Resources mentioned in this episode:

CGI vlog post

Number Sense 101

Virtual Math Summit

Build Math Minds PD site (**Registration closes August 7, 2019)


Welcome, fellow recovering traditionalists, to episode 21, where we are going to get Inspiration and Information from Jennifer Lagrange, a kinder and first grade dual language teacher. 

Christina T.:           I’m your host, Christina Tondevold, the recovering traditionalist and founder, where my mission is to change the way we teach elementary math to our kiddos. So, are you ready to start building math minds and not just creating calculators? Let’s get started.

Christina T.:           Well, before we get started into the interview, I just want to remind you that you can always find links and show notes at, and then behind the slash, it’s always the number of whatever episode we are on. 

Christina T.:            All right, here’s my interview with Jennifer. Well, I am so excited on this podcast to welcome Jennifer Lagrange. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for being here today.

Jennifer L.:             I’m really honored to be here, Christina.

Christina T.:            So, one of the things that I like to start off with is, just kind of tell us your path in education, and what you do now.

Jennifer L.:             Sure. Well, actually, I didn’t start off as a teacher. I have an international business background, but then I found myself living overseas with my husband because of his career. I have three kids, and when we were living in France, at one point, I was asked to teach English to my son’s preschool class.

Jennifer L.:            And so, that’s how I started teaching, actually. So yeah, it’s my second career, but now I teach at the Atlanta International School. It’s a dual language school, and I teach a kindergarten and first grade combined classroom.

Christina T.:          Wow. And so, dual language, what are the languages?

Jennifer L.:            So, in the primary level of our school, we have Mandarin Chinese, German, French, and Spanish.

Christina T.:          Wow.

Jennifer L.:            It’s very exciting to be around all those people from all over the world.

Christina T.:          And you said that’s in Atlanta?

Jennifer L.:            Yes.

Christina T.:        Wow. Very cool. So, it’s very interesting. I’m curious of this next question, because I always ask what professional development you’ve had throughout your career, and so I’m curious, with this being your second career, basically, if your professional development, your training, has been different from other people? So I’m really curious about this. So, kind of walk us through some of what your professional development experience has been like.

Jennifer L.:           Well, it’s really, it’s interesting. So before I got my teaching credential, while I was in Europe, I was very fortunate to be able to attend some fantastic training. And at the time, it was for the European Council of International Schools. Every year they have professional development opportunities.

Jennifer L.:           And this happened to be this year, that year in Brussels, and it’s so hilarious, I remember sitting in on a session, and this must’ve been, gosh, like 15, 18 years ago, something like that. And somebody was presenting on 10 frames. I sat in on the whole session and thought, “Wow, this is really cool.”

Jennifer L.:            And then I realized I understood none of it. I didn’t understand it at all. I didn’t know what they were for or how you could use them, even though while I was in the session, it looked really neat to me. And I look back on that now, after everything that I’ve learned, and most of what I know about ten frames is from you, Christina.

Jennifer L.:            So I kind of laugh, because it’s amazing. At that time, I guess I just wasn’t ready to take it in, or however it was presented was not understandable to me. And certainly, they weren’t using it as part of the curriculum in the school I was in at the time.

Jennifer L.:             So, anyway, apart from that, when I did get my teaching credential, I had a fantastic math course, but it was one semester, and it was for all K through five. And sometimes, I feel like, being a teacher for young children, that a lot of the training out there is just not really suitable.

Jennifer L.:             So it was really when I took your Number Sense 101 course that I finally started to understand how to teach math to kids who are 5, 6, 7 years old. You were the first person to, say, translate it for me and make it understandable.

Christina T.:            Yeah, it seems like it should be an easy thing, right? We think about what the mathematics is at that grade level, and it’s a lot of counting and the basic addition and subtraction. I say that doing air quotes, which you totally can’t see, but we assume that that’s an easy thing to build for kids.

Christina T.:           But until you’re in there and you start to see where it’s not clicking for some of those kids, and when something seems so easy, it’s what often has talked about the curse of knowledge. We have that knowledge already, and then when we think it’s easy, and kids aren’t getting it, we don’t really know, because we have that knowledge. We don’t know what it was like to be that kind of learner, to be able to know what they need to help them, so we don’t get taught that stuff.

Jennifer L.:             It’s like what someone said, there’s nothing elementary about teaching elementary math.

Christina T.:           Yes. It’s very true. Yeah.

Jennifer L.:             It blows my mind how complex it really is. But that’s part of the beauty of it, too.

Christina T.:           Yes. Yeah. Mathematics is a very beautiful subject, I believe. That’s for sure. So, when you first started teaching, what was the teaching of mathematics like for you? When you were doing math instruction, what was it like?

Jennifer L.:            Well, it may sound shocking, but the school where I teach does not have a math program, per se. It’s not like we use everyday mathematics or some other program like that. Of course, there’s a curriculum for math that has the scope and sequence, but it’s up to the individual teachers to decide how they are going to deliver that.

Jennifer L.:            And so, at the time, as a new teacher, I was really at a loss. Because if you have to deliver and build a program on your own, that’s a huge undertaking. So I was just looking on the internet and I was just grasping at things, and I’ll tell you, frankly, there was nothing coherent about it, really.

Jennifer L.:            And so, I have to say, Number Sense 101 kind of helped me understand, at least for the number strand of our mathematics curriculum, what needs to be in place.

Christina T.:           Yeah, that’s very true. I’m a big proponent of not just following a textbook, right? But the alternative of not having a textbook means that you could be floundering, if you don’t know the progression that kids need to go through.

Christina T.:           So it’s nice to have the guidelines, but it’s also nice to know, have that knowledge of that developmental progression of where kids are going to go, so you can use, whether it’s a textbook, or a scope and sequence, or however your district is giving it to you, it’s nice to be able to know why it needs to be in this order, and when to slow down, and what’s the really important stuff versus the stuff that’s like, okay, if they’re not really getting it right now, it’s okay, it’s going to come later, kind of thing.

Jennifer L.:            Yeah. And of course, any teacher with any group of kids in their classroom, they’re all learning at their own rates. And so, if you don’t really have an understanding of the progression or what that might look like, you don’t know how to reach or differentiate for each of the students in your class.

Christina T.:          Yeah, yeah, I agree. There’s a lot of talk about differentiation, and people will say, “Well, try this kind of tactic.” Right? “Take a story problem and take out the numbers and change the numbers.” But how do you know what numbers to change and what kind of a story problem to give the kids? And all of that stuff matters dependent upon where they are at in that development.

Christina T.:         So you have to have that knowledge to be able to use those differentiation tactics in a way that works for your students. Yeah.

Jennifer L.:          Yeah. And when I take your Number Sense 101 course, I hope I’m not getting ahead of things. You talked about this, I can’t remember if it was a trajectory or a progression in the CGI sequence. From counting, counting on derived facts, automatic facts. That was the first time I’d heard that.

Jennifer L.:          And so, particularly with my kindergarten, grade one students, that’s where we are. We’re totally living on that progression. And now, I can see, if we’re just looking at numbers from zero to ten, for example, I know who, at the beginning of the year of kindergarten, they might be struggling to count from 1 to 10, or understanding, really, those numbers. Others can already understand it and maybe count on, others, they’ve already got their automatic facts.

Jennifer L.:          “Oh, I know 5 and 5 is 10.” But just seeing it unfold ahead of you, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, or what they’re showing, and recognizing it for what it is, you’re just totally lost.

Christina T.:          So what I’m hearing, and you did say, I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself, we have certain questions that we are kind of going through, and one of the next questions was, how has the teaching of mathematics changed for you?

Christina T.:          One of the things I’m hearing is, it’s more structured. You can see what those kids are missing, and now you have more of a plan of what they’re needing next.

Jennifer L.:            Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Christina T.:          Yeah. So, understanding those progressions has really helped you a lot with that. That’s awesome.

Jennifer L.:            Yes, that was new to me. Absolutely.

Christina T.:          Yeah. Okay. So, one of the other things I like to hear are stories about how this change in your teaching has made a change in the student learning. Do you have a story?

Jennifer L.:            Yeah, well, number one thing is, I’m so excited about teaching math with my students. It’s pretty much my favorite thing to teach right now.

Christina T.:           Awesome.

Jennifer L.:            It also has been an area where I can share with other teachers. Another teacher took the Number Sense course at the same time that I did, and so we were able to talk to each other about what we were learning, and then try out things in our classroom as we were going along, and then talk to each other about what we were noticing with the students.

Jennifer L.:           And so, one of the things that I changed right away was starting to use the 10 frame on a daily basis with my students. So right away, and still to this day, when my students arrive in the classroom, they come over to a whiteboard where I have some other activities, but one of them is always to put a dot on the 10 frame to kind of show that they’re there.

Jennifer L.:           It’s kind of like attendance, in a way. There are dots in 2 colors, and they pretty much place them randomly on the 10 frames. And so, every day, they’re arranged kind of differently. It’s just a built-in way for me to have a very quick number talk when we’re having our morning meeting. And sometimes, we talk about how you might rearrange the dots to understand how many more easily. It just 

Jennifer L.:          Having routines like that have really helped my students with their number sense. And because I do it every single day, then it’s just easier to drop a 10 frame or a math rack into other mathematical conversations to help them build their number sense.

Jennifer L.:          But yeah, using the ten frame, I guess I spoke about that earlier, has really been a game changer. Just getting my students to understand how our base 10 system works.

Christina T.:         Love it. And I love that quick easy thing of … You’re doing double duty, right? You’re taking attendance, but also turning it into a number talk, and every day it’s a different number talk, and you don’t have to create it because the kids create it for you by randomly placing the dots on that ten frame. That’s awesome.

Jennifer L.:           Exactly.

Christina T.:         I love it. Okay, so the last thing I like to end with is, for the teachers who are listening and are really wanting to make a change in the teaching, what is one thing that you suggest they try?

Jennifer L.:          Well, back again to understanding the CGI sequence. If they could just understand that, and learn about that, and then maybe practice recognizing what it looks like with their students. There’s a little game I play, it’s a real quick, on the fly assessment that I do to kind of help me see where they are with that.

Jennifer L.:           It’s basically a fill in the ten frame game, where they roll 1 die and they’re filling in 2 sets of ten frames. So it’s numbers up to 20. They take turns rolling the die, they’re placing them in the little tins and each one of the little boxes in the 10 frames.

Jennifer L.:           And I’m seeing how they are computing how many, and I’m asking them questions. So, I pretty much can see if they’re able to count properly, if they’re maybe starting to count on, if they’ve got some derived or automatic facts going, just by watching them play this really simple game. In a matter of, I don’t know, 3 minutes, I kind of know where they are. And this is only for numbers up to 20, but it gives me a really great snapshot formative assessment for them.

Christina T.:          That’s awesome. And for people who aren’t familiar with CGI, or cognitively guided instruction, and haven’t taken the full Number Sense coarse, I’ll link in the show notes a link back to a blog post that I did about CGI, and that has information that goes to a summary of those CGI progressions.

Christina T.:          So, if anybody’s interested in learning more about that, just go to the show notes for this podcast. So Jennifer, thank you very, very much. This was … It was inspirational, but also very practical. You gave some things that teachers could take back and do right away in their classroom to start making a change. So thank you very, very much.

Jennifer L.:           Thank you so much, Christina. I really appreciate everything you put out for free on YouTube, and through other means like the virtual math summit. Oh my gosh. So amazing. But I’ve been lucky. My school has paid for my subscription to Build Math Minds for a few years.

Christina T.:                        That’s awesome.

Jennifer L.:           And I just went to my head of school and I said, “Look, this has changed the way that I teach math, and I really have to have it.” And we don’t have a math coach in the primary school. And so, I’ve kind of taken upon myself to be the math cheerleader at school. So, it’s using your materials on the website that has really helped a lot of teachers. You just made it so easy for teachers like me to learn these things in such an easy way. So thank you.

Christina T.:          Awesome. You’re very welcome. I’m honored to be able to do this and to be able to help people in places that I probably would never have been able to go if it wasn’t for the power of the internet, that we never would have been able to do this together. It’s pretty awesome.

Christina T.:        I’ve linked up that CGI video that we talked about as well as the link to the virtual math summit that she mentioned. It’s happening right now through August 5th and it’s all free.

Christina T.:         I’ve also linked up information about Number Sense 101. That course is a paid online course, but registration only opens up once a year and it’s in October. So I’ll link up the page where you can get information and join the wait list so that you are the first to be notified when it opens.

Christina T.:         If you like what you’ve been hearing, there are a few ways I’d love for you to let me know. The first way is to subscribe to the podcast. If you are listening in iTunes, make sure to hit that subscribe button. Also in iTunes, I’d love for you to leave me a review and let me know if you’re enjoying the podcast, which types of episodes are your favorite, really, just anything to give me feedback about the show.

Christina T.:        And lastly, if you are on Instagram or Twitter, I’d love for you to share when you listen to an episode that you love. Make sure to tag me @BuildMathMinds. And all of those are ways that let me know that there are actually people out there listening. So thank you so much for letting me be a small part of your math journey.

This episode is brought to you by the Build Math Minds Professional Development site. It’s an online site full of PD videos designed specifically for elementary teachers to help you build your math mind so you can build the math minds of your students. If you are interested in getting in depth math PD at your fingertips become a member of Build Math Minds. Just go to Depending upon when you’re listening to this, enrollment might be open or you can join the wait list and get notified when it opens again.


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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.