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September 22, 2017

45 Fun Math Ideas From Teachers

Written By: Brandi Jordan
X 45 Math Ideas for Elementary Grades

45 Math Ideas for Elementary Grades

Need some math lesson inspiration? We have your back! Here are 45 fun math ideas from Really Good Teachers across the country! All activities have been used and tested in the classroom, so they’re guaranteed to be teacher-tested. Be sure to bookmark this article for later!

Mega-Math: 45 Teacher-Tested Math Ideas

1. Bug Time Math

Idea by Mikaele, a K-4th Grade Intervention Teacher, from Marblehead, OH.

To teach subtraction, I use bug manipulatives, an envelope decorated to look like grass, and party stationery printed with images of balloons and confetti (available at office supply shops, or make your own). I mount the stationery onto oaktag and laminate; I then use a dry erase market to record an addition and corresponding subtraction problem in the top corner of the picnic-themed paper. For example, after my students read the addition problem, I have them place at the picnic the number of bug manipulatives that correspond to the addends and then count to make sure they equal the sum. I then tell them that the subtraction problem (in which the minuend is always the same number as the sum from the addition problem) tells how many bugs are going home to the grass colored envelope. The kids then remove the correct number of bugs as directed by the equation.

2. Baked Fractions

Idea by Felicia, a Teacher, in Sweet Home, OR.

In my class, we do a lot of baking. Baking naturally involves the use of fractions, so as we bake, we talk about the measurements and I look for opportunities to challenge their thinking. For example, when a recipe calls for a cupful of an ingredient, I might reach for the 1/2-cup measurement instead giving us the opportunity to talk about how many of these 1/2 cups I will need to obtain the correct measurement. We do this with all of the measurements. We also talk about how much of each ingredient we need to “double” the recipe or to “half” it. Of course, the best part is always eating the fruits of our labor.

3. Multiplication Card Game

Idea by Nichole, a 3rd Grade ESL Teacher, from Chandler, AZ.

To offer students practice with multiplication, I have my students play a three-person card game named Salute. To begin, the dealer deals each partner one card face down. The remaining two players place their cards against their forehead so that the dealer can identify the number on the cards. The dealer then mentally multiplies the two numbers and declares the product aloud. Each player must then figure out the factor printed on his or her card. Whichever player says the missing factor first, wins both cards for that round. Game continues until one player accumulates 10 cards or until time is up. At game’s end, the player who has collected the most cards is the winner.

4. Rhythmic Division

Idea by Tara, a 5th Grade Teacher, in Rockford, MI.

I have a unique way of teaching my students long division. We chant song lyrics that review the steps involved in the process. For instance, for the problem 255/5 we would chant:

Five goes into 25 how many times?

5 times 5 is 25, 

subtract, compare, bring down, 

bum, bum, bum. 

5 goes into 5 how many times?

1 times 5 is 5, 

subtract, compare, can’t bring down, 

done, done, done. 

The rhythmic language helps students remember the process while solving other problems on their own. (Tip: You may also find that having children softly clap or tap their feet as they chant may also help them recall the process when solving their own problems.)

5. Quick Draw Value Game

Idea by Katie, a 2nd Grade Teacher, in Perrysburg, OH.

I have a favorite place value game for practicing the value of numbers. I give each student a blank piece of paper containing grids labeled Ones, Tens, Hundreds, Thousands, and Ten Thousands. I also prepare a stack of large cards each printed with one single-digit numeral 0-9. (The deck features multiples cards printed with the same digit.) The goal of the game is to see which student builds the largest number. I pull a total of 5 cards for students to see. Each time I show a card, students must choose a column in which to write the numeral displayed on the card. For example, if the first numeral I pull is a 9, students with strong number sense automatically write the 9 in the ten thousands column because they know that 9 has the highest value. If I pull a 3 first, it is trickier because students have to decide which spot might be the best for it. As we keep playing, it is very interesting to observe how students’ sense of place value increases. This game works great for formative assessment and students really enjoy the fun mix of strategy and luck inherent in this game.

6. Literature-Based Fractions

Idea by Lisa, a 3rd Grade Teacher, in Lebanon, MO.

When teaching fractions I start out reading the picture book All for Pie, Pie for All by David Martin (Candlewick, 2008). I then bring in four different varieties of pie. We poll the students on their favorite pie, graph the results, and then slice the pies. As I cut the pies, I demonstrate the variety of fractional amounts represented in the graph. For example, if only two students wanted a piece of a whole cherry pie, I show, by slicing the pie in half, how much they each would get if they shared the whole entire pie. (Of course, I don’t actually allow children to eat 1/2 of an entire pie!) Conversely, if eight children wanted a piece of the same pie, I show how much 1/8 of the pie is. There is something memorable about working with real pies that helps the children understand these concepts better than if they only worked with numbers or non-edible manipulatives.

7. Transportation Station Math

Idea by Rebekah, a 2nd Grade Teacher, from Mosheim, TN.

To introduce the basis of ten in our place value system, I arrange the students’ desks into a group of ten (five desks long by two desks across) so they resemble a bus. Then I have all of my students sit on the rug. I then invite seven students to step aboard and take a seat in our “Ones Bus.” I then ask four more students to join them. My students quickly realize that the bus will not hold all eleven children. So, we decide that, in order to make room for the one remaining student on the Ones Bus, the ten “ones” would group together to form one group of ten and that group would move over to the floor beside the Ones Bus,” thus creating our “Tens Train” (one row of ten students). By doing this, my students understood that 7 + 4 = 1 ten + 1 one, a sum known otherwise as eleven. After playing this game several times with different number combinations, my students did not struggle with this regrouping concept anymore.

8. Place Value Snacks

Idea by Marie, a 2nd Grade Teacher, in Lockport, NY.

When teaching place value, I provide students with tasty manipulatives. I offer saltine crackers to represent the hundreds place, pretzel sticks for the tens place, and mini marshmallows for the ones place. My students love building the numbers and practicing comparing. I have them glue the edible manipulatives to a piece of construction paper to represent comparative number sentences. The concepts really stick—especially as we get to nibble on any leftover treats.

9. Act Out the Problems

Idea by Sarah, a 3rd Grade Teacher, from Wise, VA.

To help students understand the relationship between multiplication and division I invite them to become part of the problem. For example, I ask five students to come to the front of the room. I give each of these five students four markers and then ask them how many they have altogether. They return the markers to me, counting as they go. As they count, I tell them they just multiplied five X four (five sets of four markers). I then ask each of the same five students to stand in places around the room and I pass out the same 20 markers one at a time to these students. I then say, “We started with 20 markers, but I divided them among the five students, so how many markers did I give each student?” We practice a few of these examples each day. My students love using random classroom items for our scenarios and everybody enjoys being part of a real math problem.

10. Buckets and Beanbags

Idea by Julie, a 3rd Grade Teacher, from Tacoma, WA.

To teach place value I use a series of buckets I’ve labeled Ones, Tens, and Hundreds. To play, I call a student to the front of the room and invite him or her to toss 10 beanbags into the buckets. That student must then identify each toss by its numerical value as represented by each bucket and write each number on the board for all to see. Students in the audience must record each number as an expanded notation on their white-boards. It’s a fun way to offer practice in place value and have the kids up and moving as well.

11. Using Manipulatives

Idea by Anissa, a 4th Grade Teacher, in Tuscaloosa, AL.

As an upper elementary teacher with experience in early education, I recognize the value of helping students develop a strong sense of numbers at an early age. It’s important to devote a lot of time to working on combinations. I recommend setting up stations featuring a variety of manipulatives and having children work through these stations in order to gain experience with building simple addition combinations and sentences related to one single-digit sum. I suggest students work on the same sum for 2-3 days; this allows the students time to internalize the notion that numerical amounts (sums) can be made up of smaller sets: it also offers practice with math facts. When children have a good understanding of the number they are working on, I advise having them move on to the next number. Since students work at their own pace, individualizing instruction comes easily.

12. Measurement Scavenger Hunt

Idea by Rachel, a K-5th Grade Teacher, in San Antonio, TX.

To help students practice measuring lengths, I plan a Measuring Scavenger Hunt using standard and non-standard measurement tools (i.e., rulers and craft sticks). I provide the students with a sheet including questions such as, What can you find that is 6 inches long? or How wide is the bookcase? Have students work in pairs to come up with their answers. I also like to leave a few blank spaces on the sheet so each student can look around the room and select and measure items of his or her own choice.

13. Use Beads to Measure

Idea by Gary, a 2nd Grade Teacher, in Pearland, TX.

A fun way to introduce the concept of non-standard measurement is to use pony beads and jute (twine) to make rulers. To do this activity, each pair of students gets 16-18″ of jute (to leave room for tying knots at each end). Students then work together to count out pony beads in groups of four and string onto jute. Each group of four beads represents 1″ (each bead is about 1/4″ wide). They alternate the colors of each group of four (4 blue, 4 yellow, 4 blue, 4 yellow, etc.) until they have 12″ of beads. Encourage students to note the patterns they are creating with the beads. Tie off both ends of each length of jute, then demonstrate how students can use their bead rulers to measure items from the classroom and record measurements on paper. To extend this activity, have students predict measurements and test their non-standard unit measurement against a standard ruler. After presenting these activities in a large group setting, you can also provide additional practice in small group settings or in a math station.

14. Measure with Unconventional Objects

Idea by Meaghan, a Teacher, in Montague, Prince Edwards Island, Canada.

I provide my students with a variety of measuring devices and encourage them to measure objects in the classroom. I also assign students the task of measuring a list of objects around the school using a variety of standard units so they can, for example, relate inches to feet and centimeters to meters or millimeters. In addition, I like to give students linking cubes so they can construct their own measuring devices so they can develop estimating skills.

15. Measure Each Other

Idea by Lauren, a 1st Grade Teacher, in Morristown, NJ.

I have my students use tape measures to measure each other’s bodies. Each student works with a partner to measure around each other’s head, neck, waist and knees. It’s hands-on measurement fun!

16. Put Multiplication to Song

Idea by Alycia, a 3rd Grade Teacher, in San Leandro, CA.

The most effective way I’ve found of teaching multiplication is to have students sing their multiples. For example, we sing multiples of 7 to the tune “Happy Birthday” and multiples of 9 to “Star Spangled Banner.” This idea really works! Long after they’ve left my class, students tend to remember the songs and continue singing them.

17. Create a Human Clock Tower

Idea by Julia, a K-5th Grade Teacher, from Bethany, MO.

When teaching time, I draw a large clock face without hands on the whiteboard. I then place a stepstool in front of the board and have the kids take turns standing on the stool and using their arms as the hour and minute hands. To determine a particular time I want the students to represent, I either randomly select cards printed with different times from a bowl or ask students to depict specific times, i.e., when they get up, dinnertime, when their favorite TV show comes on, etc. I let each student choose if he or she will face the clock face or the class while telling time. A couple years ago I photographed my students doing this activity and my photos were featured in our newspaper.

18. Tell Time with Your Schedule

Idea by Paula, a 3rd Grade Teacher, from Hohenwald, TN.

I have a schedule chart on our classroom door with the day’s activities and start times. To teach elapsed time, I have students determine how long each activity/lesson lasts, how long is it until lunch, or how long it is until recess. This makes elapsed time more relevant and no one ever asks, “When’s recess?”

19. Turn Math Into a Game

Idea by Kelly, a 3rd Grade Teacher, from Lake Forest, CA.

Here’s a mini treasure-trove of ideas to kick start your unit on addition and subtraction!

  1. To turn addition drill into a fun game, just reach for a couple decks of cards. Place the two card decks face down between two players. Have each player take turns turning over one card from each deck. After the two cards have been turned over, both players must mentally add the numbers (addends) evident on the cards together to get a sum. The player who is the first to correctly identify that sum wins both cards. (To settle disputes, have some counters on hand so students can self-check their answers.) To add a third addend into the mix, provide players with an additional draw pile. Play continues until the card piles are exhausted or until you call Time’s Up! The student who collects the most number of cards is the winner.
  2. Here’s a fun game for practicing addition or subtraction. Have players each choose one card they keep concealed from other players. Place the remainder of the deck face down in the center of the players and have players take turns flipping over one card at a time. Following each flip, each player adds the number on the card he or she is holding with the card that has been flipped and gives the sum of both cards to his or her opponent. For a player to win, he or she or she must correctly guess the value of the hidden card his opponent is holding. If one player guesses correctly, that player gets to keep all three cards; if both players guess correctly they each keep the cards they are holding and if no one guesses correctly, all three cards are placed at the bottom of the deck and the players begin again. Play continues until the card piles are exhausted or until you call Time’s Up! The player with the most cards collected is the winner.
  3. Did you know you could have students use dice to create arrays? Begin by providing students with a specific-size graphed grid. Have students roll dice and color in the appropriate array within the grid. Players alternate trying to dominate the grid with their color. If there is no room on the grid for players to draw a correct array, they lose their turn. So it’s a bit of luck and a bit of strategy as well. When the game time is up, players add up the number of squares they each colored in; the player with the largest number of colored-in squares is the winner.

20. Use Students to Teach Fractions

Idea by Tara, a 4th Grade Teacher, from Jersey Shore, PA.

I like to use students to teach fractions. I begin by calling students up in groups of whatever fraction I am teaching (e.g., four students to demonstrate fourths, five students to demonstrate fifths, etc.). Then I ask these students to arrange themselves so as to demonstrate 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 4/4 of a whole (group). Students must communicate, cooperate, and problem-solve to agree on the best way to arrange themselves. Students really enjoy this activity and are excited to participate. (Tip: Take digital photos of students representing various fractional amounts; pair the photos with student captions and use to create a counting book of fractions starring your students!)

21. Use Munchable Math Manipulatives

Idea by Cinderella, a Kindergarten Teacher, in Orangeburg, SC.

When teaching my students place values, I use small, colorful candy-coated chocolates. I give each student a small cup of the chocolates (or blocks, or plastic counters). I tell students to arrange their candies into groups of tens and to record that number in their math journals. The remaining, or ungrouped, candy represent the ones. The students then record these numbers in their math journals as well. The students truly enjoy playing with the candy and seem to grasp the concept of place value with ease.

22. Create a Mini-Economy

Idea by Beth, a 5th Grade Teacher, from Fowler, IN.

To help students learn about money, I establish a mini-economy in my classroom. I have students make money, earn money, pay taxes, spin a wheel of life, sell products at a store, keep a checkbook, and even pay taxes! They learn many real world lessons while mastering authentic math and social studies skills.

23. Money Poems

Idea by Sara, a 3rd Grade Teacher, in Raytown, MO.

To help children remember coin values, I post little zippy poems on piggy banks. I display the banks in our math corner along with these poems:

Penny, Penny 

easily spent! 

Copper brown and 

worth 1 cent!

Nickel, Nickel 

thick and fat! 

You’re worth 5 cents

and I know that! 

Dime, Dime 

thin as can be!

Silver and worth 

10 cents to me! 

Quarter, Quarter 

big and round!

Worth 25 cents

in city and town!

24. Paying It Forward

Idea by Karen, a 1st Grade Teacher, in Lake Charles, LA.

I help students understand the importance of money in a way that also highlights the importance of service. To do that, we raise money for a good cause. We send a note home asking parents to allow children to do small jobs around the house and to pay them in loose change. For about two weeks, the children bring in their coins and place them into a large container in our classroom. (That way, no one really knows how much each child contributes.) Every day, we sit together on our class rug, dump out and count up all the coins in order to arrive at a sum for that day. This process takes some time, but there is so much quality talk among the children about how to sort and count and add the coins to our cumulative total, that it’s well worth it. We also make it a point to add the monetary amounts differently. For example, one day we might count that day’s amount before sorting it into different coin types and the next day we might sort first and then tally up our amounts to determine our grand total for that day.

25. Give Students a Class Wallet

Idea by Laura, 1st Grade Teacher, Wadsworth, OH

Last year, my class really struggled with understanding money values. Learning about pennies, nickels, and dimes drove them all crazy. To address this issue I decided to give each student a self-sealing sandwich bag to use as a “wallet.” In each wallet I placed a dollar’s worth of change: 10 pennies, 5 dimes, and 8 nickels. Whenever a student asked to use the restroom, go sharpen a pencil or visit a center, he had to pay the bank: me! Every morning I randomly chose a monetary amount each of these activities would cost that day, and my students had to provide the exact change in order to do what they requested. Within three weeks my students had mastered coin recognition, counting, combinations, and exchange. It worked wonders. Even students who used to struggle with money concepts can now make change “on a dime,” so to speak.

26. Focus on Differentiated Instruction

Idea by Colleen, 5th Grade Teacher, Lecanto, FL

My goal with differentiated math instruction is to be able to reach all my students and their learning levels within one math block. That’s why I arrange it so that I have three small groups working at a time: one group works independently, one works collaboratively, and one is teacher-led. I begin by explaining our objective for the day to the whole class. I then break my students into three small, leveled groups. I teach the day’s lesson three times, focusing each lesson around that group’s needs. As I work with each group, the remaining two groups practice objectives from prior lessons and skills from the current lesson.  This system helps us all stay on track.

27. Give Students a Choice

Try this idea submitted by Dawn, a Homeschooling Teacher, from Blackwood, NJ, that has practical applications for all types of classrooms!

In our homeschooling situation, my son enjoys choosing from among many different math games.  He earns colored tickets that he uses to “gain entrance” to the different games of his choice:

• Green: File folder math games.

• Blue:  Counting games involving guessing how many objects are in a jar or sorting, counting, and configuring manipulatives we store in plastic, self-sealing lunch bags.

• Yellow: Toss Across Math, in which we adhere numbers to the commercial game’s Tic Tac Toe targets and then add/subtract/multiply/divide the numbers that are overturned with the toss of the beanbag.

• Red: Card games or dominoes, with the numbers representing whole numbers or fractions.

All of these games can be adjusted for all grade levels very easily, but it’s the choice factor that makes them extra fun.

28. Use Bottle Caps for Math

Make math fun with this idea by Maureen, a 1st Grade Teacher, in Dracut, MA.

I turn bottle caps saved from soda bottles into math counters representing numbers 1-100. I stick a circular sticker (purchased at an office supply store) on the top of each bottle cap. I use a permanent marker to write the number on the sticker. I give the students a laminated poster sized 1-100 chart and the children match the bottle caps to the corresponding numbered square on the chart.

Once they master that, I have them put the caps on a laminated poster sized blank 10 by 10 grid. They also like to put them in number order in one long row across the floor of the classroom. I make several sets of these caps. I make sets using all white dot colors and other sets using different colored dots, which are good for skip counting and patterning activities. The children enjoy using this hands-on manipulative so much that they ask to play with the caps during indoor recess!

29. Number Cubes to the Rescue

Math is fun with this idea by Kristin, a Grades K-8 Teacher, in Warren, MI.

As a math teacher, I use number cubes to play many different math games. My favorite is a game I call “Race to 100” because it has so many possible variations. Younger kids can team up and take turns rolling one number cube in an attempt to count up to a hundred while keeping track of their progress on a hundreds chart. Older students can practice addition and regrouping by rolling number cubes and using unit blocks to represent results. In the upper grades, they can play the game (maybe only racing to 20) with fractions; to do this, they play with two different-colored number cubes (one color for the numerator, one for the denominator). They can also begin at a predetermined number amount, roll the number cubes, and subtract amounts rolled until they arrive at zero. You can also encourage kids to devise their own math cube games. So many possibilities!

30. Climb Rounding Mountain

This clever idea comes from Barbara, a Grades K-4 Teacher, in Newington, CT.

Every year, my students struggle with the concept of rounding off numbers, which makes estimating a solution to a problem extremely difficult. So, I’ve created a “Rounding Mountains” activity that helps. I take oaktag and cut it into equal length strips, and then attach these together with brass fasteners. I then lay the strips out on the floor so they form a line of “peaks and valleys” resembling a two-dimensional representation of a mountain range. I label each peak and valley so it represents rounding to the nearest ten or hundred (with the tip of each peak labeled as the exact midway point between the two numbers at the feet of that mountain). I make many small copies of the “rounding range” for students to use at their seats, and I make a large copy to use at the front of the classroom. It’s a great tool!

31. Use Edible Manipulatives

Try this delicious idea by Natausha, a 2nd Grade Teacher, from Warsaw, NC.

As a new teacher, I learned early on that food is a great management tool as it serves as a motivator and attention grabber. So I sometimes use food to introduce a new skill or reinforce something we have learned. Recently, I offered each student a small amount of the new multicolored Goldfish crackers and had them use the crackers to make pictographs showing how many of each color they had. In a different lesson, I asked the students to use the crackers to answer questions such as, “What fraction of your Goldfish supply is purple? My students are excited and motivated to review math concepts when cleanup time means they get to gobble their manipulatives.

32. Create Pattern Cubes

This clever idea is from Roxane, a Kindergarten Teacher, in Somerville, MA.

Each year, I have each of my students bring a cube-shaped box of tissues to class. (You can also urge students to contribute empty cubes as a recycling activity) I remove the tissues from each box and place them in a bag for use during the year.  We use the boxes to make “Me Cubes.” On the top of each cube we place a photo of each child, then we use the sides to place pictures, photos, or drawings of the children’s favorite foods, favorite toys, favorite places, and drawings of their families. I cover each cube with clear adhesive shelf paper; we use the cubes for math and language games and we use the photo side to create patterns and graphs.

33. Use Mental Math

Encourage fun and learning with this idea by Karen, a 1st Grade Teacher, in Lake Charles, LA.

Here’s an easy game that really gets kids thinking.  I select a child to be IT. I offer that child a scrap of paper on which I’ve written a number between 0 and 50. That child then calls on fellow students to guess the number. After each guess, the child who is IT responds by saying “Higher” or “Lower”. Play continues until one child guesses the correct number and becomes the next child to be IT. (Tip: You can play this game anywhere, but when kids first begin learning the game, it can be helpful if you keep track of the guesses on a number line drawn on a whiteboard. That way, children have a visual reference for their high/low guesses. Also, to make the game more challenging, you can also play this game using positive and negative numbers.)

34. Decimal Practice

This idea comes to us from Rebecca, a 5th Grade Teacher, in Rome, NY.

Before beginning my math unit on decimals, I ask each student to bring in a receipt from the grocery store. We have a lot of fun finding the greatest amount and the least amount of money amounts spent on each receipt. We practice adding the first three items, the last three items, and all the items in between.

I have the student swap receipts so they can check each other’s work. We also add the total amount of money spent on all the receipts for a grand total of money spent. Students are surprised to discover how much families spend on weekly trips to the grocery store. (Tip: If you plan this activity using family receipts from Thanksgiving feasts, sharing these receipts can be an eye-opening experience for kids.)

35. Use Pumpkins for Learning

Get in the fall spirit with this idea by Lenora, a 3rd Grade Teacher from Gurnee, IL.

At this time of year, I like to use real pumpkins to offer children some authentic experiences related to language and math. I start by purchasing one large pumpkin for each group of 2-3 students. (Tip: If I tell the store that the pumpkins are for classroom use, they often reduce the price per pumpkin.) After I remove the top of each pumpkin, I have the students estimate the number of seeds in each one. We also discuss ways we might count the seeds that would be more efficient than a one-by-one count. The students who come closest to guessing the number of seeds get to take the pumpkins home. Throughout the activity, I take plenty of photos that we later use as the basis for creating our own pumpkin tale books.  As I usually engage some parent volunteers for this effort, I ask if any are willing to take the seeds home, toast them, and return them. I also provide the children with related, pumpkin-inspired activity sheets.

36. Use Wait Time to Practice Skills

What to do during the downtime?  Try this idea by Alyssa, a 1st Grade Teacher in Blissfield, MI.

Whenever we have a couple of minutes before we have to line up, I ask my students to form a circle.  We then go around the circle counting up as high as we can before line-up time. We have tried counting by 1’s, 2’s, 5’s—whatever counting pattern we need to practice. The kids love it and it turns wait time into meaningful minutes. (Tip: Older students can use this same wait time to practice more advanced “mental math” activities or curriculum-related trivia pursuit.)

37. Combine Words and Drawings

Idea by Meredith, Kdg. Teacher, Finley, TN

When helping young students learn how to solve subtraction or addition word problems, it’s first important to teach them how to break the problems apart. To do that, students need to learn key words for addition (i.e., total, sum, plus) and subtraction (i.e., take away, difference, minus) so they can more easily identify which type of problem they are trying to solve. (Rushing through the process of helping children learn this basic vocabulary can prove disastrous later on, as children who don’t understand the meaning of the terms can become hopelessly confused and overwhelmed.) Students also need to be able to differentiate between essential and nonessential information in each word problem.

Another powerful strategy for helping young children approach word problems is to have them draw a picture of each problem. (You can model this first.) Children’s word problem drawings help them focus on each problem’s particular elements (e.g., the numerical amounts involved as well as the operation at hand). It also gives you a quick visual insight into each child’s thinking and problem-solving abilities so you know how to best help each one advance.

38. Use Finger Signs

Idea by Renee, Kdg. Teacher, Norfolk, VA

I use my index fingers to teach addition and subtraction.  As I demonstrate to my class how to use my index fingers to create a plus sign, I say, “I have two fingers. When I cross them or add them together we get a plus sign. This sign tells us to put number amounts together.” When we move on to learning about subtraction, I begin by demonstrating once again how we make the finger addition sign. I then remove my vertical finger and show how we are left with only my horizontal finger representing the minus sign. I add that this new sign means we have to take away one numerical amount from another.

39. Play a Counting Cubes Guessing Game

Idea by Cheryl, 2nd Grade Teacher, MacClenny, FL

I find that teaching math facts is a snap with snap cubes.  Here is a great snap cube math game for two players:

  • 1. Have players sit facing each other.
  • 2. Player One counts out 10 cubes (or whatever math fact family you’re targeting) and snaps them together.
  • 3. Player One puts the snap stack behind his or her back and breaks the stack into two separate units.
  • 4. Player Two chooses one of Player One’s hands. Player One reveals the number of cubes in that hand.
  • 5. Player Two then counts the blocks shown to him or her and has to figure out how many blocks are remaining behind Player One’s back.

40. Get Some Fast Food Inspiration for Division

Idea by Cara, 6th Grade Teacher, Lincoln University, PA

To help students remember the steps in division, I use the acronym, “Does McDonalds Sell Chicken” (DMSC). DMSC stands for Divide, Multiply, Subtract, and Check. I have students write DMSC next to each division problem and then check off each step as they work their way through the process.

41. Use Dots and Circles for Multiplication

Idea by Mary, 3rd Grade Teacher, Plainfield, IL

“Circles and Dots” is a favorite method I use to teach children multiplication and division facts. For multiplication, I have children look at the problem, then draw the number of circles the first number in the problem represents. I then invite children to look at the second number in the problem and to place that number of dots in each of the circles. So, for example, if the problem was 3 x 5, children would draw three circles and then place 5 dots in each circle. I then have children count the total number of dots shown to arrive at the product of 15. (Tip: You can also help reframe the illustration as 3 x 5 is the same as 3 sets of 5.)

For a division problem, have children draw the number of circles as represented by the second number in the problem. Then have children look at the larger number amount to be divided and distribute this number of dots evenly among the circles. So, for example, if the problem is 12/4, children will draw four circles and distribute 12 dots evenly among the 4 circles until they have 3 dots in each circle. By counting the 3 dots in one circle, children can discover the quotient. Circles and Dots is a simple, visual method kids can remember and use on their own.

42. Use Sponges for Cubes

Idea by Dale, Kdg. Teacher, Metairie, LA

Whenever I need some place value blocks, I visit my local dollar store. Once there, I buy a bag of foam sponges. I cut some of the sponges into individual cubes to represent ones, I cut other sponges into long strips to represent tens and I leave some uncut to represent hundreds. Voila! In a matter of minutes I own a new set of quiet, affordable, and budget-friendly place value blocks that my kids love using.

43. Create Classroom Cash

Idea by Mynon, 2nd Grade Teacher, Manhattan, KS

In my classroom, my students can earn “Classroom Cash” in exchange for meeting certain expectations, such as turning in homework on time, completing reading logs and displaying respectful behavior. Students have their own wallets and are responsible for keeping track of how much money they have earned. Once a week, we have an auction during which time students bid on books, toys, and trinkets. To pay for a purchase, students need to be able to count out the correct amount of money; I then count their change back to them. We start with low amounts and work up to 100s of dollars. Aside from learning math skills related to addition, subtraction, and money, students are learning to make wise choices both in how they think and act as well as in how they spend their hard-earned money.

44. Break Out the Potatoes

Idea by Rita, Kdg. Teacher, Merced, CA

To learn about nonstandard measurement, I issue each child a potato. In class, we use the potatoes to measure a chair, a Big Book, a paintbrush, a table, etc. Then, for homework, children must use their potatoes to measure about ten items at home, such as a pillow, a shoe, a chair, a table, a favorite toy, a bed, a book, a TV, etc. They record their objects and measurement findings on a simple activity page I’ve labeled “Potatoes Rule!” We do this every year in March as we read about Leprechauns and Ireland.

45. Use the Playground to Make Learning Come Alive

Allison, a 1st Grade Teacher in Bartlett, Illinois knows that learning and play go hand-in-hand. Here’s her “Out of the Box” idea for getting kids excited about math.

“At the end of each school year, I create an Outdoor Math Scavenger Hunt for my students.  I offer my students a list of playground-inspired math questions I’ve prepared, then take them to the playground so they can see and touch math in action—and record answers to my questions. My list of questions might include items such as:

  • What is the sum total of swings and slides on the playground?
  • What fractional amount of slides is blue?
  • How many triangles can you count on the swing set?
  • What is the sum total of slide steps on the playground?
  • How wide is one seat on the swing set?
  • How many kids does it take to circle the big oak tree on the playground?

This is a fun way to provide visuals (tactiles, too!) as you review almost any math concept you can think of!”

(Tip: Adjust the learning by offering students questions representing different levels of difficulty. Also, if you use a digital camera to take photos of the playground things and places you investigate, bind these and students’ corresponding math discoveries into a class book.)


Take Learning Outdoors!

Jessica, a 2nd Grade Teacher in Macomb Township, Michigan, offers this outstanding collection of outdoor math fun!

“The great outdoors is often the best place for learning!  At the end of the school year we begin learning multiplication. I give each student a piece of sidewalk chalk, a clipboard, and a page of directions. Once outside, each student finds a sidewalk square to work in. Students then follow the printed directions such as, “Make 4 groups of 3 stars, then write the math sentence (4×3=16)”

They use the chalk to complete the math problem on the pavement. We also take walking trips around the building to hunt for 2-D and 3-D shapes and record them in our shape booklets. Many times simple is best. Sometimes, we just take a book outside and enjoy a read-aloud while sitting under a shady tree on the grass. (This was especially fun for us when spring arrived as we read a book about dandelions and we could see our playground filled with dandelions.)

We also love playing an outdoor game we call The Human Knot. To play, about five students stand around in a circle; they then hold hands with a person across from them as well as with another person in the circle. Then, using teamwork and without letting go of the hands they are holding the students have to “untie” the knot. It’s great to see the students cooperate on this task.”




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