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What's Your Magic Number?

Math instruction has come a long way since the timed drills, flash cards, and memorization of facts of my childhood.  Sadly, many children did not have a true understanding of the underlying math and number concepts, only the ability to repeat the procedures or memorize facts.  They appeared to learn math, but in reality, did not have a deep understanding of number and number relationships.

Well, not anymore!  We know so much about how kids learn and understand math now and are so much better at teaching math developmentally!   Here are a couple of my favorite math authors:

So, what about that magic number?  If you ask any first grader at my school, they would proudly tell you their magic number.  Briefly, it is the highest number they can compose and decompose quickly without counting.  That means knowing and understanding number and number relationships (to 10).
Really KNOWING, not just memorizing.
Knowing that a group of 5 is 5 no matter the configuration, recognizing a group of 5 in a larger group, being able to recognize the parts of 5, even with one part missing.

Now, how do we get them there?
Well, in the beginning of the year, we really dive into number concepts - counting and grouping and  subitizing, oh my!  We really work on that Magic Number a little later in the year, around December or January.

I start by assessing which numbers the kids already know.  This is an individual assessment from Kathy Richardson (see pic/link above).  You show the student a given number of counters, then hide some under your hand.  The student should look at the remaining counters and tell you how many are hiding.  They should do this fairly quickly without having to count.  Do this with all the combinations of the number.
Then, when I know what numbers they have really well and which number they almost have , but not quite - that's where we start.  The kids practice composing, decomposing, and finding the missing parts of their number. For example, if the number the student is working on is 5, then he will only work with 5 of the same manipulative..  He will work to find all the combinations of 5 either by separating the manipulatives into parts or having a partner show one part and determining the missing part.

I love the activities we use to do this!  Here are a few examples and their sources:

I saw these adorable math mats at

I laminated each mat and placed it with the necessary manipulatives into a labeled zip loc bag.  Then the kids grab a bag labeled with the number they should be working on and head to their work space to get started.  Students record the combinations on recording sheets (early on), scrap paper, or dry erase boards.
Real birthday candles in a little 'gift' box
Plastic bugs!
Pasta shells, but real shells would be great
Pompom 'cherries' on top!
A ladybug shake and spill mat:

 Get the freebie HERE.

Here is another great magic number activity from Kindergarten Crayons:

 I was inspired by these:

 to make these:
(I don't know why this silly picture is still upside down, but I'm tired of trying to fix it.)

I love these missing number cards from Kindergarten Rhode.  And they were so easy to make!

There are really too many ideas to post here - check out my Magic Number Pinterest board for lots of wonderful ideas from other teachers!

And lastly, I'm late to the party, but I linked up anyway!  I love looking at other teachers' classrooms so I linked up here for International Blog Hopping Day!  (It's linked to my previous post about my class.)  Go check out the fun!

There's No Place Like Home
And go check out all the other freebies out there!
Freebie Fridays

Have a wonderful Friday!  (Although everyday is Saturday in the summertime:)



  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I have given you an award! Stop by to get it!
    Fun in 1st Grade

  2. I just found your blog & I'm your newest follower!! Thank you for sharing such great ideas with math instruction. I look forward to following along! I love finding fellow first grade teacher bloggers! :)
    Learning Is Something to Treasure

    1. Thank you so much! It is so nice to get positive feedback.
      I just became your newest follower and entered your fun giveaway! Of course, that led me to a bunch of new (to me) blogs - I'll be up all night:)

  3. Thank you for the freebie! I am your newest follower. Please follow my blog so that we can share ideas.
    Mrs. Janelle

    1. You're welcome and thanks for following! I'm heading over to your blog right now!

  4. Thank you for the freebie. I'm your newest follower thanks to TBA linky!!

  5. I'm in Virginia at a Title I school too! I loved your math mat ideas using the real manipulatives. I'm definitely wanting to make some for my second graders this year. Out of curiosity, what did you use for the pig?

    1. Heather,
      Good to hear from another VA teacher!
      I used real pennies for the pig and acorns for the tree (the acorns tend to fall apart and need to be replaced frequently so stock up in the fall:) Our math kits also have some cute manipulatives - the bugs, frogs that I use with a pond mat, and fruit that I use with the tree mat. Once you get started, it's addictive and the kids LOVE it. But, the birthday cake with the candles was by far the favorite.

    2. Gah! Piggy bank! I don't know why I couldn't think of that. Apparently I was hungry because all I could imagine was bacon. I agree that the birthday candles will be a great hit. I have tons of manipulatives, so I can do the mats easily. I think I'll make up some task cards for differentiation, some kids definitely still needing to work on making ten combos, but then others ready to move upward and onward to bigger numbers. Exciting stuff!

  6. I just shared the Van de Walle plate activity yesterday!

    I have made some of the missing number cards with ten frames and will be sharing some soon. =)

    I am happy to be your newest follower. Thank you so much for having my blog on your blog roll. I am honored! =) If you get the chance, I would love for you to follow me back. =)

    Heather's Heart

    1. I love Van de Walle! I still have my college text book from 1995 all highlighted and dogeared - and I use it all the time. Unfortunately, he did not teach the section of math that I took, but he designed the class so I think it was a good one!

      And I have been your follower for quite some time:)


  7. I thought you were too! When I glanced at your blog list on your profile page I was gone. Blogger can be wonkers at times. I would love for you to follow me again. =)

    Did you get the Pete activity I sent?

    Heather's Heart

    1. I am just back from the beach where I had limited internet access, so I'm just catching up! I did get the Pete activity and THANK YOU! I'm so glad you mentioned it because it was in the SPAM folder:/

      I'm not sure what happened with the following situation- I clicked on Follow and had to sign in to google again. But it is straight now and I'm headed back over to read about your dot plates!

      Thanks so much for following and sharing!!