Ways to Make Math Fun and Engaging
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
I am fortunate to work with a group of students that can pick up, master, and understand mathematical concepts rather quickly. While this may sound good to most teachers, it also requires some serious plans of differentiation and work beyond drill and kill practice. This can be extremely time consuming, but I must admit that it has really helped make teaching more fun and meaningful.
In this post I would like to share our Family Math Night Plans, small math group plans and organization, and math resources that rock.
Pictured: Combining math formulas, science, and reading, students create a student-centered Family Math Night activity sure to please the masses.
Family Math Night
Most schools host some sort of Family Math Night. In one week, our school will be hosting one from 5:30 to 7:00. I wanted to try out something that was created and run by the students. I also thought it would be nice to have something students and family members could take away. Bug-A-Licious was born. Here's the basic information, should you be interested in trying something like this at your school. These directions have a home project in mind, but I believe they are easily adaptable to a school setting (fewer funds to purchase materials):
1. Allow students to brainstorm different ways an insect could be created using snack items.
2. Discuss how you can create cookbook-like directions with a twist. This might include terminology that incorporates geometry or algebra.
Example: Instead of saying three pretzels are needed, the directions could call for the square root of nine or (2 x 3) – (6 – 3) number of pretzels.
3. Create guidelines/a rubric to help students write out directions for making their edible insects. Within the guidelines you can ask parents to donate materials for Family Math Night. I also included a sample set of directions for an insect I created.
4. When students bring in their insect and directions, take a photo of each child with his or her creation. This photo will serve two purposes. First, it will become your visual answer key for those attending Family Math Night. Second, it can be turned into a class "bug" cookbook.
5. Ask a parent to type up insect recipes that include photos into a cookbook styled page. With a binding machine, send home a class bug cookbook for all to enjoy!
We created a quirky "infomercial" to advertise our booth on morning announcements. We used a green screen and CrazyTalk to incorporate unique bug backgrounds and talking insects voiced by our class.
Pictured: a snail, a butterfly, and one student's math directions typed up.
Small Group Math Rotations
I have written about using this format to teach math before, but now I can write about the benefits I am seeing in our classroom. At the start of the year, I would have never thought it was possible to cover and address as much as we have. I firmly believe we covered what we did because I steered away from a textbook and simply taught what I saw needed teaching.
So, here is how we have laid out our math schedule:
1. One hour block each day (before lunch so parents that help can eat with their children afterwards). Here is an example of one of our whole group math lessons:
Students addressed probability through the rolling of dice. Were some number combinations more likely to come up than others? What were the odds? After taking dice, rolling them, recording numbers, and creating graph charts, we turned this into statistical information of percents per number combination. It was a lot of fun, very educational, and so not textbook-like.
2. Monday through Wednesday we often work in a whole group setting, often utilizing hands-on materials and resources. Most of the time, this material is new for students to prevent my highest achieving group from not being challenged.
3. Thursday and Friday we complete three twenty-minute math group rotations. I can simply look at an assessment given that week to create flexible groups based on need. More often than not, I find myself in our school's science lab. We try to connect our math to science on a near weekly basis. This includes investigating various measuring devices and completing experiments such as density testing.
4. On Thursdays and Fridays I utilize four parents. They assist with reviewing skills, games, and drill practice. I focus on introducing new skills and concepts to students, with little fear of graded assignments. These sessions often feel like study or tutoring sessions. I believe taking the stress away while working in a small setting allows students to be open with their needs in math.
5. If we are missing a parent, students utilize IXL.com for individual math practice. Our needs, like those of many classrooms, vary greatly. I have several students who are working under the 6th grade links, while many others are under the 4th. If you are not able to bring in any parent help, I would consider the following rotations: work with teacher, independent practice, and a computer or game station.
I wouldn't go back to the traditional way of teaching math at this point. I highly recommend you try this out, or share your insights, if you have tried it out. When you stop and realize you are working with a group on multiplying, adding, subtracting, and dividing negative and positive integers (in the third grade), you feel like you are making a difference. I don't think I honestly realized how I was, in essence, leaving my brightest and highest achieving math students behind by forcing them to stay on track with everyone else (even when I differed their assignment under the same topic).
Awesome Math Resources
IXL: I mentioned IXL.com. This is an online math practice site for students. Our school purchased a site license, and I am surprised to see how much my students enjoy practicing math problems online. That's almost too hard to believe, but the reason they keep on practicing seems to be for small online rewards. This includes medals, certificates (e.g., "You have answered 1,000 questions"), and items on a grid (a monkey or octopus). Utilizing the results from our last ThinkLink testing, students have been assigned to practice specific sets of skills. Results are available for teachers at any time, but they are also sent to parents once a week automatically. I think this a wonderful tool for addressing specific needs in the classroom.
Project M3 by Kathy Gavin: I will be utilizing Kathy Gavin's data unit shortly, and I have experience using her place value/number sense unit at the beginning of the year. My students still talk about this unit with great excitement. It is much more interesting to learn about place value by investigating the Chinese numeral system, ancient Egypt, and mystery number systems from a distant land (base three instead of our base ten system). This is worth looking into, even though it is geared for gifted and high achieving students.
Navigations Series: Scholastic Teacher Advisor, Stacey Burt, said this provides the best bang for your buck. It is published through the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). I will be utilizing many components in the series for my classroom lessons.
Singapore Math: This seems to be all the rage, and I must admit that I like it as well. I often enjoy using elements from Singapore Math as it seems to take a twist on typical skills and requires students to think above and beyond the formula of "how to" solve.
What math resources do you use that you can't live without? I'd love to hear! I have access to all of the major math textbooks on the market (provided as a resource).