Monday, June 23, 2008

Two Favorite Math Activities

The first one is a game. You need coins: pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Plastic or paper coins both work fine. And you also need a partner and one six sided die. The game is super easy to learn, and pretty easy for most kids to play.
  • Put all the coins in the middle, this is the "bank"
  • Take turns rolling the die
  • Whatever number you roll, that's how many pennies you get from the bank
  • Whenever you can, trade your coins in for higher valued coins. You have to say the words, "I can trade (number) _______s for (number) ________. For example: "I can trade two nickels for one dime."
  • The first player that can trade in for a quarter is the WINNER.
There's lots of wiggle room in this game for different levels of math thinking. If I have seven cents and roll a 3, I can just give the bank my seven cents and take out a dime. But if I'm not ready to see why that would work, I can take three pennies, and then make the trade. I especially like the required talking in this game, which is helpful for kids still learning coin values, and is also good for reinforcing the mathematical thinking that's happening as kids become more sophisticated at quickly trading up their coins.

Variations: roll two dice and/or declare the winner as the first person to reach 1 dollar.

Another one of my all time favorite math activities is skip counting around a circle or down a line and finding shortcuts to figure out what number we'll end on. When you skip count by 25 you can put everyone in the circle into groups of 4 and quickly figure out what number we'll end on by counting the groups of 4 as worth 100 each, just like counting quarters. Counting by big numbers like 500 or 5000 helps expand students' understanding of place value and scale. And counting by 1/2 or 1/3 helps with both adding and eventually multiplying fractions. Every skip counting exercise can be connected to a multiplication and division problem. To manage this activity I let the kids know who will be first and what we'll be counting by. I always say "Zero" and then the first kid says whatever number we're counting by. If somebody says the wrong number, we start over. If anybody is side-talking, we start over. The repetition helps the kids find and remember patterns, and they have to pay attention so they know what number to say on their turn.

Our district just adopted a new math text book. At first I was pretty upset, cuz I've loved the Investigations materials I've used for the last six years. I've always supplemented the Investigations program, of course, but the activities in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade materials were perfect for getting kids to develop a solid framework of mathematical concepts and relationships which leads to strong number sense and problem solving abilities. I'm not upset these days, though, cuz I've come to see every new textbook as just another "resource" and I'm still the artist that puts it altogether.

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