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Math Activities Idea Bank
for the Home, the Classroom, and the Whole School !

(Share your ideas, too!)

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* school math carnival (or math night)
* classroom math activities
* more ideas for math manipulatives
* math at home
* resources

(Be sure to visit the other Idea Banks for more creative math activities!)

* schoolwide math carnival or math night
A Student-Led Family Math Night

I've written two articles for Education World with lots of ideas and advice for coordinating a student-led Math Family Fun Night:

A Student-Led Math Family Fun Night: Learning from the Planning Process

A Student-Led Math Family Fun Night: Logistics

There are more planning tips and activity ideas in this handout I've put together:

Step Right Up to a Student-Led Math Family Fun Night!

Wendy P of Math Cats, 2/1/09

Kids plan a math carnival

I found a way to motivate the kids to really try by setting a goal and working towards it. I told them that when they reached the goal they could give a math party. The children all helped each other so that they could attain their goal. When we reached our goal, the children all made carnival type math games with prizes and everything. There was beanbag toss, fishing for facts, matching boards that buzzed or lighted up when the right answer was made, etc. All games had to have a math connection. The kids learned a lot just making the games, and when we invited the other 5th grades, they were so proud of their accomplishment.

Hannah Means, 9/09/00 on the upper elementary board

Math Fair for Kindergarten students

The pentominoes problem is probably age-appropriate: How many different shapes can be made using five equally- sized squares?

*Anyone who has played Tetris knows the shapes that can be made with four squares. This problem extends the Tetris shapes by adding a square to those pieces. You would need manipulatives (square counters) for the students to solve the puzzle.

KDurham, 9/08/00 on the math board

Games for Math Carnival

> I need an idea for a game for our school Math Carnival (grades K-6).

Since I'm not sure what you mean by "math carnival"... I'll suggest a few activities that I think might work.

Penny Flip...

Predict which you think will come up most often... heads or tails... then flip a penny 20 times. I'd have a recording sheet (half page) with one side heads, one side tails. Kids record each flip with a tally mark. Compare prediction.

Measure yourself with paper clips... how many paper clips high are you? Compare your height with someone else... how many more paperclips high were you... or less were you?

You could have a pattern blocks center... either free exploration or give them designs to replicate. If they know symmetry... have them make a symetrical design.

Tallytchr, 11/01/00 on the main board

Metric Day

How about a scavenger hunt. Give the students a list of things like measuring 15 mL of water, finding something in the room that has a mass of 10 grams,something that measures 5 cm, etc. Have balances, graduated cylinders etc. around the room.

Linda, 10/06/00 on the math board

Family Math Night

I invited K-6 students with their parents, along with the school board, community members, and the media. A H.S. teacher is giving his students extra credit to volunteer their help. The list of H.S. helpers is 30! I have about 10 adult volunteers also.

There will be 18 centers spaced around the gym. They will sign in and get an activity sheet. As they complete the activities, a volunteer will sign the sheet. If they do all activities they get a prize.

I have three graphing centers. One to measure and compare heights, one is a birthday tree that each branch represents a month, and a picture graph where people can add scoops to their favorite flavor of ice cream cone.

There are three prize activities. Pumpkin Pounds is a weight estimation where the winner gets the large pumpkin, Money Sense is a jar of money that the person with the closest estimated amount wins, and there is an edible Estimation Jar of candy corn that can be won.

There are two open ended tables with Tangrams and Geo Boards.

Suitcase math will touch on probability of finding a matching pair of socks.

What's To Eat involves students using a menu from a local restaurant and deciding what they will eat for three meals - without spending more than $15.

Spider Angles is an activity where participants use protractors to measure the angles of a web.

A bean bag toss and a bowling center will require them to keep score.

I have Gourd Guess ready to go as students describe gourds, estimate their weight, and then actually check their estimation.

Musical dominoes is a fraction activity to match musical notes with their fraction.

Circumference Challenge has people estimating then measuring the circumference of grapes, pumpkins, gourds, plates, frisbees...

There will also be a center where people measure the length of the gym using ears of corn, sleeping friends, footsteps, and standard measurements.

Take your licks is another estimation activity where they predict and record the findings. And yes it is a follow up to the old Tootsie Pop commercial.

...My cart is loaded and I think I am ready for tomorrow. I hope our community comes and enjoys their night.

Robin Miley, Marion, Ohio, 10/17/00 in a letter to Math Cats

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follow-up letter, 10/26/00:

Wendy, After canceling math night last week due to fog, we finally were able to hold the event last night. We had approximately 100 people here, including 19 high school volunteers. It was so great to see the families having fun with math. The volunteer students had as much fun as the younger kids! We actually had to ask the volunteers to close their centers because it became late and people did not want to leave!

The local paper was not able to come, but I took pictures and have already submitted an article for the district newsletter and will be sending one to the local paper.

Next year will be bigger and better.

* classroom math activities (for math centers or free time)
Re: "I almost went crazy today"

> I am just tired of kids saying what do I do now?????
> I feel like saying "Stand on your head!" Help!

What about math games with someone else who is also finished? I teach second grade and we learn math games as a group and then use them to practice skills during choice times or when work is completed early.

A deck of cards can be used for an addition or multiplication war game. The dealer passes out all the cards. Players don't look at their cards. Each player turns up two cards. In addition war, the highest sum wins the hand. In multiplication war, the highest product wins the hand. Play continues until one player has no more cards.

Another activity I use in first and second grade is writing numbers. Each student starts with 1 and continues writing numbers as far as they can. I give them 1 inch grid paper for this. When they complete one sheet, they get another sheet and keep going, by beginning with the next counting number. All it usually takes to get everyone excited about this is for one student to be one hundred or two hundred beyond the others. Then everyone is eager to catch up and surpass that student.

RTH, 10/17/00 on primary elementary board

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...Amy, get a bucket of pattern blocks. A group of about 6 kids can build patterns, pictures, etc... when they need something to do. I've been using them for 10 years as a math followup activity and they haven't let me down yet. All kids love them.


Re: Need fun math activity

How about tessellations to color and create? Or mobius strips. (You make them, have them draw a line down the center and they discover that they have covered "both" sides. Then have them cut along that line and see what happens. It is very impressive if you make a regular loop first and do each activity on the regular one and then the mobius strip.) I learned my first origami folds from my second grade teacher. I was HOOKED! Have them used patty paper (about $6 for a box of 1000 sheets - contact Key Curriculum Press or a Restaurant Supply house) and make paper cups (three folds and see if they hold water) or a sail boat (3 or 4 folds and have pans of water and see if they float). Cheap, fun, and related to other areas of math, not just arithmetic.

DSF/NJ (Donna), 9/23/00, on the math board

Candy Corn Math

> Help! I need a cute math activity using candy corn.
> It's for 1st graders. Thanks much! Smoore

I make up a simple Bingo grid, then give the kids 24 simple facts to cut apart and glue into the various spaces on the Bingo grid. Remember to mark the center spot FREE. It doesn't matter where the fact is on the grid. Students take turns calling off a fact, then giving the answer. If the fact is answered correctly, then a candy corn can go on that space. Remember each child has the same simple facts, but the arrangement is different. Each child should be able to cover the fact, if the "caller" answers the simple fact correctly. If the fact answer is wrong, then the candy corn can not be placed on the grid by anyone.

BLACK OUT is achieved at the same time, since everyone has the same 24 simple facts.

KathyB/1st/IA, 10/23/00, on primary elementary board

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Candy Corn as a Non-Standard Measure

How many pieces of candy corn long is .....

The Worksheet magazine for Sept./October had a worksheet for this but you could use the corn to measure anything just as you would paperclips, unifix cubes, etc....

Tallytchr, 10/23/00, on primary elementary board

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Candy Corn Math

October/November 2000 Mailbox has a few pages using candy corn. Give each child 6 candycorn patterns and have them find the 6 ways to color candycorn using orange, yellow and white. My first graders had a blast doing this. We also did a measuring activity with them. After they were done they got to eat them.

Tigger/WA, 10/23/00, on primary elementary board

* Magnetic Paper--how to "make your own" cheaply

>> Have any of you used the magnetic paper... I have a
>> nice big white dry-erase board that is metal so I have a
>> perfect place to use the magnetic paper...
>> Jane

> ... tell me where you got it so I can get some too. Thanks!

I cannot answer the question about where to purchase magnetic paper, but I can tell you how to simulate your own for what I am guessing is much less money. I used to go to a hardware store and purchase large rolls of magnetic stripping. It has one sticky side (covered by paper until you are ready to apply it to something). It is sold in hardware stores for use in installing plastic sheeting over windows to make el cheapo "storm windows" in wintertime. (Homeowners would put strips of the magnetic "tape" around the window edge and then secure sturdy plastic with more magnetic tape applied to the edges of the plastic.) It is also sold near tools and nails. I've also found it in hobby and craft stores such as Michael's.

[Recent cost comparison: HomeDepot had 30 inches for $2.99 (10 cents per inch). Michael's had 10 feet for $2.99 (2 1/2 cents per inch).]

It is easy to cut with scissors. I used it many, many ways:

1) I applied a few little pieces to the corners of fake laminated money and then did a lot of money math on my metal chalkboard.

2) I applied little pieces to Cuisenaire rods and could illustrate math problems right on the board. (We had a set of double-sized rods which I used on the board, but the ordinary size would work, too.)

3) I applied little pieces to Base Ten Blocks and also used them for board work. Same with a paper measuring tape.

4) I drew pictures on poster board, cut them out, and applied little magnetic pieces to their backs for illustrated math story problems. (The ideas shared earlier in this thread about scanning and then printing photos or clip art onto magnetic paper could be adapted here: print instead onto white index paper (the thickness of 3x5 cards... can be purchased in paper stores and some copy shops), and then place little pieces of magnetic tape on their backs.

5) Call me crazy, but I actually made 100 little squares (of picture-matting board... but one could use cheaper poster board, too) for each student, wrote the products for all the multiplication facts up to 10 x 10 on the 100 squares, put a tiny bit of magnetic tape on the back of each square, and put these in a jar for each student. Then I purchased a class set of metal boards at a hardware store. They were maybe 14x18 inches or so... they were meant to be a surface for setting hot pots on or something; they had kind of a cardboard backing. I drew a multiplication grid with permanent marker on each board. The students would use their jar of numbers to see how fast they could fill the multiplication grid. They loved this, and I used them over and over for years. (I put a letter of the alphabet on the back of each, using the same letter for each number tile in a jar, so that we could straighten out whose numbers were whose if they got spilled.) The kids loved those magnetic multiplication squares so much that I'd still hear about it years after they left my classroom. (Now I have an online version of the multiplication squares in the MicroWorlds section of Math Cats, and the pieces never get lost!)

6) I obtained some library card pockets (the kind which are placed inside books to hold the sign-out card) from the school librarian, stuck magnetic tape on the backs, and placed them on the board. I wrote the name of each activity center on these pockets and drew a little picture to represent each activity. I wrote the students' names on popsicle sticks. Then it was easy to send them to specific centers by placing their popsicle sticks in the different pockets. With a glance at the board, the students could see where they were to go.

7) My students could use a two-dimensional "grocery store" right on the board. I put magnetic tape on the back of 6 x 9 " envelopes (with the opening on the 9" side) and labelled one for each food group. The students cut out food photos from magazines and pasted them onto poster board, then cut them out again to make sturdy flat food. They invented prices for each and placed them in the envelopes. We would stick these envelopes on the metal chalkboard and the students would "shop" by selecting items from each envelope and adding up their costs. (One could also magnetize all of this flat food to illustrate grocery store math problems on the board.)

With the rolls of magnetic tape I'm describing, for just pennies per object, you can practically magnetize your whole classroom!... pattern blocks, fraction pieces, student photos or name cards, sentence strips, vocabulary words, whatever! Since you only need a small piece of the tape at the edges of the items, even a large graphic (say, 10x10") can be made magnetic for pennies, too.

Another thing I like about the magnetic tape is that it slightly elevates the items above the board, so they are very easy to lift and remove.

A word of caution: in this modern age of computers, students need to be reminded often not to place anything magnetic near computers or disks (or cassette tapes). I have had students attempt to place magnetic items on computer screens, and this can leave a permanent dark circle on the monitor's screen. Magnets can also destroy data.

Wendy P of Math Cats, 11/04/00 on math board

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> ... As for where I found my magnetic paper, it was at Wal-Mart.
> Expensive... three 8 1/2 x 11 sheets for $7.00+. I think I will
> print their names on what I bought and use them for graphs, etc.
> and go to Lowes and get some magnetic tape. I love all of Wendy's
> ideas. Thanks so much. --Jane

Why use math fact coloring sheets?

> I am looking for sites that have math fact sheets on them.
> The kind for younger children that have pictures to color.
> Something like color by number but w/ math problems.

It is your business, but as an elementary math teacher who is also a parent, I wish I could discourage you from using such sheets. Years ago in first grade, my son had to do a few of those for homework every night. It took him about 2 minutes to do the math and an HOUR to do the coloring, because it was supposed to be "neat." It just trained him to dislike math, his homework, and his teacher. Now my daughter has the same teacher and the same math coloring homework. She had been so excited about finally being a big girl and having homework, but let me tell you, she hates homework on math coloring night.

If you want them for homework sheets, there are much more stimulating things you could ask your students to do at home.

Why not have them use dry beans or pennies or whatever to illustrate the problems at home and have a parent initial the page to verify that they did it? Or illustrate a few of the problems symbolically on the page?

Subtraction problems are particularly good to illustrate, because you can show your students that there are two ways to approach it: for instance
8 - 3 = 5
could have 8 objects with 3 crossed out, or two sets: 8 in one set and 3 in another set directly below, maybe with little lines linking pairs, and the unpaired 5 are circled. You could ask your students to write a word problem to go with each illustration, to show that the first illustration means literally taking away (as in, Joe had 8 jelly beans and ate 3) and the second illustration means comparing, as in Joe had 8 jelly beans and Jill had 3; how many more did Joe have?)

Obviously my remarks apply even more so if this is for in- class work. Children of the age where coloring sheets might be considered appropriate are of the age where hands-on math activities should be an integral part of each day's math activities. If they are going to take the time to color, this time would, I think, be better spent on hands-on work with objects: Cuisenaire rods, number balance, objects to count, money, etc.

And if your students know this information well enough that they don't need manipulatives, then I would submit that they don't need math coloring sheets, either.

"just wondering" (actually Wendy P of Math Cats), 10/25/00 on math board

* math at home
graphing at home

A math activity I send home for my students to do with their parents is to fill in a graph. The graph is filled in according to how many windows, doors, chairs, etc. they have in their home.

Kathy, 10/22/00 on primary elementary board

practicing addition facts at home

As a parent, when my oldest child was in first grade and was expected to memorize the addition and subtraction facts, his most meaningful work was done in the bathtub! I used the same strategy with my second and third grade students to help them learn and UNDERSTAND the facts, but of course without the bathtub setting. But if any parents are reading this, I still think nothing beats bathtub math! It worked like this:

As I sat beside the tub while my son was soaking and playing, which was a nice, relaxing time (either before or after the getting-clean part), I would ask him fact problems. As soon as I'd say the question, I would start lightly slapping my leg, about one slap per second. He would try to answer within ten slaps. If he couldn't, then he could take as much time as he needed (I'd stop slapping my leg of course), but along with the answer he would need to verbalize an explanation of how he arrived at the answer. No fingers allowed. There were three basic strategies which we found useful:

1) using 10 as an anchor, as I've described [see "May I suggest some hands-on and mental math alternatives?" in the Addition and Subtraction Idea Bank for the "unabridged" version of this posting!]
2) building on a known fact (often a double)
3) starting with 10 + a number and adjusting

For strategy #2: if I said "7 + 8," his answer might be, "Well, I knew that 7 + 7 is 14 (because the doubles are easy to learn), so I added one more, because 8 is one more than 7. So it is 15."
Similarly, for 7 + 6 he might use 7 + 7 as his known fact and then subtract 1 to get 13, because 6 is one less than 7.
For strategy #3: if I said "9 + 8," he might say, "10 + 8 would be 18, so 9 + 8 is one less, 17."

Gradually we would shorten the number of slaps, working our way down to 3 seconds, as more and more facts became familiar friends.

After we did this each evening for a week, he could answer any fact within three seconds. Either he had simply learned them from the repetition, or he had become so adept at the mental strategies that he could implement them within moments. And these same strategies served him (and my students) well in a variety of ways throughout the years.

As a teacher, I sent home information sheets to the parents describing some of these strategies for learning the facts and asked them to reinforce them at home. (I may have even recommended the bathtub!)

Wendy P of Math Cats, 10/25/00 on math board

practicing multiplication facts at home

My 6th grade partner ... met and spoke specifically with about one fourth of the parents this year at our parents information night. She talked very frankly about the need to know/memorize multiplication facts. She demonstrated how easy it was to add on your fingers the addition facts, but how very difficult it is to even do a single digit multiplication fact by adding.

One of the parents asked how she planned on making it fun for his son to learn these facts. She replied that in 3rd grade, his son had the opportunity to earn parts of an ice cream sundae, in fourth grade his son had the opportunity to earn a skating party, in fifth grade, his son had the opportunity to earn a can of pop, sixth grade the opportunity to learn his facts "just for fun" was over. It was pay up time. She distributed flash card instructions to the parents with a 3 week timeline - to be implemented at home. During those 3 weeks, she said that she would provide review in school. At the end of that time, if the kids did not make use of that study guide, she would use their lunch recess (many parents said that it would be hard to find 15 minutes a day to review flashcards at home). She said that she knew her timeline would work regardless of when the 15 days of 15 minutes would be taken out of the kids' days.

She honestly feels that for this group of kids, it's just laziness. Now, I'm not always so frank, but for her it seems to work.

bj6, 9/9/00, on upper elementary board

* resources
Hundreds Board

> I'm looking for some ideas I can use with the hundreds board.
> I would like to use it as a mental math activity for 15 minutes a day.

We use all the Marcy Cook 100 Ideas and my third graders love doing it!

Jam, 10/06/00 on the math board

Need help with math centers for 3rd grade.

> I'm trying to meet the needs of all my kids & I'm having
> trouble coming up with ideas for centers. Any suggestions
> for place value, measurement, addition and/or multiplication??

Here's a link to a good book--It's exactly what you need.

Instant Math Centers, Grades 2-3 (CTP 2598, $12.98)

[or go to the products section of
Creative Teaching Press
and do a search for the math materials of your choice. Lots of great resources!]


Book of games for number sense

A great book with a lot of good games for number sense is
Nimble with Numbers.

Family Math also has a lot of interesting games/activities.

Debbie, 10/17/00 on primary elementary board

Brain teasers or puzzles for students who finish early

Try checking out Critical Thinking Books web site; they have a wide selection of materials to chose from. Lots of gifted teachers use their books. I love them!

Laura, 9/20/00, on the math board

math computer games on the Web

> Is there any good educational computer games that anyone
> suggest for math?

Why pay for computer games when there are so many good free ones on the Web? Some are basic drill and practice, but there are such a variety of them that I doubt students would get tired of sampling them. Some sites include creative explorations, such as interactive geometry applets which let you manipulate 2-D and virtual 3-D geometric shapes, and so on. Rather than listing dozens here, I recommend that you go to Yahooligans ( ), then either type in "math games" or go to School Bell -> Math -> Math Games and Puzzles (or any of the other math categories). The sites and descriptions are targeted for children ages 7 - 12.

Wendy P of Math Cats, 10/17/00 on math board

Bingomaker site

> I am looking for an educational version of Bingo, for the
> students and their parents... Any suggestions, or forwards to
> other sites would really be helpful.
> Dena, 10/16/00

At this site you can download a program to make your own Bingo to reinforce any unit you are working on!

LisaMarie/MI, 10/18/00 on primary elementary board

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