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# Marilyn Burns

Have you ever asked students to solve 12.6 x 10, and they respond that the answer is 12.60? I have, many times. Students who do this apply a pattern that works when they multiply whole numbers by 10—they tack on a zero to the end of the number they’re multiplying. But then they apply the same pattern when working with decimals. What can we do?
October 1, 2018
General Interest
I thought I was on the right teaching track using real-world contexts to talk about fractions with a class of fourth and fifth graders. Then a surprise occurred! I’m still mulling over what I could have done. I’d love your thoughts.
March 22, 2018
When teaching students to add decimals, I wind up reminding students to “line up the decimal points.” This makes sense to some students while others follow the rule without understanding. How can we teach adding decimals to develop understanding and skill? Here’s a possible suggestion: Give the correct answer up front.
January 14, 2018
I believe strongly that mistakes are learning opportunities. At least that’s what I regularly tell students. But it sometimes feels different when the mistakes are mine . . . and especially when they are pedagogical mistakes that I make while teaching. That happened to me recently when teaching a lesson to fourth graders.
January 1, 2018
I love Twitter. On November 3, 2017, I saw this image in a Tweet posted by @MarkChubb3. The image stuck with me for several days. After talking about it over dinner with a teacher friend, and then again over lunch with another, I became curious to find out what students might think. I made arrangements to “borrow” three fifth-grade classes and made plans to teach the same lesson in each class.
December 19, 2017
A friend and I were talking recently about how much work we put into planning lessons. Even after all these years of teaching, I have to think through lessons as carefully as possible, both about the logistics and about the mathematical thinking I want to keep in mind and support. Here’s an example.

March 27, 2017
The card game Oh No! 99! is a keeper! It gives practice with mentally adding one- and two-digit numbers and with adding and subtracting 10 from two-digit numbers. The game encourages strategic thinking as students decide which cards to play and which to keep, and it’s also useful as an informal assessment. Read about how the game was used with second and fifth graders.
March 5, 2017
This blog post resulted from an email exchange I had with Jill Downing, a Title 1 Educator with the Helena Public Schools in Montana. My recent blog about using the children’s book 17 Kings and 42 Elephants included a link to an article I wrote, “Using Math Menus.” Jill read the article and was interested in more information. Her questions pushed me to reflect on some of the nuts and bolts I use when organizing math menus. Here I share what Jill wrote and how I responded.
February 20, 2017
Over a year ago, I blogged about The 1–10 Card Investigation. I didn't provide a solution to the problem and no one who commented asked for one. But a newly posted comment requested the solution. That pushed me into a conversation with myself about how I should respond, and about giving answers in general.
February 5, 2017
The children's book 17 Kings and 42 Elephants by Margaret Mahy is one of my long-time favorites. In this post I describe a division lesson that I’ve taught to third graders but recently revisited with fourth- and fifth-grade classes. With the older students, we tried extensions that differentiated the experience and put students in charge of deciding on problems for themselves. It was exciting to me to expand a lesson I've taught many times into a multi-day investigation.
January 30, 2017
Will Multiplication Bingo guarantee that students learn the multiplication facts? No. But it will help familiarize them with factors and multiples, engage them in a game that involves both luck and strategy, encourage them to make conjectures, and have them use data to guide decisions. Plus, the game provides a way to send home information to families about how their children are being asked to think and reason in math class.
November 28, 2016
In a recent email, a teacher friend commented on what she described as a struggle in her school district about math teaching. She wrote: "There is a bit of tug of war going on between student-centered teaching and traditional teaching." This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a comment like this. Here’s the response I wrote to her.
November 10, 2016
Lessons using beans and scoops have long been part of my teaching repertoire. I’ve used beans, scoops, and jars to engage students in all grade levels with a variety of mathematical ideas. In this post, I write about how I recently taught a lesson to give students experience with estimation, averages, multiplication, and more. Read about how I planned the lesson, how it unfolded, and suggestions for extensions and other lessons.
November 1, 2016
Have you ever thought about this numerical sequence—0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12? What does the sequence have to do with unicycles, bicycles, and tricycles? And what's my mathematical and pedagogical quandary? Read more and find out.
September 14, 2016
When should a teacher resolve a question for students and when is it OK, or even a better instructional decision, to let confusion ride? I recently was confronted with this situation with fourth graders. Read about what happened and what I did.
May 16, 2016
Here's one of my favorite oldies. (No, not the photo—the border problem.) I was so pleased to see this math investigation included in Jo Boaler’s latest paper. This blog post presents a detailed lesson plan for using the border problem with students and also includes a five-minute video clip to give you a sense of how the instruction went with one class.
April 19, 2016
Teachers have always told me that paper-and-pencil subtraction when problems call for regrouping is hard to teach and hard for students to learn. Much harder than addition. So why subtract when you can always add? That’s what my friend Nicholas thought, and he taught me how.
April 7, 2016
I was recently planning to teach my friend Ruth Cossey’s elementary math methods class at Mills College in Oakland, California. Digging through my collection of student work, I found a paper from a third grader I had interviewed. When doing interviews, I typically ask students to figure out answers in their heads, but I agreed when Nomar asked for paper and pencil for some of the problems.
April 4, 2016
The fourth graders I’m working with on a regular basis are learning about fractions. During a class conversation, one student declared, “Fractions aren’t numbers.” Most of the others in the class agreed. I tried to help with the misunderstanding by teaching a lesson about placing fractions on a number line.

March 16, 2016
I like the multiplication game of Pathways. It engages students’ interest, helps develop their familiarity with the times table, and encourages them to think strategically. It's been a part of my teaching for a long time. Recently I came up with a way to introduce the game that made it easier for students to learn to play. It was a huge success. Read about what I did and how the students reacted.
March 10, 2016