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Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 31, where we are going to get inspiration and information from Christy Crees, a 30 plus year veteran elementary teacher.

Christina T.:     Before we get into today’s episode, these next few weeks I just want to remind you, I’m going to be focusing on having you hear from real teachers out there who have made big changes in how they teach mathematics. All of these teachers have made a choice to put their students at the heart of the learning instead of the textbook. One of the big things that has helped them do that is learning more about how students develop their mathematical understandings. They all do talk about my number sense courses as part of their learning that they’ve had. These courses are now open for 2019 registration and you can get all the info at Registration is only open for a short time, so depending upon when you listen to this, registration just might be closed. If so, there’ll be a link that you can join the wait list.

Christina T.:      Now, just a little side note during this interview, there were a few times when Christy’s microphone kind of cuts in and out, so sorry for that, but we didn’t go back and redo it, but I hope you enjoy this interview with Christy.

Christina T.:      I’m excited to have Christy Crees here and Christy, I want you to start off telling us a little bit of your background in education and what your role is now in education.

Christy:            All right. I have been a teacher for 31 years. I have taught every grade in elementary except Kindergarten and 4th grade. I have my degree in literacy and a minor in literacy and elementary K-8, just self-contained. But I have recently been really interested in STEM education and math. Our school has been doing some professional development in number talks, and that got me interested in looking for some new ways to teach math, which after 31 years then I took your course and here I am.

Christina T.:      So before all of this, since you were … Before you got professional development, things like this, you were more focused on literacy, but this is the Build Math Minds podcast so we are on math, but I’m curious, what was the teaching of math like before you got this professional development?

Christy:             Well, I mean I felt like I was doing a good job.

Christina T.:      We always do.

Christy:             Of course you always do. Exactly, and I listened to a lot of your videos, actually constantly lately. And I felt the same thing that I was doing what I was supposed to do, getting the kids the manipulatives out and teaching those strategies and using those key words and all of those things that you thought you were doing right. And then as I learned more about the number sense, I realized … And still wondering why aren’t these kids getting it? Why aren’t they learning their facts? Why aren’t they able to solve these number problems? And now that I’ve taken this first course, I’m excited to maybe get into that second number sense course, even though I teach lower elementary. It makes so much more sense and my teaching has completely changed and I’m trying to influence my staff on changing their teaching just because it makes my students have made so much progress this year. I teach first grade and I can’t believe what they’re doing. And I thought they were making great progress before, but this year has just been amazing.

Christina T.:     So what have you done different this year? Tell us a little bit about that.

Christy:            I am not tied to that textbook at all. And my co-teacher, I’ve really worked with her. It was really interesting. I had, we both did Math Running Records and we did the Number Sense Assessment. I showed her that and we both did it and my class did so much better than hers. And we were talking with our, we have two elementaries in our district and we were meeting with them and we showed them the data from that test. And she was the one who said, “Look how much better Christy’s class did than mine.”

Christy:            And the evidence was there, from all the activities that I had been … And the kids think they’re playing games. Well, they are playing games, but they’re learning so much from that. And that’s the difference. And I’m not worried about … I really look closely at each lesson in our math because I’m still required to teach our math curriculum. And I do that to make sure I’m doing what I’m required to do. But I’m not doing things that don’t make sense to do. I’m using the number sense, I’m making sure that my students have number sense and I’m doing the math curriculum that I feel is necessary in order to teach them the skills that they have to have to go on to the next concept.

Christina T.:      That is-

Christy:            Go ahead, I’m sorry.

Christina T.:      I love that you brought up that fact that you’re still using the curriculum as a base, as a guideline, but when you have to and that don’t feel right. You’re like, “No, I think my kids need this instead.”

Christy:            Yes. And the common core, you look at what you have to teach in first grade, and you make sure that that is what you’re teaching. But there are different ways to teach it than just what is in that manual. And that’s what I’m doing. And we have a math journal and I told my parents “Now, if it comes home,” because I sent the first one home and I said “If there are a lot of empty pages, blank pages, don’t be worried about that. He just didn’t do them all. And if you want to practice at home, that’s fine.” I sent to home, a deck of subitizing cards with them and games, how to play those. And I said, “But don’t be worried if they’re empty. And I would rather you played the games that I sent instead of sitting in doing worksheets.” I just think they’ve learned so much more from doing that. I just think it’s awesome what you’re doing and I want to keep doing it, you know? So.

Christina T.:      I love all of that. And would you mind telling a specific story about how that change in teaching has impacted the student learning?

Christy:            Sure. I had a little girl at the beginning of the year. She’s a great reader. I mean she’s in first grade and can truly understand just about anything you can find over. But she would tell me daily when we got to math, I’m not good at this. And she was anxious every day when we would do a number talk. She could not solve problems mentally. The numbers just didn’t make sense to her. And as we worked through the number sense activities and played the games and she was able to learn to supetize and we used the math racks and she learned how to use those. She doesn’t really need them so much anymore. I mean we still use them but she has all those visuals to help her count, and because she is a bright girl, now she is telling her mom that, well Mrs. Crees needs to give me harder math tests. They’re just too easy. I can do those things.

Christy:              Now she is saying she is a really good math and it’s because she has learned number sense and she’s learned number sense for a 1st grader. She will still need lots work as she goes. But I just get excited when I see that and hear that. The kids every day are excited about math. They’re not saying, “Oh, I don’t want to do math.” And that’s a big thing too, I think when your kids are excited about having math, that’s what you want to hear. In any grade you don’t-

Christina T.:        Absolutely.

Christy:               You get a lot of kids who “Oh, math.” But if you’re doing things that are fun and yet they’re learning, that’s what it’s all about. And I’m that way with everything. I’m that way with science and reading.

Christy:               And so yes, I’m the literacy coordinator for our school district, so yes, I’m into reading too. But …

Christina T.:        But math is now becoming a favorite of yours-

Christy:               Like math kids, right? Yes it is. I’m working. I have 24 nieces and nephews. So I bought sets of subitizing cards, two of my niece’s kids over the weekend and the little boy, he’s four and we were playing garbage and he said, “And I count that …” It was so funny because it was.

Christina T.:        That’s so awesome. I love what you’re doing to build not only the students that you work with, but your family members as well, their number sense.

Christina T.:        So let’s end with our last question that I always like to ask is that for the teachers who are out there listening and wanting to make a change in their teaching, what is one thing that you suggest they try?

Christy:               I would definitely suggest getting in there and working with that number sense and doing supetizing, that no matter what grade level most kids, if they’re struggling, they’re having some sort of difficulty with number sense.

Christina T.:        I do agree.

Christy:              Yeah.

Christina T.:        And your audio went out a little bit.

Christy:              Oh I’m sorry.

Christina T.:       Just in case this doesn’t record quite right, what I think I heard you say was that getting in there and working with that number sense and doing supetizing, that no matter what grade level, the kids are-

Christy:              Yes.

Christina T.:       That if they’re struggling, they’re struggling in their understanding of numbers and that’s impacting their ability to add, subtract, multiply or divide, whatever the symptom is that you see, the real root of the problem is that number sense.

Christy:               Yes. That’s what I think. I think if kids are struggling, they still haven’t learned their basic number sense. They need work on that. And I couldn’t limit it to one. On my answer I had to say two things. I think everyone needs to be using Math Racks. I have never seen such a handy tool in my life. 31 years of teaching. Why didn’t I know about these before?

Christina T.:        That’s right. That’s because they were stuck in the Netherlands.

Christy:               How long have they been around?

Christina T.:        Oh, I was just looking at the book today. The first place I ever learned about them was in the Young Mathematicians At Work book by Cathy Fosnot. And I actually have it right here by me. I’m going to look and see. It was published back in 2002 so I credit Cathy for being the one who’s brought that over to the United States. I’m not sure if somebody had talked about it before that, but that was definitely the first place I had learned about the Rekenrek and MathRacks. We’ll link to both the math racks and the book that I first learned about it in the show notes.

Christina T.:        But yeah, it seems like they haven’t been around that long and really it hasn’t been that long in an education it takes forever to get things out and, and lots of people knowing about them.

Christy:               Yes.

Christina T.:        They are a wonderful tool.

Christy:              Yeah. I created a, from the bottom up, and I know they’re around, but I created from a bottom up number grid that matches the math racks, you know the red and white patterns and the number of paths I think you sent out, I have them for the kids and just … And my kids really don’t use the number grid for very much, but I have one little boy who is in special ed and that number grid with the math rack matching colors and the math rack makes the world of difference for him.

Christy:              He can do so much more because of it. Because of the 5s he recognizes …

Christina T.:       Yeah, grabbing those 5s and 10s is so cool. I’m going to put you on the spot a little bit here Christy.

Christy:              Okay.

Christina T.:       Would you mind sharing that with people?

Christy:              Oh, I’d love to. Sure.

Christina T.:       Okay, so at the show notes we will have a link to it so we’ll chat after we get off of here.

Christy:              Sure.

Christina T.:       And we’ll link that and we’ll make sure it’s posted in the show notes of this episode for people to-

Christy:             Sure. Everybody should use it. Yes.

Christina T.:      Awesome. Thank you so very much. I firmly agree with you that that foundational piece of number sense and for the early grades kids especially understanding the five-ness and ten-ness and that the use of rekenreks really does help with that. So thank you very much for sharing your story and helping to inspire others out there to not just create calculators but to help Build Math Minds.

Christy:             Well, thank you for all that you’re doing. I wish I would’ve known about you years ago.

Christina T.:      Thank you very much, Christy.

Christy:            Thank you. All right.

Christina T.:     Have a good night.

Christy:            You too. Bye bye.

Christina T.:     These episodes are sponsored by the online trainings that I do for elementary educators. Each fall I open up my number sense courses. I have one for Pre-K to 2nd grade teacher’s called Number Sense 101 and one for 3rd through 5th grade teachers called Number Sense 201. These courses help you understand the foundation of number sense, how it impacts students’ ability to become fluent in mathematics and how to help your students build their number sense. Registration for the courses is now open for a limited time. Go to to learn more.

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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.