The Biggest Mistake I Made in Math Class

This post is coming from a place of both passion and a little embarrassment. I was reminded of my mistake once again the last few weeks as I worked with a student in an intervention group.

If you’re a regular reader, then you know that I seek personal growth constantly. You would know that I readily (and regularly) admit when I’ve made mistakes in my practice. The reason for admitting my mistakes is not to shame myself, or shame others.  I think it’s important to recognize that we are constantly learning, and that we can often learn from our mistakes as much as our successes.

So here’s the biggest mistake that I’ve learned from in the last few years.

The challenging stuff in math is not just for the gifted kids.

The projects, the deep thinking tasks, the inquiry based all hands on deck tasks are for ALL kids, and especially for struggling kids. I have been blown away time after time with struggling students tackling difficult math tasks. They can do it, they may need extra supports, but they can do it. English language learners especially need to be participating in the rigor of these tasks. If you choose the right task, and implement it the right way, the task will be challenging for even your most gifted students.

Here’s a small case study of a student that I have been working with since first grade. She is now a fourth grader. The student came to us unable to identify the number of dots on a dice, unable to count or even identify numbers.  For the last few years, she has been receiving about an hour of intensive intervention daily in addition to her core instruction in the classroom. This wonderful girl is a fabulous reader, so we have been perplexed about why math is a struggle.  All through 3rd grade, when her classmates were learning multiplication, we were still trying to help her learn to add 5+2. Fast forward to this fall, I began speaking with a reading interventionist for more ideas. She suggested incorporating more reading into her intervention to see if that might motivate her.

So I took a big risk and decided to just try something different with her.  I wanted to see if she could learn to multiply through an experiential project.  Enter, The Cupcake Shop…which involves reading and physically making orders to learn about multiplication on a conceptual level.

So first we had to make the shop:


A little cardboard goes a long way…

Then, we started the work.  I was blown away. She knew how to do it. She made the order, she wrote the order slip, she was completely engaged…


Her cupcake were complete with blue “frosting”.


By the third day, this young woman who wasn’t making sense of numbers or symbols for the last several years, wrote the multiplication sentence for her cupcake order without ANY assistance.  To say this was a major breakthrough is an understatement.

I keep hearing these words, “Oh! That would be great for my gifted kids.”  If we want to really push every student, we need to set the bar high. We can’t just reserve these opportunities for gifted kids only, ALL kids can reach that bar. If the task is a good one, then all of your students will benefit from the thinking that is involved, even your gifted kids.

If you want to try out the type of task I’m talking about, give Doggy Dilemma a try for free. Over 55,000 teachers as of today have dowloaded Doggy Dilemma, which means it’s getting into the hands of a lot of kids.

Math Performance Task

If you’d like to try out The Cupcake Shop, you can head here and check out the preview:


The challenging stuff in math is not just for the gifted kids.




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