This year for the final Math Wars contest, I decided to use Reflex Math instead of a paper pencil timed test like I had been doing. A little plug for Reflex Math here…I LOVE it as do the kids (more about Reflex here). In case your school or district is thinking of purchasing this program, get it! It has definitely made a difference in our students’ math fact fluency. Since I wanted to give out awards for the Math Wars with NO budget, I made some. I had some large gold stars left over from another project, but I needed something to stabilize them on so I found four cones in a package for $3 at Wal-Mart. Since hot glue is the answer to just about everything that needs to be stuck somewhere at school, I hot glued the stars to the cones. Then I got some scrapbooking stickers at Hobby Lobby to label the stars. The stickers were 40% off the week I got them. Then I found some little medals for the kids on clearance for 75 cents for a package of about 8 (yay!) I bought extra packages because I can always use these for something. The medals are plastic but look almost as good as metal ones. Since the ribbon in the package was kind of short, I used some nicer ribbon that I happened to have on hand from another project. Pictured below are my trophies and medals.
After years of seeing students mix up math operations in word problems, I have finally figured out how to help students understand what operation to use in word problems. This little word is causing students much of the confusion–EACH. Haven’t we all taken for granted that students understand what this word means. The word ‘each’ is in nearly every multiplication and division problem, but many students don’t know what it means–every one in the group. If we teach students to read a word problem and replace the word each with its meaning, every one in the group, students somehow have a light bulb experience.
In conjunction with teaching students to understand the word each, also asking them questions about the problem helps facilitate understanding. For example when you ask, “Is this a joining or a separating situation,” students start to make sense of word problems. Students generally understand that words like altogether and in all mean that they are joining groups. The word total may need to be taught as a word that means in all, but total isn’t a difficult term for students to become comfortable with.
To help students further differentiate between multiplication and addition, ask questions like: are we adding the same amount over and over or are we adding two different sized groups? If the answer is adding the same amount over and over, then multiplication is repeated addition of equal sized groups. If students are confusing division and subtraction, ask, “are we subtracting different amounts or are we subtracting the same sized amounts over and over. If the answer is subtracting the same amounts over and over, then teach students that division is repeated subtraction of equal groups.
Last week we held a final championship for students in second through fifth grades for the classes’ highest percentage of correct answers during “Math Wars”. “Math Wars” is our affectionate name for math fact races. Surprisingly the underdogs (second graders) won the final championship while a fifth grade class had been winning all year. So, of course as second graders are, they were so EXCITED that they had won– as was their teacher. Since I didn’t have any funding for anything extra special, I, we’ll say ‘renovated’ an old trophy, which I found gathering dust. I cleaned it up a bit and made a new plaque for it as you can see below. I also handed out a golden abacus to each grade level winner. The golden abacuses were awarded and switched among classes all year after each “Math War”. Pictured below are all of the awards. I hope they give you some ideas.
For the math timed tests I used for math wars, click here.
For an example of how a teacher kept up with her own math races to prepare for math wars, click here.
For more about the math fact races, click here.
I am trying something new this year to help motivate students to learn their math facts. I heard about doing Math Wars from another math coach. Each class will give themselves a name for a team. The team could even be alliterated for more fun. For example, Mr. Bowers Brains or Ms. Elwick’s Elephants. Having the students take ownership in what they name themselves promotes more motivation to work towards the goal of learning their facts.
Classes challenge other classes to beat them on their fact races. Grade levels can challenge other grade levels too. For the first Math War at my school, I have decided to just have classes compete with other classes in the same grade. To determine the winner, I am calculating the total amount of items that are correct and taking a class average. This way all of the students are working towards doing better, and there are no tears or frustrations if all of them are not answered. Students will be answering all of the facts in the race, and I will give them two seconds per problem. If there are 60 problems, then students will have 2 minutes to answer all of their problems For the next war classes may compete outside their grade level; 4th graders may challenge 5th graders, for example. One of the teachers at my school suggested putting up schedules like when football games are played. So working with this suggestion, I have placed posters on the walls to add to the anticipation of triumphing over another team. This has added to student motivation since I hear students saying that “we are gonna beat Ms.____’s class”.
For trophies I tried to think of something that would reflect the idea of math and that I could spray paint gold. After brainstorming with several colleagues, someone suggested an abacus. So now I have the GOLDEN ABACUS (angels singing in the background). The golden abacus will be traveling to the winning classes and will go to follow the next champion. I bought several abacuses so that each winning class could have an abacus for each WAR.
Another math coach related to me today the story of how a student she taught had named fingers sections as something that comes in groups of threes. She took this concept and helped students use this to develop multiplication strategies to learn their threes multiplication tables. Fours multiplication tables can be learned as well if students include counting the top part of their palm. See the pictures below for more clarification.
Research shows the best way for students to learn math facts is practicing for about 7 minutes daily. With this in mind, we gave a class of students a teacher made sheet of multiplication facts in which none repeated with the commutative property. So if there was a 2×3 fact on the page, this fact didn’t repeat with a 3×2. We timed the students almost daily beginning with five minutes to complete a page of 66 problems 2’s through 12’s facts. Students would count the number they left blank and that they missed and record this on their page. Then their teacher and students would call out all the answers chorally to check. Next their teacher would record the number students missed on a chart. Every week, after students had felt some success, the time was moved down by 30 seconds until the time was equal to 2 seconds per problem (or 2 minutes and 12 seconds). This method proved to be effective for most students because we encouraged them to get just one more right each time. Below is a picture of the chart which shows students times. Each different colored row is when the time changed which you can see listed at the top of each column. The chart shows a time period of about four weeks. Even if students didn’t make it to the goal of answering each problem within two seconds, they made drastic improvements from their beginning test. Ideally more time would have been spent on practicing, however the end of the year was upon us. I was so proud of these kiddos!