Making Math More Meaningful in Grade 6

Area(s) of Focus: math
Division(s): Junior
Level(s): Grade 5, Grade 6

This project explored the impact of using Numeracy Nets as a tool to help teachers better understand their students' strengths and weaknesses in math. We also explored the use of Number Talks as a tool to increase our students' sense of number.

As classroom teachers, we can sometimes become overwhelmed by the wide variety of needs in one classroom. We often know what our students need to learn, but finding the time to address each need is not always easy. Through this project we wanted to collaborate with different roles throughout our school (classroom teacher, Resource Teacher and Instructional Leader) to ensure all needs within a class were being met. Based on the data below, it is our current concern that our students will have difficulty learning the Grade 6 mathematics curriculum with their current understanding of place value. We wish to grow our understanding of how to use the Numeracy Nets resource and utilize the suggested activities associated with the diagnostic assessment tool. We believe this project will have a significant impact on teacher understanding of our students’ misconceptions and student learning as it will allow us to:

  1. access the suggested resources/teaching strategies outlined in the Numeracy Nets document;
  2. obtain the necessary time to explore these resources; and
  3. obtain the time to co-construct and co-teach the learning activities specific to the needs of our students.

Team Members

  • Kate Ferguson

    Trillium Lakelands DSB

  • Kristi Henshall

    Trillium Lakelands DSB

  • Susan Webster

    Trillium Lakelands DSB

  • Drew Arnold

    Trillium Lakelands DSB

Professional Learning Goals

  • adapt our teaching practice to have a better understanding of our students’ misconceptions in mathematics
  • enhance our instructional response to our student’s misconceptions through co-learning of Numeracy Nets and Number Talks resources.
  • provide more frequent targeted instruction to students with greatest need
  • develop and implement rich math stations/activities to foster successful independent math practice

Activities and Resources

  • co-Learning of the Numeracy Net Resource: together we spent some time familiarizing ourselves with the Numeracy Net resource and its diagnostic purposes
  • participating in some moderated marking of the Numeracy Net tasks our students completed
  • collaboratively determined student’s next steps based on the needs identified from the moderated marking session
  • collaboratively developed and/or shared math stations to support student’s next steps
  • co-Learning of the Number Talks Resource which included exploring research from Joe Boaler around Number Talks and future math success. Observing Number Talks in team members’ classrooms.

Unexpected Challenges

Overall, the project was a very positive experience. We had enough financial support to complete the tasks and goals as initially determined in the proposal. However, with any true inquiry, our plan changed slightly along the way in response to the needs of students and teacher need. While we still met our professional goals, we were challenged to honour the original plan submitted and honour the student need in front of us.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

The Numeracy Net resource was a very useful tool as it helped us to really identify our student’s strengths and weaknesses. Prior to administering the Number Sense & Numeration on Place Value (Checkpoint #1 from Numeracy Nets), we believed 40 per cent of our Grade 6 students struggled with place value.  Administering the Numeracy Nets Checkpoint #1 revealed that 60 per cent of our Grade 6 students actually have misconceptions in regards to place value up to 100,000.

Numeracy Nets revealed very specific information about each individual student. From this, we were able to form groups based on need and be more responsive to specific needs. We were able to collaborate with other Grade 6 teachers and special education teachers to share teaching strategies and practices that have been helpful in the past.

Learning and practicing Number Talks helped students to decompose and construct numbers with more confidence and understanding.

When we revisited Numeracy Net Checkpoint #1, 29 per cent of our Grade 6 students made gains.


We began within our learning group. One team member opened up her classroom so we could observe a real-life Number Talk. It was beneficial to see students in our own learning community participate in Number Talks. This created the Number Talk excitement and encouraged other members to try them.

Afterwards, our two schools combined for a joint staff meeting where some group members shared their growing use of Number Talks in the classroom. We were able to provide colleagues with specific examples of how students are engaging in mental math operations differently than before (the fact they can solve problems mentally and no longer require pencil and paper to align the digits). We also shared some video footage of a Number Talk that took place in a team member’s classroom. This lead to some wonderful conversation around the benefits of Number Talks.

In a future PLC, one team member is planning to share a presentation with a different school, which will focus on the student perspective of Number Talks. It includes such quotes as “It is so fun to see how other people think” and “I never thought I’d be able to multiply two-digit by two-digit numbers in my head.”

Primary and junior teachers could benefit from learning about Number Talks.

Primary, junior and intermediate teachers (all math teachers) could benefit from using Numeracy Nets.

Project Evaluation

We feel that we did reach our professional goals. We have a better understanding of student’s misconceptions in math and my instructional response to address these, especially for those students with the greatest need. We were able to implement rich math stations to apply in our classrooms that would address the need of all our learners. Our Numeracy Net assessment data correlates our qualitative report. Pre-data indicated that 38 per cent of students in Grade 6 had a good understanding of place value to 10,000. After our inquiry cycle, 67 per cent of students now were successful on this same task.

Resources Used

From Stanford Online’s “How to Learn Math for Teachers and Parents: Number Talks”

Numeracy Nets: Quick Assessment Tasks

Provides useful diagnostic tasks to identify students’ strengths and needs. Tasks are aligned to the Ontario curriculum.

Number Talks

A step-by-step resource on how to facilitate classroom conversations that build numerical reasoning, and strengthen accuracy, efficiency and flexibility with these mental math and computation strategies.

Learning Trajectories for Primary Grades for Mathematics, Developmental Levels