Math Races – turning boring practice problems into fun activities

Yikes!  I’ve been back in school for 3 weeks now and this is the first time I am blogging!  I am going to do my best to be better about it going forward…but no promises 🙂

I have already completed my first units in all of my classes and am now working on my second units.  In my next few posts I am going to share some of the lessons I have done so far this year, but right now I am going to share what I did today in my 7th grade Pre-Algebra class because it went SOO well!!

I am working on rational number operations with my pre-algebra class this unit (positive & negative fractions and mixed numbers).  Yesterday I did adding & subtracting negative fractions without whole numbers and today I did adding & subtracting negative mixed numbers.  I have noticed over the years that students tend to struggle with this lesson since there are so many things they have to remember: integer rules, finding common denominators, borrowing with mixed numbers, converting improper answers to mixed numbers, and simplifying fractions.  Because I know that this lesson gives students trouble I wanted to give my class lots of practice without boring them to death.

We started by going over the steps as a class and writing them down in their notebooks.  I then had students complete some problems on mini whiteboards, step by step.  Having them show me each step really helped me catch and address any issues early on in the problems.  I then had the class split up into groups of 2-3.  (While I often choose groups for my students, I allowed them to make their own groups for this particular activity).

I had a set of self-checking task cards on rational number addition & subtraction that I made a couple of years ago, where the answer to each card leads students to the next card they need to complete.  If they answer all 20 cards correctly, the last card they do will lead them back to the card they started with, making them completely self-checking.  In the past I have had students simply work through them in small groups, which works well, but this year I had the bright idea to turn it into a race…and it was AWESOME!

Here’s how I ran the activity:

I printed two copies of the cards (so there wouldn’t be an issue of students not being able to get the card they needed) and spread all the cards out on a table in the front of my classroom.  I gave each group one card to start with.  Students had to work in their groups to get the answer to the card.  Once they had an answer they all agreed on, one person in the group had to run their card back up to the table and find the next card.

I could not be happier with how this activity went!  The students were sooo into it.  They were all working, engaged, and talking with each other to figure out where they went wrong.  They all wanted to win the race (despite the fact that the only “prize” was a sticker!)  They got lots of practice since there were 20 different cards in all.  Best of all, I heard multiple students say that it was the best math class ever as they walked out of my room today, so that is definitely a win in my book! 🙂

If you want to make a self-checking activity that you could turn into a race like this, you just need to write questions on index cards.  Put the answer to each card on the top of the next card to create a “loop” of questions.  If you don’t want to make your own, I have several sets of self-checking task cards available in my TpT store that you can check out, including a free mini set on the order of operations.

If you try a similar race activity with your class, I’d love to hear about it!