Category Archives: Number

Free Valentine Dot to Dot Puzzle

Please enjoy this Free Valentine dot to dot.

Click the image to download the PDF. Read the directions. Print off the “easy” or “hard” puzzle. Fill in the To: and From: sections. Give it to a special someone for them to solve.

This freebie a sample of one of my Dottoo Dots, skip counting, number puzzles. These puzzles have a twist. If you don’t follow the pattern and skip over the extra dots, the picture doesn’t work. Learn or practice skip counting by 2s, starting at 1. Have fun and stay sharp.

A complete set of Valentine-themed Dottoo Dots is available at TeachersPayTeachers.Com, Etsy, and in print form at and



Using Dot to Dots in the Classroom

original-2255295-1Have you been really focused on number sense in your classroom? Are you using number strings, doing number talks, counting around the circle? If so, then you are thinking about numbers, and the relationships between numbers. You are thinking about the patterns made by numbers, and the effect of repeated operations on numbers.

Have you ever considered using dot to dots as another way to play with and explore number?

Maybe not. Typically, they are very simplistic, only a few numbers, rarely going beyond the twenties, and only counting by ones; they are a challenge for only the earliest of learners. However, in the last couple of years, I’ve seen a renaissance in dot to dots, going hand in hand with the colouring book trend. There are a couple of very talented designers/artists out there who have created some brilliant dot puzzles, but they still have their limits as to their use in the classroom.

This past year, I’ve been playing with the puzzle design myself, tweaking the structure and mechanics to make something that teachers can use. My puzzles have several essential differences.

owl easy

First, They skip count by more than just 1s. My puzzles run the gamut from 1s to 10s. This means they help to learn and practice skip counting and growing patterns, and by extension addition and multiplication for almost all the basic facts.

Second, they have different starting points. I have several puzzles that skip by 2s, but some of these start at 1 (1, 3, 5…). Some puzzles skip by 3s, but a few of them start at 1 or 2 (1, 4, 7, 10…; 2, 5, 8, 11…). Solving each number in the sequence in these unfamiliar patterns practices mental addition and number fluency.

Third, there are hard and easy owl hardversions of each puzzle, allowing teachers to differentiate for different children’s knowledge and skill levels. The “easy” version is useful for students who are struggling with the concept of skip counting and need some supports to get to each new number. The “hard” version throws distractions and red herrings onto the page in the form of extra numbers. Students doing a “hard” puzzle must really know how to apply the pattern, or risk connecting the wrong dots and creating an incomprehensible scribble.

If you want a more thorough explanation, I detail how these puzzles work and ways to use them in my Teacher Package, available for free on It explains how to distribute or present the puzzles, tips for differentiating, suggestions for how to tie the puzzles to the number and patterning curriculum, and examples of errors that student might make with the puzzles and what these mistakes might be saying about a child’s skill and knowledge.

Have a look at the Teacher Package or download the free previews for the different Holiday themed collections. Let me know if you try the puzzles with your students and give me feedback about how it went or suggestions you might have.

Grammithmatic Part 3

BLESSIs there really no such number as Eleventeen? Well, there isn’t, but bear with me for a minute.

I have been posting about how we math educators can play with language and make our slightly awkward number naming system a little more logical and a lot more transparent. Check out Part 1 to read about playing with number names to clarify our base-ten system. Check out Part 2 to read about how we can make place value and zero clearer. In Part 3, I am exploring how to make borrowing clearer to the new learner.

The number eleventeen was derived by some astute and logical child who figured that since 13, 14, 15, 16, et al. all end in TEEN, then so should 11, and 12 for that matter. Of course, the poor dear didn’t count on the linguistic mashup that is English. There is also every chance that some other child called 11 ‘Oneteen’ and 12 ‘Twoteen,’ bless her heart.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our number names made more sense? Well, what’s stopping us?

Read this list of numbers to yourself. Then tell yourself what comes next.

10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90

Did you follow Ninety with One Hundred? Of course you did.

Now, how about this string? Read it to yourself and say what comes next.

100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900

Did you say One Thousand? Or did you say Ten Hundred? Which one is right? What’s the difference?

Most would say that One Thousand is technically the correct response, but in common vernacular, Ten Hundred is acceptable too. We usually said Nineteen Hundred Ninety-Something a couple of decades ago, and we all knew what we meant.

My idea is to take this already common and, quite frankly, logical exception to naming a number, and apply it to clarifying the act of borrowing.

Look at this equation.


If we subtract these numbers in columns, without any deriving, manipulating, or expanding of the numbers (let’s go ‘old school’ for a moment), we immediately end up in a situation where we have to borrow. And how do we do that?


We can’t do 4-7, so we have to borrow 1 TEN from the Tens column, effectively breaking that decade unit into 10 ONEs. We add those to the 4 ONEs already in the Ones column. Now we have 14-7. But look at how we’ve notated that borrowing on paper. A new learner would look at that top number and lose it. That number now makes no sense. It was 234, now it’s 2214, which looks to me like Two Thousand, Two Hundred Fourteen.

But of course it isn’t actually. It’s 2 HUNDREDS + 2 TENS + 14 ONES.

So here’s my thinking. Let’s actually call it that. The original number was Two Hundred Thirty-four. Now it’s Two Hundred Twenty-fourteen.

TWENTYTWELVE.jpgYou know, as in Twenty-eight, Twenty-nine, Twenty-ten, Twenty-eleven, etc.

If we can say Ten Hundred, why can’t we say Twenty-fourteen?

Typically we abandon what the Minuend (the number we are subtracting from) is called (thereby losing the value) the moment we break it up to borrow. We hash it up, cross things out, write things in. It’s no longer an identifiable number. However, while we broke the rule about how many digits are allowed in a column, and put more than 9 ONEs into the Ones column, we can try to keep order and at least follow the rest of the rules by naming the new number logically.

Rather than jumping in to solve 14-7, I’ve read that it’s a good idea to do all the borrowing before any subtraction is actually done. So, let’s keep borrowing and move on to the Tens.

We can’t take 5 TENs from 2 TENs. We must borrow 1 HUNDRED, break it up into 10 TENs, add them to the 2 TENs already in the column, and get 12 TENs altogether.


Now, we’ve done all the borrowing we have to do, and the minuend is completely mangled. Any thoughts on what we could call this new number? What do we name 12 TENs sitting in the Tens column?


Seventy, Eighty, Ninety, Tenty, Eleventy, Twelvety!

Therefore, I propose the new number we are subtracting from is One Hundred Twelvety-Fourteen.

One Hundred minus One Hundred is Zero Hundreds (or No Hundred, if you read Part 2). Twelvety minus Fifty is Seventy. Fourteen minus Seven is Seven. So the ‘answer’ is Seventy Seven.GRAM3D

Without naming the new number and making the borrowing obvious, there is so much potential for confusion. Children don’t understand how the carried over numbers apply. They think that the number has suddenly increased in magnitude. They forget to cross things out…


But, do you see how, by naming borrowed numbers this way, we are following through with the properties of our number naming system, staying true to the Hundreds, Tens, and Ones structure of base-ten, using the name system to impose order and make what we did with the borrowing process obvious?


Would I exclusively name numbers this way. Absolutely not. That does no one any good. However, by renaming the minuend, we are playing with language. Kids love playing with language. By playing with the language, we are making our number system clearer, exposing rules that have been hidden due to linguistic laziness/pragmatism over time. A clearer sense of number in this gaming context makes the learning stick in a meaningful, more flexible and fluid way. And, when we learn any language, our goal is fluency. The language of math is no exception.




Grammithmatic Part 2

If you want to read Part 1 where I discuss the number words we have for the TEENS and TENS, click here.

SLOBSFor Part 2 of tackling number naming conventions, another issue that stands in the way of many students truly understanding the base 10 system is the role of the zero, and what we call it.

Zero is a quantity, a benchmark, and placeholder. All students learn what zero as a quantity. They connect 0 to the idea of having nothing very easily. They also catch on to the 0+n=n pretty fast; not just the idea of adding to ZERO but the formula itself, even at 8 years old. ZERO as nothing is easy.

As a benchmark, it’s iffy. It applies mostly to negative numbers which baffle teenagers sometimes. However, talks about rulers, scales, and centigrade thermometers can help students to at least see that we generally start counting from zero.

What is really tough is when it comes to place value, especially when borrowing and carrying in columnar adding, and regrouping when applying the distributive property. It’s overwhelming sometimes. And yet, without a ZERO, our number system is impossible. As such, it is imperative that students gain a strong understanding of how the ZERO works and what it means. Here’s a distracting link to Schoolhouse Rock you can show your class-but preview it first because you never know how people muck around with stuff.

So, how do we overcome some of this confusion?

Be aware the ZERO is there, and make sure students understand that it means something. When we have a number like 20, or 304, or even 2, the ZEROs go unmentioned, like they aren’t there; but they are, they have to be.

It’s not actually 20. It’s not even Two TENs. It’s Two TENs and ZERO ONEs.

It’s not 304. It’s Three HUNDRED and ZERO TENs and Four ONEs.

The simple act of explicitly bringing the ZERO to a student’s attention, and giving a name to the position of the ZERO makes place value much more obvious.infinite

Think of that ZERO as an empty box. Whenever we see a ZERO, there is a place we can put another number. We don’t think about it because we don’t say it (it takes too long to do such a thing practically, but for educational purposes…). If you think about it, even 2 has ZEROs. There are infinite ZEROs both before and after that 2, but for brevity and clarity’s sake we don’t mention them.

What’s important to understand is that empty boxes can be filled. You have experienced children who write 198, 199, 200, followed by 2001, 2002. This is because they have misunderstood that the ZEROs are placeholders for numbers that can be added to the HUNDREDs. They think that the ’00’ works like a plural S or some kind of suffix. It must be made clear that the first 0 after the HUNDRED is for any TENs that might come along, and the next ZERO is for any ONEs. What’s 202nice is the 0 looks like a cozy little container you can put stuff in.Again, labelling the ZEROs with their place value will support this understanding.

Here we have 200…Two HUNDRED and ZERO TENs and ZERO ONEs. Over here we have Two ONEs. I’m going to add those ONEs in the empty ONEs container  of 200 to make Two HUNDREDS and ZERO TENs and Two ONES.

I have Given ZERO a name. I know, ZERO is its name. So is nil, and cipher, and nought. But that’s not what I mean. If you think about 3, it can be THREE, it can be THIRteen, it can be THIRty, or THREE HUNDRED. And each name for 3 implies it’s location in the place value system (again, follow the link to Part 1 to see how to make this explicit). Well, I think we should do the same for ZERO.

So, we have the number 0 alone, and that is called ZERO.

What about for 10? First, we break 10 down and say it is One TEN and Zero ONEs. Then, when that is understood, or maybe in order to make sure it’s understood, we take things a step further, and name it One TEN None.

Did you see what I did there? To clarify, 21 is Two TENs ONE. Therefore, 10 is One TEN None. The TENS are no longer seen solely as large collections of ONES. By naming the empty ONEs column we make the students aware that that number is there, it has a purpose and a value even if its value is nothing.

If you keep this going, we have Twenty-NoneTwenty-One, Twenty-Two….
We have Fifty-None, Fifty-One, Fifty-Two….

Next, 300 becomes Three HUNDRED, Empty-None. Get it? Fifty=Five TENS, Thirty=Three TENS, Empty=No TENS! (I’ve also toyed with Nonety or Nunty, but that might get confused too easily with Ninety. I’m still experimenting.) The point is, by naming the ZEROs, we emphasize the value of each part of the number as well as the ZERO’s placeholder role. This should prevent numbers like 60024 when writing about how many kids go to our school

Let’s do 2045? Two THOUSAND, NoHUNDRED, Forty-Five. Or perhaps you prefer None HUNDRED?

This can go on, but once we’re in the thousands, the irregularities of naming just repeat themselves. We, as a culture, haven’t used large numbers enough for the language to evolve shortened, lazier forms of big number names. How would you say 3 000 000?

Three Million, NoHundred Empty-None Thousand, NoHundred Empty-None.

Finally, I’ll give you a challenge that one of my students gave me. How would you write the number Empty-Six in numerals?

Like this.


I’m pretty impressed that he understands that whole infinite ZERO thing, and I see this insight of his as proof that this idea of naming the ZEROs has some real legs. Let me know how it works for you if you try it, and tell me about any confusions or issues that popped up that I haven’t experienced yet.

Grammithmatic Part 1

HELLOI have come across a number of factors that stand in the way of children understanding our number system. One issue is our language (English, if you haven’t noticed yet), and the way we name numbers. Number names aren’t always logical, and can confuse many of our students. Here are some ideas to mitigate language confusion for those struggling to gain number sense and understand our base 10 system, and to enrich understanding for those who “get it,” but can go deeper.

You will likely have come across the fact that in some language families, such as Chinese and Algonquin, number names actually describe the number structure. Take 24 for example. In English it’s “twenty-four,” whereas these other languages say the equivalent of two-tens-and-four. The unitizing of TENS and the addition of ONES are plainly obvious. The very act of learning number words in these languages teaches the number system.

So, in my class, I make the language we use equally explicit. Here is how.

What is 10? In our system, TEN can be a series of or a pile of single ONES. It can also be a single unit that contains 10 ONES. I make the comparison between 10 pennies and a dime, or eating 10 cookies one at a time versus buying 1 bag of 10 cookies. I talk about having 10 birthdays and being 10 years old. This comes up when we are practicing skip counting, growing patterns, and working with money. Students must have a strong sense of TENness before they can understand base 10 and place value.

blackboardAfter 10, we have 20. While not as explicit as in Chinese, the word TWENTY has clues to how many it stands for. TW- comes from TWO. -TY implies ten. So TWENTY is Two TEN. We build on that. As a class, we look at THIRTY to see if there are any clues to how many it is. Then we look at FORTY, FIFTY, etc. Don’t forget to look at the words in relation to the numerals. To make it even clearer, I will list all the 10s that make the number in a column, and add them together in a sum below, counting the number of TENS, One TEN, Two TENS, Three TENS, that makes THIREE-TENS, or 30.

Now do 10s with 1s. Twenty-One means Two TENS and One ONE. Fifty-Four means Five-TENS and Four ONES. This ties nicely into columnar adding without carrying. Count the TENS, count the ONES, relate how many of each you counted to the final sum and the structure of that number’s name and numerals.

Now we look at the teens. There are several issues with the teens. One issue is that they use a different suffix to imply a group of ten.The language of the teens has very little in the way of a pattern to latch on to. You might have noticed children who can count by ones in the 20s, 30s, and higher, but still struggle to say what comes after 11. So, it is important to make TEEN explicitly understood as One TEN, and when we count by tens we are really counting One TEN, Two TENs, Three TENs, and so on.

What’s worse, ELEVEN gives no clue to how many it is. Neither does TWELVE. So we have to look at the numerals 11 and 12, and question why it is that we don’t say TEEN for these numbers, even though they have the same numerical structure. The numbers really should be said as ONEteen and TWOteen.

Notice for 20 we say the TENS first, then we say the ONES. However, when we use the TEENS, we say the ONES first, then the TEN. Many children reverse their numbers because of this. If the language of our number system was a little more logical, we might say Teen-eight, Teen-nine, Twenty. Or better yet, we could say Onety-Four, Twenty-Four, Thirty-Four. So, in my class, I actually do use this language. Not always, and not exclusively, but I do use it.nineteen

What’s Ten plus Nine? It’s Ten and Nine more. It’s Teen-Nine. But because we have crazy English, it’s Nine-Teen.

This discussion of the language makes students meta-aware of the structure of our numbers and how they express those numbers.

I use conventional language and the invented naming interchangeably. You might be worried that this would cause students problems in the future, with accountants who can’t be understood because they learned how to count from crazy Mister Reed. But this isn’t the case. The predominant convention will dominate. Making the exceptions of our naming system explicit, we create a stronger understanding of the rules, and create connections between the names, numerals, and quantities which creates deeper understanding of number.

Click here for Part 2, naming the ZERO

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