Ideas for Keeping the Math Fresh in Students’ Minds

The end of the year is often a time for reviewing the math learned throughout the year, whether to prepare for state tests, final exams or cumulative projects, or just to fill the days after testing is done.  However, I have come to see how important it is to review all year long and not just wait until the end.

My first year teaching, my students seemed very receptive to my lessons, seemed to grasp the concepts, and did well on the tests I gave them after each chapter.  However, I was surprised and disappointed in the standardized test scores of some of my best students.  I realized that the problem was that once we finished a chapter and moved on to the next chapter, they never saw the material from that first chapter again and so by the time standardized tests came around they had forgotten some of the things that they used to know really well.  I learned from that experience and have since incorporated various ways to keep the math fresh throughout the year:

keeping math fresh

  • I know different teachers have different opinions on calculator usage, but my personal feeling is that once students prove that they can do something by hand, I allow them to use calculators so that they aren’t spending too much time on the computational aspect of a complex problem. However, I don’t want them to forget how to do problems by hand, so once a week I give them a “no calculator review” in place of my traditional “do now” questions.  They usually cover topics like fraction, decimal, integer, & rational number operations.  (You can read more about my No Calculator Reviews in this post).
  • After each chapter test, I give my students a cumulative review that I count as a quiz grade. It covers things from all previous units that we covered.  Students know that the cumulative quiz is coming so they know that they can’t just forget the material after they learn it.  Sometimes I allow students to use their notes for the cumulative quiz or give it as a take-home quiz, but most of the time I give it as a traditional quiz.  Not only does this encourage students to (hopefully) retain the math they are learning, but it shows me if there are particular concepts that a lot of students seem to have forgotten that I may need to revisit.
  • This is, in my opinion, the most important strategy. I give my students problems and ask them questions that require them to use skills learned previously in the year.  It is so important for students to see connections between the different units they learn, so any time I can incorporate an “old” skill/concept into a “new” one is a win in my book!  Here’s an example of a task card I made for a lesson on finding the area & perimeter of irregular figures that requires students to use previously learned skills:

irregular figure

To find the perimeter students need to use the Pythagorean Theorem and to find the area & perimeter students need to perform operations with mixed numbers, so this one problem reinforces a couple of different skills learned throughout the year.  Giving students lots of problems like this makes it virtually impossible for them to forget the math they learned earlier in the year since they are constantly using it.


I hope this gave you some ideas for helping students keep the math fresh!  If you are looking for ways to keep it fresh over summer break or just need a good end of year review packet, I have math review packets for students going from 5th to 6th grade, 6th to 7th grade, 7th to 8th grade, and pre-algebra to algebra I in my tpt store for $4 each.    Each packet contains detailed explanations of how to do the various types of problems, worked-out examples (showing each step), and 100 practice problems.  Click the pictures below for more information on each packet.

Slide1 math review packet new cover math review packet for 7th-8th grade pic1 Slide1


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Helping Students See Their Strengths in Math

Well, it’s here.  The official turning point in the year when students and teachers (whether they admit it or not) turn their thoughts to summer.  That’s not to say that teachers are done teaching or students are done learning…but middle schoolers – especially 8th graders – come back from spring break ready for summer.

So i figured I’d share an end of year idea I had for my classes in case anyone reading this is thinking about those last days of school, too. 🙂

We’ve all had kids in our class that have shown tremendous growth over the course of the year.  We’ve all had kids who come in for extra help because they really want to understand.  Then there are the kids who are always helping their classmates who are confused, the ones who always pay attention in class, complete their homework, etc.

The problem I’ve always had is that for my school award ceremony I am required to pick 2 students from my math class to receive an award: one is the student with the highest average and the other is for a student who displayed great effort.  The issue is that there are often multiple students who I feel are deserving of the effort award but I’m only able to pick 1.

math awards pic3

This is such a common sense idea that I honestly don’t know how I haven’t thought to do this before…but I decided to do my own certificates in addition to the school awards.  This way I can recognize multiple deserving students.  In fact, I challenged myself to come up with a strength to recognize in each of my students so I can give every student an award.  I think that it is important for every student, especially the ones who believe that they are “bad at math”, to realize that they have potential, a skill, or talent, that can help them be successful in math.

I made awards for completing homework, participating in class, persisting in solving difficult problems, consistent effort, excellence in Algebraic thinking, outstanding critical thinking, excellence in graphing, good mental math skills, excellent overall achievement,…and many more (31 in all!).  I gave them all cute alliteration names, too, to make them more fun! 😉

math awards pic1

I want to show my students that I appreciate their hard work and effort. More importantly, though, I really hope this helps my students build confidence in their math skills and helps them see the strengths that I see in them.

If you like this idea but don’t want to make your own awards, you can purchase my math awards for $4 in my TpT store.  They are in editable PowerPoint form so you can type in names, and PDF form if you prefer to hand write the names.  I also included both color and black & white versions so there are options for everyone.   


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A Creative Approach to Grouping in the Middle School Math Classroom

I am a HUGE fan of group work!  I love having students work together in my math classes for practice work, problem solving, review games, etc.  Occasionally I allow my students to pick their own groups, but more often than not I assign them because:

  • No students are ever left out or the last one picked when I assign them
  • I can make sure the groups are either mixed ability levels or homogenous (whatever I need for a particular class period)

I pick new groups every time we do group work because I think it’s important for the students to be able to work successfully with different people and I don’t want students “stuck” with the same people every time.  I have done different things in the past to pick random groups such as having the students count off or handing them playing cards as they walk in the room.  I also have deliberately placed students in groups.  But I was looking for a way to mix things up…

…so I have come up with the following solution:  As the students come into the classroom I will hand them a card with a math problem they need to solve (relating to what they are learning).  This problem will be in place of the typical do now problems I give them on Socrative.  Once they solve the problem, they will need to find the table labeled with the answer to their card, and sit there.  (3 other students’ cards will have that same answer), so those 4 students will be a group for the day.   (I will be walking around to assist any students who struggle with their problem).|matching task cards for grouping pic1

I am pretty excited to try this and can think of a bunch of different ways to change this up.  I could have the groups be completely random by just giving each student a random card, or I can make the “random” groups fit my needs based on ability level (without the students even realizing it) by grouping the cards based on difficulty level and giving each student a card from the group that is appropriate for them.  [If I want mixed ability level groups, the 4 cards with matching answers will be 4 different difficulty levels;  If I want homogenous groups, the 4 cards with matching answers will be the same difficulty level.]

Obviously this will require a bit of prep time in advance (since I have to come up with the questions), but I plan to laminate the cards and use them every year.  I can also re-use them as a card-sorting center activity, as task cards, game cards, etc., so I think that it is worth the initial time investment.  (There are soo many different ways that I can use and re-use the cards!!)

I made my first set of these cards on one-step equations and have them set up to create mixed-ability level groups.  I color coded the cards by difficulty level – yellow include only whole numbers, blue include integers, green include fractions, and red include decimals.  As the students walk in the class, I will give the students who struggle with one-step equations yellow cards, and the students who need more of a challenge green or red.  The groups will end up with one of each color card, giving me random, but “equal” mixed-ability level groups.| matching task cards for grouping pic2

You can grab this set of 32 matching task cards (to form up to 8 groups of 4) on one-step equations FREE by clicking the download links below.  (I included the color-coded cards and the same cards in black and white…feel free to download and use whichever version you prefer).

match task cards bw

Click the picture above to download the 32 matching cards in black & white (FREE)

match task cards color

Click the picture above to download the 32 matching cards in color (FREE)

Do you have any other ideas of how to use these matching cards?  Please leave me a comment with your thoughts!!

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Daily Warm-ups for the 1:1 Classroom

One of the things that is new to me this school year is that my classes are now 1:1, as each of my students has their own chromebook.  I love the fact that I have that technology available to me and there are lots of different things that I have students do online, but my absolute favorite use of the chromebooks is for my daily warm-ups (do nows).

I have always started my math classes each day with “do now” questions.  For my do now’s I typically give students two questions based on the lesson from the day before.  I do this for a couple of reasons:

  1. It settles the kids down when they first come into class and gives them something to do right away
  2. It shows me who understood the lesson from the day before (since I don’t actually collect their homework)
  3. It shows the students whether or not they actually understood the previous day’s lesson.  (They may have thought they understood it but if they get the questions wrong they might realize they need to go back and study it again)

There were two problems with the way I used to do my do now’s (on old-fashioned paper and pencil), though.

  • It was very time consuming to grade two questions per day per student (I teach about 100 students)
  • I didn’t actually know who understood the previous day’s lesson until I graded the do now’s

So….this year I started using Socrative, which I absolutely love!!!!  Setting up an account was simple (and FREE).  I use my own name as a room name, so students just type in my name to get to their do now’s each day when they get to this login screen.

socrative student login screen


I still just use two questions per day.  I type the questions and answers the night before (which takes minimal time) and at the start of class I just hit “start quiz” on my teacher Socrative dashboard.  Students are prompted to enter their name.  I have them enter their last names first so that they are automatically sorted alphabetically and I can later transfer their grades into my gradebook very quickly.  They are then taken to the first question.  They will see something like this:

student question screen


I sometimes do multiple choice questions, but typically do short answer questions.  They do the problem on scrap paper (or in their notebook) and just type their answer.  They get automatic feedback on whether they were right or wrong.  When I make the warm-ups, I also put in explanations, so when students get a question wrong, they see something like this:

incorrect answer screen


This saves me time!  I do not need to explain how to do the problems after the warm-up because each student can see the explanation for themselves.

After the first question, the second question comes up, they answer that, and then they logout.  It typically takes less than 5 minutes at the start of my class.

While I LOVE the immediate feedback the students get, my favorite part of Socrative is the immediate feedback I get!  While the students are completing the do now, I have the results screen up on my computer, so I can see students’ answers as they submit them.  Here are two examples of my class result screens (a multiple choice do now on the left and a short answer do now on the right):

socrative class results


As you can see, it is really easy to see which students “get it” and which students need to go back over that concept with the red and green colors.  I can see if the class generally understands a concept right away by looking at the class total percents at the bottom.  If only 50% or less of my class gets a question right, I reteach that concept that day instead of going on to the next lesson.  It really has made such a difference for me this year!

After the do now is finished, you have lots of different choices of ways to get the results.  You can get a student’s individual report or get class reports.  You can download them, open them with excel, or send them to Google Drive.  There are so many options!

If your students have access to computers, tablets, Ipads, or phones I definitely encourage you to check out (if you haven’t already) as it really is an awesome, free way to integrate technology into the classroom every day in a meaningful way.



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Games in the Math Classroom – Noggle

Something that I love to do in my math classroom is play games!  Games keep the kids interested and are a sneaky way to reinforce concepts or make them think critically while they are having fun.

I play lots of different games with my classes – mini whiteboard games, card games, game show games, and bingo games, as well as miscellaneous other games.  One of the games I am most excited about that I will be playing with my kids this year is Noggle!

Click here for a post on my NEW VERSION of Noggle that includes a link to play a round for free!!

Noggle is a fun PowerPoint game that reinforces the order of operations.  Here is how the game is played:

noggle instructions

It only takes 3 minutes to play so it makes a great warmup activity!  I think that this year I will be playing this game with some of my classes on the first day of school when our class period is only about 15 minutes.  My plan is to put the kids in groups, have them work together to find as many expressions as possible.  (I have a worksheet for them that goes along with the game).  I am then going to have the groups trade papers and check each others’ expressions.  It should fill that shortened class period perfectly!

The game includes a version with all positive numbers and a version with both positive and negative numbers.  I am really looking forward to playing the negative version with my kids during our unit on integers – it should make a great review activity!

The animations of the board being “shaken” each time you play are fun – see the video below of the game in motion:

There is also a letter version of the game which Language Arts teachers could use in whatever way they want – to make as many words as they can or any other creative ideas they may have!

Click here if you are interested in purchasing Noggle for your classroom.

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