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.
Brainstorming about a way to honor our proficient and advanced students from last year’s state testing, our leadership team developed the following idea. We decided to take each child’s picture and place the child on a Hollywood square with a golden star. To evoke the feeling of walking in Hollywood with the stars’ squares, we had each child hand print the square with gold paint and a golden signature. Parents, teachers, and children alike are all complimenting the wall. Everyone has been stopping to gaze at the wall and find their child, student, or themselves. We are so proud of the positive attention it is getting and the motivation it is providing. The bulletin board simply says “school’s name wall of fame”. The bulletin board has some simple stars on it and a red carpet we made from bulletin board paper. There are pictures to follow that show our final product. This would be a great way to motivate students towards any goal.
Are your students working towards mastery of their multiplication facts? their AR goal? or maybe some other goal? When your students in class are working towards a goal, use a string of large C9 Christmas lights to represent each child. Label student names on each bulb with a Sharpie marker. Unscrew the bulb so that it won’t light up until the child has reached the goal. When a child reaches his/her goal, then screw in the bulb so that it lights up. Eventually the whole string will be lit when all of the children reach their goals!
Instead of rewarding students with, classroom bucks, tickets, candy, or the like try using beads. Students earn beads for good behavior which they string in their free time to make a necklace. When students gain enough beads to string on their necklace, they are allowed to take the necklace home. Students may take all year to build their necklace. If you buy a variety of beads at a hobby store in bulk, then you may have some beads which are more sought after than others. For example, a soccer ball, basketball, or football bead may draw your boys’ attention. If you decide to implement this system in your classroom, you will have to have a place for each student to store their beads so that they are not a distraction, and so that they don’t spill easily. I used a small plastic cup (old country crock containers) hot glued to students’ desks. If students play with their beads when they are not supposed to then take some of their beads. This system does take some planning, but elementary students absolutely love it.
We recently acquired a new fourth grade teacher at school who took another teacher’s place. This new teacher is brimming with innovative ideas. She has redecorated her classroom and one of the items she had posted was a Monopoly like game board. However, instead of the word Monopoly, the 35 inch game board read “Homeworkopoly”. Out of curiosity I had to ask about this. Each time students turn in homework, they get a chance to roll dice and land on one of the Homeworkopoly spaces. Just like Monopoly each space is labeled with different opportunities. Some spaces allow students to turn over a chance card, others allow students to gain a reward such as a free homework pass, eat lunch with the teacher, and so forth. Students are motivated to turn in homework so that they can play the game. Homeworkopoly makes an attractive addition to a bulletin board, and the best part—it’s completely free. (I asked this fourth grade teacher if this actually improved students’ desire to complete homework. She said that they were more motivated, and that it increased their desire to turn in homework. You may download this pdf file at the following site with instructions and chance cards. Just click on the following picture.
I learned this valuable classroom advice from a former colleague who learned it from her master teacher. Set up your classroom using Bonus Bucks. Bonus Bucks are the size of Monopoly money in the denominations of $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills. Bonus Bucks can be earned from rewards of good behavior, classroom jobs, turning in homework etc. Students must be responsible enough to save money for paying desk rent at the end of the month. The rent is equal to the number of days in school for that month. So, for most months the rent would be about $20. Students are required to pay for privileges such as getting a drink of water, going to the bathroom, getting a new sharpened pencil, extra recess, trips to the treasure box, etc. Students may also be fined as a consequence for bad behavior. If students don’t have enough money at the end of the month to pay for rent, they must be in debt and find a way to work it off such as picking up trash, or helping the teacher, etc. Students learn the importance of saving their money and some bring in their own wallet to keep their Bonus Bucks in.
If you would like to purchase the Bonus Bucks Classroom Economy System, I have placed Bonus Bucks, a parent letter, a cooperative Bonus Buck, classroom job tags, and directions for using Bonus Bucks in your classroom on Teacher’s Pay Teachers. Click the image below to see more.
To reward your students, try smellys. Students love smellys. Smellys are when you put a happy face on the back of a child’s hand using scented chapstick or the like. If you have several flavors of chapstick, students will want all of the flavors on their hand. For example, if you have banana, cherry, and chocolate, students could progressively gain all of the scents during a day for their good behavior to accumulate the scent of a banana split.
Procedures are the expectations you have for the way your classroom runs. If you have vague procedures, then you will not have the results you desire. For example, if you want your students to quietly put their papers in the paper tray when they finish their work, you must first consider the other problems that may occur. Students may stand around the paper tray and talk. They may rush to shuffle their papers in the tray in differing directions, or they may elbow one another when they turn their papers in because they are in a hurry. Discuss these potential problems with your students, and ask students how this could cause problems…even model the wrong way to act. Then tell students your expectations and how you want them to act. Model how to walk to the paper tray, how to place the paper in the tray, what to do when there is more than one person at the tray, and how to leave the paper tray after the they have turned the paper in. Being specific about what you expect and reinforcing your expectations will yield a well-managed, positive, classroom environment.