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Do You Need Some More Math Activities for Math Night?

Take a look at these exciting photos of our recent Family Math Night.  Originally we had scheduled Family Math Night on the 100th Day of school to build more momentum for the event, but we had to reschedule Math Night due to weather.  I’m mainly including activities that we hadn’t done before, and I will include links to former math nights so you can get even MORE ideas!

To start, tables with parent information were set up in the hallway.  The more inviting and fun student tables were set up inside the cafeteria.

Since many parents are unfamiliar with ten frames (I had never heard of them until I had started teaching), we had a table informing them of how ten frames work.



Then we had an information table showing the parents of 2nd and 3rd graders addition and subtraction strategies.  Parents even had an opportunity to see how base ten blocks were used to do regrouping.




Here is a station explaining to parents how Reflex Math works.  We had a laptop set up to show parents Reflex Math from a kid’s perspective.MathNight2014Blog-43

One teacher put together game packets for parents to play math games with their children at home.



Now it’s time for the fun stuff!

Below you will see beach balls with math facts written all over them using Sharpie permanent markers.  When someone catches the ball, the right thumb’s landing spot determines the math fact that must be answered.   We had large beach balls for the kids to play with and small ones for them to take home.  We ordered the beach balls from Oriental Trading Company.


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How many books will it take for YOU to weigh 100 pounds?  That is the question that students had to answer when they stopped at this station.  Students estimated how many heavy encyclopedias it would take for them to weigh 100 pounds.  Having experiences with measurement is the best way for students to make reasonable estimates with measurement.



Uh-oh!  Looks like he picked up too many books, but he’s close!

Fractions beckoned to students’ interests under the guise of a messy pudding party.  Students had to measure out two cups of milk without using a 1 cup measuring cup.  They had to use ½, ⅓, or ¼  measuring cup .  Doing so made them repeat these measurements until they had milk equivalent to 2 cups.MathNight2014Blog-4

What is Math Night without estimation stations?


I have done estimation stations every year we have had Math Night, but I wanted to do a little something different this year.

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Instead of just having the estimation jar, ziploc baggies were placed in front of the jars with 10 of the candy item inside.  This helped students make more precise estimates.  I also had a wild idea about gluing base ten blocks together to see who could come the closest to estimating the total of the blocks in a base ten tower.


How many are in this base ten structure?  Can you guess?

(above) I know the tower looks more like the leaning tower of Pisa than anything of mathematical value–it looks like a hot mess–a hot glue gun mess ;).   What can I say…I think I should pose like one of Charlie’s Angels with my hot glue gun!

(below) Making 10 groups of 10 was a kid favorite last year and remained a kid favorite this year.  Kids took small food items and grouped them on a mat.  They got to eat their 10 groups of 10/100 items when they had filled up their mat! Yummy!




(below) Where did Freddy the Frog land on the hundred’s chart?  These kids played Toss and Guess, a game with a giant hundreds chart grid and a beanbag–in this case a bean bag frog.  The idea for the grid and the Toss and Guess game came from The Learning Carpet.  Kids received prizes when they guessed where the frog landed correctly.


Below is my absolute favorite booth of all booths!  How many hulas can you hoop?  Students hula hooped until they could hula no more.  Then they counted their hulas and wrote the total of their hulas on a piece of paper.   They stuck this paper to the wall so other students could compete with the highest total.  The two hula hoopers with the greatest number of hulas won a hula hoop!

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The following made the evening worth while.  This parent solved math problems with her Pre-K student.  She helped him count on her fingers!  This embodied the goal of the whole evening–helping parents connect to their children through mathematical thinking!

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 If you liked this post about Math Night, you might also like Math Night from 2012 and 2013…







 I hope these posts inspire you to make your math night fun!

How Can You Motivate Your Class to Learn Math Facts?

This year, I have had the most competitive success when I have given attention to students progress on Reflex (an online math fact video game-like program for learning math facts–Read more about Reflex here).  Each Friday, I pass out the reward certificates and recognize students who get a certificate at our morning meeting.  Students who get a certificate also win a little prize with each certificate.  What has helped the classes become most competitive is the bar graph I have hung in the hallway.  Each class name is at the bottom of a bar.  I update this graph nearly daily.  Every time students go down the main hallway, they look to see if their class has grown on the graph.  I have placed the graph below…

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As you can see the taller bars are the 3rd-5th graders which have gotten VERY competitive.  On our last contest 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place were only 1 point away from each other!  I took a picture of the classes who won on the last contest to place beside the graph.  I personally reward the 1st place classes with a party.  This time I was so proud of the special ed class who won 1st place!

In addition to the above graph, one of our teachers has developed a class thermometer for her individual class competition out in the hallway.  She moves each student’s name on a clothespin closer up the thermometer to 100% fluency each week.

I am not paid a dime to say this, but I must say Reflex math is the most effective tool I have ever used to teach math facts!

I must be honest.  I hope the wall isn’t red underneath the paper at the end of the year.  I think that every time I color on the paper to fill in the bars…the paper is kind of thin.

Try This to Promote Fact Fluency at Your School!

Reflex Math…I LOVE IT!  Kids LOVE it!  In case you aren’t familiar with Reflex, it is a computer program that web based and helps students learn their math facts.  The computer program is like a video game so it is very engaging to kids.  I wrote more about Reflex math here.  I am always trying to think of ways to encourage students to be a little more competitive about learning their facts, so I  host a contest every quarter.  We just finished our first Reflex contest a few weeks ago.  While the contest was going on, I created a bulletin board with the students who were in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place weekly.  I also announced these students every week.  When the contest was over, I posted the students photographs on the bulletin board with their names.

Reflex Contest

I also posted the students’ fluency certificates on the wall beside the bulletin board.

Fluency Certificates

When students earn a certificate, they get to pick out a prize.  A teacher at my school met one of the representatives from Reflex at a conference this summer and the representative gave her lots of free prizes.  The kids especially love the fake tattoos.


In case you don’t have Reflex at your school and you would like to try it out, they offer grants to teachers to try it out for free for 12 months.

Cute, Cheap, and Easy Trophies

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.


Could This Be the Reason Students Confuse Many Word Problems?

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.

Try This Reward If You Have No Funds…

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.

Math Wars trophy for first place and golden abacuses for grade level winners.

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.

How Do You Motivate Students to Learn Their Math Facts?

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.

How Can You Use Your Hands as Multiplication Manipulatives?

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.

Update September 2017:  Due to one of the comments below, I made a video describing how this works with the 3s multiplication facts.  Click here for the video.

An Effective Tool for Motivating Students to Learn Multiplication Facts

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!



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