For a lot of parents, the way math is taught these days is pretty different from what we remember. Watching your child solve long division problems using a “new” method, for example, can be baffling… or enlightening. At progressive education schools like Friends School of Minnesota, there is a greater emphasis on conceptual understanding and mathematical literacy. As FSM is not academically selective, our students’ math abilities vary quite a bit. The challenge for every teacher every day is to figure out ways to teach each student effectively!

At Friends School of Minnesota, we believe:

  • Students should come to understand that math is used in everyday situations, and is useful tool to solve real problems.
  • Students should enjoy mathematics
  • Conceptual understanding is vitally important.
  • Students will be encouraged to use multiple strategies to solve problems and will share their strategies with one another.
  • Mathematics is often a group process. Students will have frequent opportunities to work together to solve problems cooperatively.
  • Students will learn to communicate mathematical ideas, both orally and in writing
  • Math should be integrated into other subject areas, in addition to (not in place of) a regular focus on math itself.
  • Math should be integrated into the daily routine of the classroom.
  • Arithmetic is just one of a number of strands that make up mathematics.

As in most subject areas, Friends School of Minnesota integrates math textbooks into our own math curriculum which our teachers have developed over the last 20 years. We select published curricula that best support the tenets of progressive education as well as state and national standards. Our teachers’ lessons weave together the best of  textbook lessons with many other activities, projects, and resources to best help our students achieve mathematical literacy.

Putting together the Bit Play in 4th grade math.
Putting together the Bit Play in 4th grade math.


This year, Friends School of Minnesota is using the Go Math textbook series in lower school and 5th grade.  Here’s how it’s going for 4th grade math teacher Kak and her students in the first six weeks of school:

We have completed the first 4th grade unit of the new Go Math curriculum Understanding  Place Value and the Distributive Property: Adding and Subtracting with Regrouping. Beginning of the year classroom logistics such as gathering math materials, deciding whether its their day to use the sitting ball, or remembering their assigned seats can be challenging. However, even with all the new classroom community learning happening, I would say we are making great progress with the Go Math curriculum.

Students practiced adding and subtracting with regrouping, reviewed place value concepts and learned how to write numbers using standard form, expanded form and word form. They created models using cubes and meter sticks to represent numbers up to a million and then enacted a short skit to demonstrate the concept of “X Ten” for the third graders.

Kids making signs to label the mega-cube structures for the Bit play.


Building a million cube.
Building a million cube.


Building the 10,000 cube model.
Building the 10,000 cube model.


Fourth graders volunteering to show their math at the whiteboard.


We are also learning how to use journals for the warm up math problems at the beginning of class, learning how to work with a partner on in-class assignments, and learning how to understand lots and lots of word problems in the textbook and on homework!

Last week we learned how to use the distributive property to “break apart” larger numbers to facilitate multiplying single by double digit numbers. Everyone received two multiplication facts charts — one for homework and one for classwork. I realize not everyone has learned their facts yet so encourage students to use the charts until they memorize them. We are using graph paper to draw the arrays of the problems as a way to reinforce what is happening to the numbers as they multiply. Although we will eventually arrive at the more common methods of multiplication that most adults are familiar with, working our way through these strategies will strengthen students’ understanding of how and why math, in this case, multiplication, works.

Thinking deeply about the distributive property in multiplication.


Students have shared that math homework can cause some frustration and tension at home. We talk about how it’s ok for something to be hard and it’s ok to struggle to solve the problem. In class, I watch them go from “this is hard” and “I don’t get it” to “Oh- that’s what that means!” However, I want to emphasize that too much frustration and unhappiness over homework is not helpful either. The expectation is still 30 minutes per 2-sided page per week. If there are questions or difficulties, have your student ask me the next day. And if it seems to be taking too long, write me a note on the homework and ask your student to stop working or to take a break.

All in all, it has been a great start to the year in 4th grade math class!

– Kak Jarvis – Third & Fourth Grade Teacher