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Always Write
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Writing Across the Curriculum: NumberFix
Northern Nevada's Holly Young shares W.A.C. lessons for math class

Welcome to the NumberFix Project! This resource page is used in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) workshops for teachers, and it is designed to specifically inspire writing about math in the classroom. The lessons you will see on this site are not intended to be specific to any particular math content (even though the student samples may be), and we believe they can be used with many different mathematical topics.

Our W.A.C. workshops' driving essential question: How can we deepen student thinking in all content areas through meaningful and authentic writing assignments?

Meet Holly Young, the NumberFix Project Coordinator. Hello. First of all, if you are interested in seeing additional lessons that are specific to one content area, I invite you to explore Making Mathematicians, my personal website. So, who am I, you may be asking? My name is Holly Young and I am a math trainer for Nevada's Northwest Regional Professional Development Program and a NNWP Consultant since 2000.

Below my four contributions to this page--mentor text-inspired math lessons, constructed response resources, trait resources for math, and digital photo word problems for math--you will find lessons created by teachers who have worked with us during our workshops that utilize this NumberFix page.

I believe that it is crucial for students to practice writing in mathematics and that the writing is not limited to “write your answer in complete sentences.” As brain research supports, writing promotes long term retention of ideas. Because math builds upon itself, long term retention of ideas and skills is necessary for student success.

On this resource page, you will find a growing collection of thoughtful and creative ways to have students ponder information and demonstrate new found knowledge. Teachers can insert these lessons at any time during the curriculum, either as review or as an introduction to new material.

I know that some of these lessons will seem “out there,” or as a favorite mentor of mine calls them--“touchy feely.” However, I am convinced that students do not learn or retain information from worksheets alone! These lessons provide opportunities for teachers to tap into all students’ creative sides and teach math outside the box. An important question that does come up frequently is, “How do you grade this assignment?” This is a serious consideration. First of all, we want to ensure that we are not grading products on their ability to look pretty. The content is the most important piece and must be judged appropriately. I am a big proponent of using a rubric to ensure that the products I receive not only cover content well, but also reward those students that give a considerable amount of effort. Some lessons have rubrics, while others were designed as quick exit tickets and don’t have an elaborate evaluation. Feel free to use rubrics from other lessons as a guide to creating an evaluation document that will guide students into creating their best product.

On this page:

Join our WritingFix Family by proposing a lesson to be posted: These NumberFix lessons are provided to inspire other teachers to craft writing and math lessons in their own classrooms. If you create a new lesson that you'd like us to consider posting, please Holly at HYoung@washoe.k12.nv.us. If we post your lesson, we'll send you two complimentary copies of any of the NNWP Print Publications.

Taking our W.A.C. workshop?
Here is the template to use, if you are creating a NumberFix lesson as your final project for our class.

The Under-Achievers
by Holly Young

Holly wrote this wonderful picture book to tell a story and provide excellent math lessons. It's on our book shelf! Should it be on yours?

Like this page? Visit Holly's Making Mathematicians Website for more resources.

A Favorite Book for Encouraging Writing Across the Curriculum:

51 Wacky We-Search Reports by Barry Lane

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Holly's Mentor Text-inspired Lessons that Began NumberFix

Exploring Patterns &
Writing Word Problems

Overview: Students write and illustrate their own book of patterns, similar to how Greg Tang describes different ways to examine common problems in The Grapes Of Math. This lesson can be used with any content, but the focus is having students make formulas understandable for themselves. They will be examining what patterns they notice and snappy ways to remember difficult topics.

Click here for access to this lesson.

How Big
is Hagrid?

Overview: Using knowledge of what makes good persuasive writing, students will critically read a section of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and then use mathematics and the evidence from the reading to decide on the size of the character Hagrid. Students create a life size cut-out of Hagrid, writing their explanation of work according to the state ideas and development portion of the writing rubric.

Click here for access to this lesson.


Overview: After guiding primary-aged students through an exercise on giving reasons for something being useful, students listen to The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns and determine how triangles and quadrilaterals are useful.

Students create books that show where the shapes occur in the world.

Click here for access to this lesson.

Four Scaredy Squirrel-inspired

Overview: Holly designed these four lessons--all inspired by Mélanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel series--to use with her son's first grade class.

with The Important Book

Overview: By imitating the format of The Important Book, students will write create an illustrated paragraph on a particular math topic. Extension: Students use the important book format to brainstorm previous knowledge on a topic and knowledge after learning a topic. Students create pages similar to those in The Important Book comparing their knowledge before and after learning a topic.

Click here for access to this lesson.

Dancing with the
Math Stars!

Overview: Using disco music and the inspiration of TV's "Dancing with the Stars," students imagine that--instead of celebrities--different numbers and equations compete on the television show. Students write the biographies of equations and graphs that are dancing on a television show where math-inspired dancers compete against each other.

Click here for access to this lesson.

Argue Better Than a Pigeon

Overview: This interactive lesson involves teaching young students how to evaluate a mathematical argument and practice writing and revising their own mathematical argument.

Students learn to evaluate arguments for validity and form their own arguments to a math problem while focusing on estimation.

Click here for access to this lesson.

Personified Number Stories

Overview: This lesson borrows some fantastic personification tricks from the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to put a person at ease with numbers. Students will explore a number looking for its mathematical and real-world traits, then compose a story practicing voice by giving the number personality. Students will explore numbers and their properties in order to build true number sense. Students will explore personification in writing a math story.

Click here for access to this lesson.

What is a Measure?

Overview: Students get a chance to explore attributes of measure by answering the question, "What does it mean to be big?" Students are introduced to such concepts as area and fractions and practice their writing skills with a friendly postcard explaining a mathematical error in measurement from the book How Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller.

Click here for access to this lesson

Constructed Response Resources for Mathematics

Reading, Writing & Reflecting Mathematics
from Holly Young, NumberFix Coordinator

Teaching students the fine art of problem-solving can be incredibly difficult!  This issue has really come to the forefront lately with the onset of constructed response problems in math and science.  I have found that text-books and "programs" teach problem-solving in a linear fashion, such as, first do this, then do this, etc, until you magically arrive at the answer.  

Unfortunately, step one - highlight important information - usually is the step none of the students can get past.  Instead of following a linear/sequential problem-solving formula, I designed a cyclical process of reading, writing, discussing, and reflecting on problems.  As most brain research reports, humans solve problems in many different ways and enter problems at many different points.  If a teacher uses the reading, writing, and reflecting posters as questions that help students enter problems and provide direction for solving problems, then students have an easier time discussing and writing about their solutions and methods for solving.  Any question provided on the three posters can be an "exit ticket" to check for student understanding  or can be used as a discussion point in a group or as a class.  (Not every question given on the posters can be answered for every problem)  The format for these posters, "ACE," mirrors/extends my instruction used in teaching students how to answer constructed response questions (see the constructed response link).

I also designed a graphic organizer that can be handed out to the students when a new problem is tackled.  As a class, it can be decided which questions need to be answered or discussed on the graphic organizer.

As with all good writing, students need direction.  This strategy can get students to plan their problem writing, write with a purpose, and reflect upon their thinking.

You can find out much more about my ACE Constructed Response materials at my personal website: Making Mathematicians.

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Holly's Trait Resources Specifically Crafted for Math Assignments

Idea Development





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NumberFix's Annual Digital Photo and Math Problem Contest
2009's Contest: Our First Year of Digital Math Word Problems
The Teacher Model:

Holly's Model She Shows Students
click image to see it in larger form

Another of Holly's innovative contributions to NumberFix is her annual digital photo and word problem contest. This is a great way to help students bring their love of technology to math class while helping them make discoveries about real world applications of math.

The Digital Contest's Annual Theme: A picture can raise mathematical questions—What image and word problem can you create to challenge your classmates?

Post your Entries for the Contest here!
(You will have to become a member at our free-to-use "Writing Lesson of the Month" ning to post.)

Great pictures can generate some very interesting ideas for math problems! In 2009, we sponsored our first ever digital photo/math problem contest. We opened up the contest to elementary, middle, and high school students. Students could choose the rigor and topic area for their designed word problems, but the photos had to be original photos taken by the student and the problem was one of his/her own making.

For Spring 2012, we will be accepting photos from K-12 students once again! E-mail Holly with questions about this contest!

The Student Winner:

from Caitlyn, a tenth grade student
click image to see it in larger form

2010's Contest: Our Three Winning Digital Math Problems

Primary Elementary Winner
from Carson, a first grader

click image to see it in larger form

Elementary Winner
from Zach, a sixth grader

click image to see it in larger form

Middle School Winner
from Jess, an eighth grader

click image to see it in larger form
NEW! 2011's Contest: Our Three Winning Digital Math Problems NEW!

2010 Elementary Winner
from Madelyn, a fifth grader

click image to see it in larger form

Middle School Winner
from Cruz, an eighth grader

click image to see it in larger form

High School Winner
from Roshanak, a tenth grader

click image to see it in larger form

Honorable Mentions from Past Contests:

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Three Great Ideas for Getting Secondary Students Writing in Math Class

Idea #1: Assign Math R.A.F.T. Prompts!

A R.A.F.T. Writing Prompt challenges students to apply learned math skills to real world situations. When you create a R.A.F.T. prompt for your students, you are assigning students a Role in whose voice they will write, and Audience they will be preparing the piece of writing for, a Format for the writing, and a Topic to write about. If you are new to the idea of RAFT Prompts, click here for some RAFT basics from our RAFT Homepage here at WritingFix.

Want to Build a R.A.F.T. Prompt specifically for Math Class? Click here to access our interactive Math R.A.F.T. Builder for teachers.

Idea #2: Assign Math Alphabet Books!

Here's a simple writing across the curriculum project for math class: assign alphabet books on math topics for small groups to complete.

Start by sharing a published alphabet book that bases its content on vocabulary words; most of author Jerry Palotta's alphabet books do this, but our favorite one is The Skull Alphabet Book (pictured at left).

Next have the groups brainstorm words, inspired by a math topic, on this alphabox worksheet. Some great math topics for ABC books are: math vocabulary words; jobs/people that require math skills; great mathematicians; etc.

Give students groups a limited amount of time to create and publish their alphabet books. Each group shares their book, and the teacher gets to keep them!

On our Alphabet Books across the Curriculum Project Page, you can see two really great examples of math alphabet books made by teachers.

Idea #3: Think-Tank Problem Solving Tasks

Here's a great way to write weekly in your math class about problem-solving, to celebrate best writing efforts once a month, then to celebrate best work for the entire year by creating a "museum" of creatively published best problems and their solutions.

Click here to access NumberFix's write-up for this project for your secondary math class.

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Original NumberFix Lessons Proposed by Teachers Who've Taken NNWP Inservice Classes

Math & Writing

Overview: After hearing the poem “Smart” by Shel Silverstein, students will map the poem to discover what actually happened when Boy began trading his money, discovering that he's not all that "Smart." They will write a letter to Boy to explain why his trades were poor decisions.

Lesson author: Karen McGee, NNWP Consultant and retired primary teacher.

Math Equations

Overview: Betsy Franco's book Mathematickles demonstrates creative use of mathematical equations to explain interesting concepts. For this lesson, an elementary teacher and a high school teacher share how they use this creative idea to have students reflect on their learning.

Lesson author: Terry Stelle, NNWP Consultant and elementary teacher.

Follow the Path
of Five Dollars

Overview: Pat Brisson’s book Benny’s Pennies provides the impetus for students to discover some reasonable ways to spend a set amount of money following specific criteria. After the students decide how to spend their money, they then must show the path of the spending.

Lesson author: Karen McGee, NNWP Consultant and retired primary teacher.

Requesting a Task Force to Prevent Child Endangerment

Overview: Students write a persuasive letter to the president, inspired by math calculations they've applied based on facts from Roald Dahl's wonderful chapter book. This lesson is not only a great writing lesson to accompany this great read-aloud, but it's also a great way to use math as a basis for a persuasive argument.

Lesson author: Torrey Palmer, NNWP Consultant and elementary teacher.

Linear & Exponential
Growth Poetry

Overview: Students choose numbers and units of measurements, and then create short poems that compare and contrast exponential (or multiplied) and linear growth. This lesson is inspired by several Schoolhouse Rock songs as well as other videos that help students explore numerical growth.

Lesson author: Kellie Kareck, Nevada secondary math teacher.


Mathematical Recipe

Overview: Students study the format of a recipe from a cookbook. Then they create a mathematical recipe to be published in a classroom "math cookbook." This is a great technique for getting students to think deeply about math topic and vocabulary through the forced creation of a metaphor.

Lesson author: Corbett Harrison, NNWP Consultant and WritingFix Webmaster

Tallying Those
Favorite Flavors

Overview: Using Tim’s Ice Cream Store, students will think about and discuss the question, “Which ice cream flavor do you like best?” As kindergarten students listen to the story, they will predict which flavor of ice cream will be the favorite in the story as well as which will be the favorite within their own classroom. Using a tally sheet, the students will then be able to keep track of the favorites.

Lesson author: Karen McGee, NNWP Consultant and retired primary teacher.

Math Songs

Overview: Students write instructions for math procedures that can be sung to the tunes of familiar nursery rhymes or songs. Working first in small groups, then as individuals, this activity helps students put ideas from notes into individual words. This lesson can be enhanced with the following two mentor texts: Science Verse by Jon Scieszka and Take Me Out of the Bathtub by Alan Katz.

Lesson author: Lisa Baehr, Nevada secondary math teacher.

Join our WritingFix Family. At WritingFix, we accept original mentor text-inspired lessons from teacher users of our website.

If your lesson is accepted to be posted here at NumberFix, we will send you a copy of any one of the Northern Nevada Writing Project's print guides, including any of the out-of-print issues.

Click here to open the template for NumberFix lessons. Look over the other lessons in this section to be sure you're including enough detail in the template.

Lesson proposals can be sent to hyoung@washoeschools.net for consideration.

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© Copyright 2015 - WritingFix- All Rights Reserved.
Please, share the resources you find on these pages freely with fellow educators, but please leave any page citations on handouts intact, and please give authorship credit to the cited teachers who created these wonderful lessons and resources. Thanks in advance for honoring other educators' intellectual property.

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