MARILYN
BURNS
MATH BLOGS

AdditionDo The MathGeneral InterestInterviews One-on-OneListening to LearnMath and LiteratureNumber and OperationsNumerical ReasoningPlace Value

A Children’s Book, Differentiating Math Instruction, and More

I love incorporating children’s books into math lessons. Since most of my teaching focuses on math, it’s a treat for me to read a book aloud to a class. After the students have a chance to enjoy the story and respond to the illustrations, then I use the book as a springboard for a math lesson.
Marilyn Burns
August 31, 2021
General Interest

Five Twists on Tic-Tac-Toe

Tic-tac-toe is a game that has some advantages―it’s easy to learn, requires only paper and a pencil, and doesn’t take long to play. But the game has the disadvantage of getting boring pretty fast. Don’t give up on it. Try these variations, all of which give kids (even adults) a chance to think strategically in new ways.
Marilyn Burns
April 9, 2020
GamesGeneral InterestProblem Solving

Riddles That Rhyme (not entirely a math post)

Riddles are usually a hit with kids, and with many at home and sheltering in place (as I am), diversions can be helpful. When rummaging through my book shelves, I found a book that I wrote in 1981―The Hink Pink Book. I wrote it shortly after I first learned about Hink Pink riddles, and also about Hinky Pinky and Hinkety Pinkety riddles. I think these riddles are good for some language play for kids at home, with a little math thrown in.
Marilyn Burns
March 24, 2020
General InterestMental MathNumber and OperationsNumerical Reasoning

What Are Good Math Questions to Ask Students?

Good Questions for Math Teaching is a Math Solutions book that has long been one of my favorites. It’s a resource that I dip into when I feel the need for something fresh. And it speaks directly to our current shelter-in-place coronavirus crisis as many of us look for ways to mathematically engage students online, children at home, or both. Here are samples to get you started. I’ll continue to post more ideas on Twitter (@mburnsmath).
Marilyn Burns
March 17, 2020
Angle MeasurementBooks by MarilynGeneral InterestGeometryMultiplicationNumerical Reasoning

Teaching about Angles―A Hands-On Approach

What am I doing on the floor? Teaching angles to fourth graders. Read about how instruction using Pattern Blocks and hinged mirrors, along with supporting number talks, can help students learn to understand and measure angles. Here I present a (sort of) photo essay to describe what actually occurred over the first three days of instruction. Ideas for continuing the instruction follow.
Marilyn Burns
April 29, 2019
DecimalsGeneral InterestMultiplicationNumber and OperationsNumerical ReasoningReal-World ProblemsVideosWord Problems

When You Multiply by 10, Just Add a Zero? Horrors!?!

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?
Marilyn Burns
October 1, 2018
DivisionGeneral InterestNumber and OperationsNumerical ReasoningReal-World ProblemsSilent MathWord Problems

One Lesson, Two Pedagogical Mistakes

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.


Marilyn Burns
January 1, 2018
DecimalsNumber and OperationsNumerical Reasoning

A Decimal Lesson . . . about 13/20 and More

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.
Marilyn Burns
December 19, 2017
GamesGeneral InterestMath MenusNumber and OperationsNumerical Reasoning

Oh No! 99!

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.
Marilyn Burns
March 5, 2017
General InterestMath Menus

Using Math Menus: Some Nuts & Bolts

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.



Marilyn Burns
February 20, 2017
AssessmentBooks by MarilynDivisionGeneral InterestMath and LiteratureMultiplicationNumber and OperationsNumerical ReasoningProblem SolvingWord Problems

One Lesson, Three Grades, Three Twists

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.
Marilyn Burns
January 30, 2017
GamesGeneral InterestMultiplicationNumber and Operations

Multiplication Bingo

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.
Marilyn Burns
November 28, 2016
AssessmentDataGeneral InterestNumber and OperationsNumerical ReasoningReal-World Problems

Beans and Scoops

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.
Marilyn Burns
November 1, 2016
General InterestNumber and OperationsNumerical ReasoningPlace Value

A Reponse to Joe Schwartz’s Blog about Algorithms

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.
Marilyn Burns
April 4, 2016
GamesMultiplicationNumber and OperationsNumerical Reasoning

The Game of Pathways

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.
Marilyn Burns
March 10, 2016
General InterestMath and LiteratureNumerical ReasoningProblem Solving

One Children’s Book . . . Different Grade Levels

In a previous blog, I described a lesson I taught to second graders using the wonderful children’s book One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab. At John Muir Elementary School in San Francisco, I observed two other lessons using the same book, one in Kindergarten and the other in fourth grade. The lessons were a joy to observe, and I feel that my own teaching repertoire has now been enhanced.
Marilyn Burns
December 8, 2015
DataGeneral InterestNumber and OperationsReal-World ProblemsStatistics and Probability

Alphabetical Probability

Read how 7th graders collected and analyzed data about the frequency of letters. They chose sentences, recorded the frequency of letters, and put their data on a class chart. Then we compared the class results to the actual frequencies of letters. Engaging the students in collecting their own data gave them an authentic math experience, not rigged by me in any way.
Marilyn Burns
October 18, 2015
General InterestTechnology

Why I Tweet

I’ve been tweeting since September of 2014, and I’m hooked. I never would have predicted that I’d join Twitter, much less enjoy it and benefit from it professionally. In this post, I describe my initiation into Twitter and what I’ve learned.
Marilyn Burns
July 27, 2015
General InterestProblem SolvingVideos

The 1–10 Card Investigation

The 1-10 Card Investigation has a big payoff with students. It engages their interest, involves them with making sense of a problem and persevering to solve it, and gives them experience with evaluating their progress and changing course as necessary. Plus it has a playful aspect that too often is lost in math class.
Marilyn Burns
June 29, 2015
General InterestNumber and OperationsProblem SolvingReal-World ProblemsWord Problems

Where’s the Math?

Students’ ideas often amaze me, and Lydia’s is one of the most suprising examples. She used 7 x 3 = 21 to figure out that 8 x 4 = 32. She reasoned that since the factors in 7 x 3 were each 1 less than the factors in 8 x 4, she’d just increase each digit in the answer, changing 21 to 32. She was correct! Read about Lydia's discovery, what I did, and what I learned.
Marilyn Burns
May 11, 2015
General InterestVideosWord Problems

Word Problems

Word problems have long been difficult and frustrating for students to solve and for teachers to teach. A colleague recently forwarded an email from a woman looking for resources to help her fourth-grade granddaughter with word problems. I thought for several days about how to offer positive support to both the grandmother and her granddaughter.
Marilyn Burns
March 10, 2015
General InterestNumber and OperationsNumerical ReasoningSubtraction

Why I Like Using Open Number Lines (Though I Don’t Like the Name)

This post is about subtraction, which is typically difficult for students to learn and for teachers to teach. Think about 503 – 398, for example. To estimate the answer, I can change the problem to 500 – 400 (rounding 503 to 500 and 398 to 400). That gives me an estimate of 100, which I know is close. But how can I know if the actual answer to 503 – 398 is greater or less than 100? I raised this question with third graders.
Marilyn Burns
February 25, 2015
General InterestTechnology

The Game of 2048

Several months ago I received an email message from my friend Sandra. She wrote, "If you want something new to distract you, try playing the new game 2048. I’m finding it addicting." I took Sandra’s advice and downloaded the free app. And, like Sandra, I found it addicting. But it also led me to think more about what I think is important when we teach math.
Marilyn Burns
February 12, 2015
General Interest

Relearning High School Math

My 15-year-old granddaughter Charlotte is a diligent math student. When I checked recently to see how she was doing with her Algebra 2 math homework, I found her sitting on her bed with her computer, iPad, and phone, managing to text friends on and off as she worked. She asked me for help.
Marilyn Burns
February 3, 2015
General Interest

Welcome to My Blog

When I entered college, I knew I would become a teacher. I’d always liked school and often played school at home with my sister and my friends. I enjoyed math, so I decided to major in mathematics and become a math teacher. But while math made sense to me in my earlier studies, my college experiences were very different. I struggled.
Marilyn Burns
January 2, 2015