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Exactly 20

This past week brought with it all sorts of conversations about the CCSS:  there were grade level conversations, discussions that spanned K- 8 articulation, a district leadership conversation, and content-specific conversations.  We had chats about the depth of knowledge and how it relates to instruction, several work sessions across grades 2 and 3 focused on number and operations in base 10 and another work session focused on the grade 8 Domain of Functions. We had conversations that explored the best way to share information with the community at large, discussions about how we might go about adjusting homework so as to include families in their children’s learning, and opportunities to try out tasks that had us exploring how we can begin to adjust our practice so that kids are taking charge of and responsibility for their learning.

One of the conversations had a group of grade 2 teachers exploring a task that asks kids to reason, explore and use computation strategies, as they build fluency of addition facts, on their way to automaticity.

We call the game Exactly 20.

Here is how our version works.  (I am sure there are lots of variations and versions out there.)

Goal of the game:  to be the player who, for each hand of the game, creates a sum that is exactly 20 (or closest to 20 without going over) so that at the end of the game you have the lowest score

The mathematics:  using strategies to build fluency; creating viable arguments

The Materials:  1 deck of cards.  We only use the cards Ace -9 and we need 4 sets of Ace – 9.  The ace is worth one, and all of the other cards 2 through 9 are worth their face value.  Depending on what your students need, you can use either regular decks of cards or decks of ten frames. Your materials selection depends on what scaffolding and support your kids need in order to play and be in the conversation.  As we all know, if children are not participating in the conversation, they are not learning.

1-9 for 20

10 frames for exactly 20

Directions:  Kids play in pairs.  Set the deck face down on the table.

back of deck

Each player gets 4 cards.

Player 1 has these four cards.

player 1.4cards

Player 2 has these four cards.  Remember, the ace is 1.

player 2.4 cards

Now, each player selects the 3 cards that he/she likes the best (that means the 3 cards whose sum is exactly 20 or closest to 20 without going over).  The fourth card is discarded.

Player 1 keeps the 8, the 2, and the 9.

player 1.3 cards

Player 2 keeps the 9, the 1 (ace), and the 8.

player 2.3 cards

After setting down the set of 3 cards he/she is keeping, each player states the sum and explains how the sum was determined.  This is a great place to use sentence frames.

Player 1 might say, “My sum is 19.  8 + 2 make 10 and 9 more is 19.”

Player 2 might say, “My sum is 18.  9 + 1 is 10 and 8 more is 18.”

The players then write their equations on the record sheet.


Next, the players must figure out how many points they each earned in round 1.  The number of points each player earns is determined by figuring out how close the sum of each set of 3 cards is to 20.  Player 1’s score is one because the sum of the 3 cards is 19, and 19 is one away from 20.  Player 2’s score is two because the sum of the 3 cards is 18 and 18 is 2 away from 20.  After round 1, Player 1 has 1 point and Player 2 has 2 points. The scores for round 1 are written on the record sheet.

The cards from round 1 are put in the discard pile with the cards that were discarded at the beginning of the hand.

Each player takes 4 more cards and play another round.   This is repeated until all 7 rounds have been played.  The player with the lowest score at the end of the 7 hands of play wins.

Hope you enjoy playing Exactly 20 with your kids.


September 9th would have been my auntie’s 103rd birthday.  This is the first time we celebrated her birthday without her.

Dorothy was the most amazing woman.  She taught 6th grade for 40 years in the Great Neck  School District on Long Island, and still got birthday and Christmas cards from students.  She and her sister travelled to every continent, except Antarctica.  That was not by their choice, but at the time, only scientific teams were allowed.  Her favorite trip was their trip to the Amazon.  She said that she was disappointed that they had to cut their trip short, but it was time to go back home to get ready for the school year. They only made it half-way before they had to turn back.

Generous, principled, full of conviction, liked a bit of scotch now and then, made great empanadas and Apple Dapple cake, generous, faithful, loving, strong beyond belief (survived a fall head-first down the stairs in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland), kind, dedicated, intelligent, passionate about kids and learning, an amazing teacher.

Think about what she saw in her lifetime: men on the moon, an email account, penicillin, cell phones, polio vaccine, microwaves, digital cameras, iPods and iPads, cars and freeways, the Concorde, Elvis, the Beatles, Woodstock, Civil Rights Act, women voting, Title IX,  the air raids in London, 4 generations of our family gathered in one place, rock ‘n roll, her photograph displayed in an exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC…

Happy Birthday, Dode.

The Red Lantern

At first thought, it seemed like a brilliant idea to add a few sentences to what Seth Godin wrote about this morning; pointing out how what he says links so nicely to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice (particularly Standard #1).  Then I realized, that was just a really silly idea.  What he says is so beautiful, so heart-wrenching and true, so kid-focused that you should go ahead and read it and think your own thoughts.

Happy Thursday!!

Below is a direct excerpt from marketing genius, Seth Godin: (read the original post here)

The Red Lantern

At the grueling Iditarod, there’s a prize for the musher who finishes last: The Red Lantern.

Failing to finish earns you nothing, of course. But for the one who sticks it out, who arrives hours late, there’s the respect that comes from finding the strength to make it, even when all seems helpless.

Most parents (and most bosses) agree that this sort of dedication is a huge asset in life. And yet, as we head back for another year of school, I can’t help but notice that schools do nothing at all to encourage it.

The coach of the soccer team doesn’t reward the players who try the hardest, push themselves or put in the hours. He rewards the best players, by playing them.

The director of the school play puts the same kids in leading roles year after year. After all, the reasoning goes, we need to have tryouts and reward the best performers, just like they do in real life.

But school isn’t real life. School is about learning how to succeed in real life.

Natural talent is rewarded early and often. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, most of the players in the NHL have birthdays in a three month window, because when you’re 8 years old, being six months older is a huge advantage. Those kids, the skaters with good astrological signs, or possibly those performers with the genetic singing advantage–those are the kids that get the coaching and the applause and the playing time. Unearned advantages, multiplied.

If we’re serious about building the habits of success, tracking is precisely the wrong approach. Talent (born with or born without) is not your fault, is not a choice, is not something we ought to give you much credit or blame for.

How do we celebrate the Red Lantern winners instead?

 – – –

Give me just a second

just a second

Steve Jenkins’ picture book, Just a Second-a different way to look at time, is full of fascinating notions, ideas, and facts about time.  I happened to run across the book about a year ago, and listed it on my Amazon wish list, and forgot about it until last week.  I was looking for a resource and as a last resort, checked my wish list–and there was the book.  With the magic that is Amazon, I ordered it up and it was waiting for me when I got home from my latest trip yesterday morning.

The boys in my house are watching a movie I am not interested in, so I spent some time with the book this evening.  It’s fabulous.

Did you know-all facts straight from the book:

  • The Babylonians are the ones who came up with the idea of the second – about 4000 years ago
  • The second is not related to any cycle in nature – it’s totally a human invention
  • A howler monkey’s deafening scream can travel 1,125 feet in one second
  • A minute is based on a Babylonian counting system and was in use thousands of years ago

This is a great book to read with kids.  The illustrations are really nice, all labeled with captions that are interesting, in terms of the information they contain and in the language used.  The pages are loaded with lots of ideas to talk about with kids; they are phenomenal conversation starters.  Certainly lots to be curious about.

Have fun conversing with kids!