Computational Fluency, Math, problem solving

What Stories Live in These Equations?


Learning is embedded in memory, history and story.

British Columbia First Peoples Principles of Learning

The human brain is wired to remember stories.  In many cultures, the power of storytelling has been harnessed to teach important lessons, pass down traditions, and make sense of the world.   Storifying content can help culturally diverse learners (and all learners) build contexts for learning, identify similarities and differences, find relationships, notice how concepts fit together, and recognize a different point of view.  This is the brain’s way of weaving it all together and making learning stick.

At our November K-5 Mathematics Leadership Community we began our time together with a provocation at each table that invited teachers to them to choose an equation from a pile of possibilities and create a story to go with it.  I had seen this idea in a tweet from Janice Novakowski and was inspired to recreate it for our learners. The equations ranged from grade 1 to grade 6 content, and had the unknown part of the equation in different places within the equations.  This storifying provocation provoked learners to:

  • develop their own contexts for equation of their choosing
  • share stories with others
  • engage in conversations about creating problems and problem types
  • connect math to familiar contexts 

This provocation also allowed us, as teachers to dig into Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI).  CGI is a research based approach to teaching mathematics that builds on children’s natural problem solving strategies within different contexts.  CGI allows teachers to identify problem types which students are comfortable working with and ones they may not be using or working with…yet.  Through identification teachers can support student learning of all problem types and applications.

Resources to support your provocations:

What stories live in these equations?- Provocation

What Stories Live in These Equations Picture.PNG




Story Recording Template

Equation Stories template.PNG



Cognitively Guided Instruction- Teacher Information

CGI Information.PNG

Computational Fluency, Learning, Math, number sense

Student Inquiry into Computation with Cuisenaire Rods


At our last math community meeting teachers were given an opportunity to explore the provocation shown above.  This provocation was provided to support wonder, curiosity, creativity and multiple opportunities for computation.  Teachers were able to create designs with addition, and multiplication using one of my favorite computation manipulatives…Cuisenaire rods.

I chose this activity and these manipulatives for many reasons.

  • It allows students to explore part-part-whole thinking
  • It provides opportunities for multiple computations in an engaging way
  • It brings creativity, and design into mathematics
  • It allows for collaboration, and conversation
  • Students can discover relationship, and multiple interpretations

After our professional exploration many teachers took this activity back to their classrooms and shared it with their young mathematicians.  Below are some examples of what the students came up with in classrooms.

As a follow up students can bridge the concrete to abstract continuum by recording their computations/designs pictorially and abstractly on a sheet.  Initially, recording sheets could have pictures of coloured rods to match the concrete representations the students created.  As students progress in their level of abstraction they can switch to just marking the value on the rod.  Abstractly, they would record the equation their design represents.

Below are some supports that can help you incorporate Cuisenaire rods into your classroom.

Student Desk Cards

Whole Numbers

Decimal Numbers


Build It! Draw It! Write It! Student Recording Sheet