Promoting Thinking Tasks with VNPS Tools

"I tweeted this out later as truly it was the best hour with first graders for me. So much perseverance, so much thinking, so much fun."


As we wrapped up our book study of Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms, and in my role as TOSA (teacher on special assignment) I do not have a classroom of my own, I asked one of our first-grade teachers if I may facilitate a thinking task using vertical whiteboards with her students.


To supplement the teachers’ classrooms with more whiteboard space, I reached out to Wipebook for durable dry-erase chart paper surfaces (with grids on one side!). The reusable Flipcharts they sent were the perfect tool to use over her glass doors and windows! Can easily be removed and reused as many times as you want! The best eco-friendly solution to reduce paper waste. Our district has also purchased whiteboard easels with adjustable heights. 


Students working on Flipcharts around the room


The teacher already had her groups paired up with their “thinking partners.” Each whiteboard space was labeled such as “Blue 1 and 2” so the students knew where they would be working.


We had the students sitting on the carpet area to launch the task. I taped this flower image on the board and asked them how many circles they saw. They said seven.

Flower diagram used for math lesson


Then, I counted out along with them seven sticky notes, marked from 1 to 7. This Flower Petal Puzzles thinking task is from Dan Finkel, founder of Math for Love. The intent of the task was for students to write the numbers inside the circles/petals and to keep track of numbers they have used by crossing them off at the bottom of the page. Dan also suggested using counters. However, I wanted the students to do these vertically, so counters would not work and writing numbers in and erasing them is challenging and cumbersome, especially for young students. The use of sticky notes was really key in helping students stay focused on the task because it was easy to swap out numbers and keep their brains moving.


example of sticky notes being used


I called up one student at a time to place a numbered sticky note into an empty petal without further instruction or stating what the goal was. When there was only one space left, I said it was my turn and placed the number in. I wish I had taken a picture of the board at this point. But since I didn’t, below is a picture of the flower with randomly placed numbers.  I then told them these three petals are connected and asked them for the sum and wrote the equation.


Example from math problem


We found the sum of the other two groups.


Solution to math example


It was not until then that I told them the challenge of the task was to have all three sums be the same. And that the sum is 10. So off they went with their thinking partners to their whiteboards! 


Sure enough one pair got the solution within 5 minutes, and we asked them to keep their equations (not erase them), and to do the next challenge which was to get a sum of 12 for all three equations. Some time later, all of the groups except for two got the 10 puzzle. We came over and applauded them for their perseverance and asked if they would like a clue. They nodded and we let them know to place the number 1 at the center of the flower.


I tweeted this out later as truly it was the best hour with first graders for me. So much perseverance, so much thinking, so much fun. The groups were in different stages (finding sums of 10, 12, and 14), and two groups ended the hour working on the “ultimate challenge” of creating their own puzzle using a 9-petaled flower.  




Fawn Nguyen, TOSA, Rio School District


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