# 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!

Christina

# Having Fun with Distance and Midpoint

How do you take a topic that isn’t overly exciting and get the kids to have fun with it?  I have found that getting students out of their seats and working with friends usually does the trick! 🙂

If you follow my blog you know that I have been sharing activity ideas (and free downloads) for a set of (free) ordered pair task cards that I posted last week.  Click here for my post on a slope activity and click here for my post on a coordinate plane activity.

Today I am sharing an activity on the distance and midpoint formulas:

• Have them grab a partner, find the distance and midpoint between their point and their partner’s point and then “check” their work by graphing the ordered pairs and seeing if their answers make sense.
• Have them repeat with 2 other partners.
• Challenge early finishers (or everyone) to then grab another partner. Let their point be an endpoint and their partner’s point be the midpoint.  They need to find the other endpoint.

It’s a quick easy-to-implement activity that gets kids moving and working together.  Enjoy!

Click the image below to download the Distance and Midpoint Partner Activity worksheet:

Christina

# 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).

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.

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).

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

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!!

Christina

# First Week Reflections

After one week in school (well, actually 4 days), I thought I’d share how my school year is going so far.

The first day of school was spent mainly with my homeroom.  I did the “who am I” getting to know you activity with the class that I described in this blog post.  The kids had alot of fun with that activity and were very good at guessing who wrote what!  (Most of them know each other pretty well from being in the same classes for years.)  I used the rest of my homeroom time to go over organizational and procedural stuff with my class.  I also had short 15 minute sessions with each of my math classes.  I used that time to assign seats, introduce myself, and distribute & briefly review my syllabus (which you can read more about here).

The second day of school I jumped right into teaching!  My favorite activity that I did this week was with my 7th grade math class.  I briefly reviewed decimal operations with them – I had them tell me how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals and went through examples of each operation with them.  I then told them to get into groups of 3 or 4 and gave each group a set of decimal word problem task cards and had them work together to complete them.

The task cards were about Back to School shopping.  The students had to use the information on the recording sheet about the cost of various school supplies to answer the questions on the task cards.  I had them show their work on the recording sheet.  (If interested in these task cards, you can get purchase them in my TpT store for \$3).

The kids really got into the task cards!  This particular set of task cards varies greatly in difficulty level so the students found some of them pretty easy and struggled with others.  It was great for me to see how different students handled the difficult problems and the different techniques they tried to solve the problems.  It took the students two class periods to complete all of the task cards.

The reason I thought this was such a great first week activity was because it gave me insight into several different things about my students:

• their problem solving skills
• their decimal operation skills
• who their friends are (since they chose their groups)
• how they work together in a group

This is the first year that I have ever done task cards with my students during the first week, but it is something I am definitely going to add to my yearly routine!