WE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD… Join me for SUMMER INSTITUTES 2017…. Multiplication is not repeated ADDITION… It is much, much more and screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-10-39-00-amour KIDS DESERVE TO KNOW “why?” AND “Why DO they have to learn this?” Make the mathematics they learn meaningful in a way that leaves them wanting to LEARN MORE….

LITERACY IS NUMERACY, NUMERACY IS LITERACY and let’s not leave out SCIENCE.  Comprehension, reading and writing skills do not grow in a vacuum. flying frogsWe use the content of math and science in engaging, authentic and challenging explorations and experiments to develop the skills that link them all.

IT IS WELL PAST TIME FOR TEACHING TO EVOLVE OR GO EXTINCT…. THE  world demands it, our kids deserve it… do do bird


JULY 10 to 14:   WHITECOURT, ALBERTA, CANADA      Finding Common Ground: Making the Connections: Literacy, Numeracy, Critical Thinking…. K to 6  Registration is now open



TEACHERS, COACHES, LEADERS who are engaged in change at any grade level… This is the continuing journey. All you need is a mindset not willing to accept the MEDIOCRITY that education contains to MIRE DOWN IN…. and a passion for EXCELLENCE. Every learner deserves to learn…..