Mia Buljan describes her rationale for approaching math “mentor problems” with the literacy idea of a “mentor text.” She uses a student’s name, and something that student is interested in (stickers!), to structure a problem that she and the students can return to multiple times as the school year unfolds.

Mia notes that she leaves out the numbers so that she can replace the numbers over time with different quantities.

2nd grade math - addition & subtraction word problems with unknowns*Mia Buljan, Glassbrook Elementary School, Hayward Unified School District, Hayward, California*

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Leaving blanks in the problem also lets me differentiate on the fly. Scaling the numbers up or down creates challenge or access, respectively.

For a student who isn’t getting any traction into the problem, I have found that just changing the numbers is enough for them to start making sense for themselves without me having to intervene. So in terms of the students’ trajectory of learning, if I give the class the numbers 23 and 45 I’m looking to see if they are building in 10s and 1s and then putting 10s with 10s and 1s with 1s. I can get at the same information (i.e., are they doing it?) by giving a student 13 and 15 or 23 and 15. If I give the class the numbers 46 and 27 I’m looking to see if they are noticing that they have so many ones that they can make another ten. I can get at that same information with a student by scaling the problem down to 16 and 17.