Resources mentioned in this episode:

Number Routines Are Not A Time To Teach, They Are A Time To Listen video Number Strings

Registration is now open (through October 14, 2021) for the online courses:

The Flexibility Formula K-2 online course 

The Flexibility Formula 3-5 online course

Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 115.  Today we are getting inspiration from Kelly Rogers about Helping Kids Make Connections in Mathematics.

Today’s episode is an interview with an educator who has gone through my online course, The Flexibility Formula. The courses are open now through Thursday, October 14th, so if you’re interested in taking the course, go to to get registered. In this conversation with former 3rd-grade teacher, Kelly Rogers, she is sharing how she has changed her teaching, and now her students are saying they love math and math is their favorite subject.

Since the recording of this interview, Kelly applied for a new position in her district to be an early numeracy teacher, and she emailed me to let me know she got the position and how thankful she was for all that she learned in the course. Kelly, I am so excited for you and I can’t wait to hear more about the impact you get to have in your new position. For now, let’s take a listen to some of the things she was doing last year in her 3rd-grade classroom to help kids build their math minds.

Christina:  All right, Kelly, well, thank you so much for joining me for this podcast. I just want to start off with having you tell the listeners a little bit about your role in education and maybe just a little history. Have you always taught at that grade? Just give us a little bit of background info about you.

Kelly:  Okay. I taught kindergarten actually for the past seven years and I was ready for a change. About February of 2020, I decided I wanted to try upper grade and I was told I’d be placed in fifth grade for the 2021 school year, but once the pandemic hit, everything changed, and so I was told two days before school started that I was moving to 3rd grade, so I am now teaching 3rd.

Christina:  Oh, my goodness.

Kelly:  It started off distance learning and we just came back two weeks ago, so yeah.

Christina:  Oh, my goodness. You had put in here that you had done The Flexibility Formula 3-5, but you were a kindergarten teacher, so did you take it just because you knew you were going to be going into 5th grade, like that’s what you had in your mind, I guess, when you signed up for the course?

Kelly:  I actually signed up for the whole course for the October time period, from October through January, so I was already in 3rd grade at that point, and things were not going so well with math because I didn’t really have time to dig into the standards for 3rd grade since I had prepared for fifth the whole summer, so I didn’t have a good plan and I knew that I needed some help. That’s when I signed up for the course in October and started making changes right away.

Christina:  Wow. Can you tell a little bit? I know that you hadn’t taught 3rd grade before, but even in kindergarten, what was your teaching of math like previously before you took the course?

Kelly:  Before I took the course, I did start each day in kindergarten with a number sense routine, which was good.

Christina:  Awesome.

Kelly:  But I have since changed how I do number sense routines, so that has been one major change for me because I would start with something like number strings or number talks, but I didn’t really understand it was all about making connections between those numbers, so I was doing them with my kindergartners, but not really taking the time to show them the connection between each one, so now that has changed drastically.

Christina:  I’m sorry, I had a notification pop-up. I have gotten that off, so we shouldn’t hear that noise again.

Kelly:  Okay.

Christina:  Can I summarize that a little bit? This is very timely because even before we hopped on here, I was recording a video about number routines and how we tend to do them incorrectly a lot of times. We hear about this routine and we’re going through the motions that maybe we saw on a blog or saw on some downloadable thing that we got, but one of the big missing pieces is how to build those connections with kids. It’s not just about putting these things up and going through the motions. The biggest change I heard you say was that you’ve really been helping the students to see those connections between things, not just getting answers as you’re going through the strings, you’re really helping the students to build the connections between the problems.

Kelly:  Exactly. Yeah, that’s a big change that’s happened for us. Then following the number sense routines as well, we’re now making connections with our contextual problems because after we would do a number sense routine, I would follow the curriculum that we had. In kindergarten, it was going okay. I was using a lot of manipulatives and that kind of thing, but once I moved to 3rd grade, since I didn’t have that time to dig into the curriculum and really understand the standards and all that, I was just following it to fidelity, so we were struggling. I was struggling, my students were struggling. They were using strategies that didn’t come naturally to them and that was very frustrating. We were spending way too much time on our lessons and were way behind on our pacing guide, so it was just very frustrating.

Kelly:  That has changed a lot at this point, because when I started the year with the curriculum that I was using, it was teaching multiplication in different ways, so many different ways, and they just weren’t getting it at all. It was difficult to do it virtually, so I think that was part of the problem, but I was trying to use my iPad and draw a raise and draw tape diagrams and everything and they were still just really struggling with it and not seeing how that was related to multiplication, not seeing how it was related to the abstract form of it, so I just knew that I needed a better way.

Kelly:  Luckily, we have a fantastic math person here who is our instructional coach, and he was the one that introduced the staff to Build Math Minds. That was a couple of years ago, but I’ve been following you ever since then. When I saw your course come up, I thought, “I really am going to need this,” because I was struggling with teaching them multiplication, so I figured that was what I needed first and foremost.

Christina:  You said you’re making connections between your number sense routines and story problems. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Kelly:  Yes. When we do our number sense routine, I really like number strings because my students haven’t had the strategies, so using those, it’s helping them to develop the strategies they need, so now, I try to follow with a contextual problem that is related to our number strings. Sometimes they’ll even notice that and say, “Oh, this is just like what we did earlier,” and I’ll say, “Yeah, exactly,” and then they’re making connections even between multiplication and division now. They’re seeing, “Oh, these are related,” that’s been the greatest part for me.

Christina:  That’s awesome. You’re priming a little bit, like number routines can just be a standalone thing, but knowing what the meat of your lesson is about, and you can design your routine to help them see some of those connections between it.

Kelly:  Exactly.

Christina:  That’s cool. Yeah. I mean, this year, you’ve been doing this virtual. I mean, you said just a few weeks ago, you started back in person doing a hybrid model. You told me that before we got onto the actual podcast part of this, but the number sense routines, story problems, you’re doing all of this virtually, which is just so, I mean, this year’s just been crazy. But do you have any specific stories about how this has impacted the student learning, even during this pandemic teaching? Have you seen the impact on student thinking, I guess, is the general question?

Kelly:  Yes, absolutely. I mean, it’s hard to think of just one example because there’s so many examples. I think one of the biggest things, though, is that my students love math, so that’s super important to me as a teacher. But for one thing, when I was using the curriculum, I was using the worksheets that would go with it, and it was so awful because each lesson taught a different strategy related to multiplication, so the students were so confused. Even I was confused.

Kelly:  I have considered myself a math person my whole life. I took trig and pre-calc as electives in high school because I just love math that much, but I really did a 360, so when I changed my whole math block, which isn’t something I would do in a normal year, but this isn’t a normal year, and being in that new grade level and really needing to start fresh, I just changed everything, so I began by allowing them to solve problems in their own way and not forcing them to use those worksheets that say, “Use a tape diagram to solve this problem.” I remember one student saying, “I love it when you let us solve problems in our own way,” because they were finally able to solve the problems and they weren’t getting stuck by being forced to do it a certain way.

Kelly:  Even my students who really struggled with math were figuring out how to solve problems using derived facts and that was impressive, even some of my students with IEPs and that kind of thing, who have always struggled with math, have been really excited about this year because they’re able to do multiplication and division in their own way, and some of them quite quickly. The amazing thing is I didn’t teach them those strategies, I just gave them the experiences that they needed to create the strategies for themselves. I have students now, in fact, just today, one wrote, “I love math,” on a whiteboard and held it up and they type it in the chat. One of mine last week had said, “I used to think math was so hard, but now it’s my favorite subject,” so that’s been really great for me as a teacher.

Christina:  Yeah, wow. That is awesome. I love that. I love hearing the stories of where kids, just their take on math, their belief about what math is gets changed. I know that we want to see the growth in their mathematical abilities, but also, just seeing the change in how they perceive mathematics is such a win. It’s just really heartwarming to hear those things.

Christina:  One of the last questions I have is: What’s one thing that you suggest people try? I’m curious, because you did say you just changed everything this year, it was like this year was a crazy year for you and you were just like, “I’m diving in, I’m doing it all,” but most people will not do that, so what do you suggest that people do try?

Kelly:  Something that I have suggested to my own colleagues is that they allow students to solve problems in their own way, because if you are tied to a curriculum, and you’re using those worksheets, it can be really frustrating for the students, and as adults, we’re not forced to solve problems any particular way, so I don’t understand why we do that to students.

Christina:  I’m not even going to try to add anything on that. That was a mic drop moment right there, Kelly. That’s perfect. We don’t do it as adults. Why do we force that on our kids?

Kelly:  Right.

Christina:  That’s awesome. Thank you so much for joining me for this podcast, but even more so, thank you so much for everything you’re doing out there with your students and getting through this year. It sounds like it’s been a fun math year. If there hasn’t been fun other places, there’s at least been fun in math.

Kelly:  There has, and thanks to you.

Christina:  Thank you again, Kelly. I loved chatting with you and I hope our conversation has inspired all of you out there listening to let kids solve problems in their own way, to help them make connections in math, and learn to love mathematics. I’ll link up the number routines video that I talked about and to my favorite website for number strings if you are looking for a free resource for those. Those will be linked up at If you’re interested in taking The Flexibility Formula like Kelly did, come on over to Remember, registration closes October 14th.

Christina:  These podcasts episodes and video trainings I do over at never have ads because I sponsor the cost of the free resources that I provide by using revenue from the trainings people pay for, so if you like the free information you get, it’s because schools and teachers are purchasing trainings from me, so to end out this episode, I’m going to share with you one final thing that Kelly had to say about The Flexibility Formula course that she paid to be a part of.

Kelly:  Don’t hesitate. Sign up immediately because it’s been life-changing for me. As a teacher and then as a mom learning about the concrete representational and abstract and how those have to work together has helped me a lot at home and working with him as well as my own students, so I would tell people, please, don’t hesitate because it is life-changing and it makes a difference.

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As you start off the school year, I want you to keep in mind what is really important as we're trying to teach mathematics to our students.