My All Time Favorite Middle School Math Lessons

I’m teaching high school now, but here are the lessons that I miss the very most.  These are my “Must Do” lessons.  I have a few friends who will teach middle school math (or Algebra 1) for the first time this year.  Thanks to Jami for the inspiration for organizing these lessons.  It’s been a walk down memory lane for me.  I really miss middle school.

My All Time Favorite Lessons

These lessons really kicked ass.  Not only did I love teaching them, but students had a blast.  Best of all, these are the lessons that students learned the most from.  They were totally engaged and the ideas stuck.  Of course my number one lesson of all time is Barbie Bungee.  And, I just realized that I never blogged about some of my all time favorite lessons!  Goals!

  1. Barbie Bungee (Linear equations), 2 – 4 days.  I can never, ever say enough about this lesson.  It is my students favorite every year.  The last year, I even bought cheap tiaras for the winning group.  YES, the boys wore them.  My only regret was not dressing up like Barbie after seeing Matt and Fawn do it.
  2. The Black Death (Ratio and proportions), 1 day.  This is great for a cross-curricular activity if your students are learning about the middle ages as well.  Be sure to play the turn off the lights and play scary medieval music during the lesson! Also, you will find out years later that your students memorized every word to the “Fleas On Rats” YouTube video you showed them and will sing it everytime “Hollar Back Girl” comes on.  Epic.
  3. Monster Math (Introduction to solving equations), 2 days and ongoing.  There is NOTHING worse in the world than trying to make 6th graders (read boys) write down every step when they are solving equations on paper for the first time, nothing.  This makes equation solving so fun and helps them understand what is happening.  Be sure to do the “Pass the paper” activity in the lesson so your students have no choice but to write their steps down.  But don’t worry, they will WANT to so they can draw extra monsters!  Protip:  Wear the hat!
  4. Army Men and Circle Stickers for Learning Integer Operations (Negative Numbers), 2 – 3 days and ongoing.  So, I know that army men killing each other is not “PC”.  BUT, it’s such a fun way to illustrate a zero pair that it has to be done.  I start with Army Men (days 1-2), then move onto Circle Stickers for a few days.  Let them use the men and the stickers on the first few assessments!  They won’t always need them, I promise!
  5. Paper Airplanes for Measures of Central Tendencies (Mean, Median, and Mode, and negative numbers), 2 days.  AND following directions, and negative numbers.  When students throw their plane and it goes backwards you get bonus math.  What is the furthest distance from the negative distance minus the longest distance?  Subtraction of a negative!!  This is the a very visual way to see subtract of a negative.
  6. Mathemagic (More advanced simplifying equations and equation solving), 2 days.  I love this because even beginner can do very advanced equations very quickly.  Plus, who doesn’t love magic?  The hook is when you guess their numbers, so don’t forget to do that first!
  7. The Pattern Function Connection (learning the connection between patterns, tables, and graphs and how to write a function from a pattern).  2 days or 2 weeks, however  much you want to use it.  It goes great with Fawn’s Visual Patterns.  I used this in 6th grade, and this year I will use it in Honors Algebra 2.  Classic.
  8. Square Root Cheez-Its (Square roots, perfect squares), 1 day.  I used this in MS and in 9th grade geometry.
  9. Playdoh and Cheerios for Volume  (Discovering volume formulas), 1 – 2 days.  Students know many of the formulas, but slicing playdoh helps them discover what the formulas mean.  You can also use marshmallows instead of cheerios.
  10. Algebra Tiles, Ongoing.
  11. The CLAW (Distributive Property), 1 day then ongoing.  Thank you Sean for introducing me to the CLAW!!  It’s so much fun and when we factor, we are retracting the claw!
  12. Ski Slopes and Slope Guy (Slope – Puff, puff positive), 1 day.  Don’t write off the video, I promise your students will love it.  And, it will help them!
  13. Equation of a Line Song (y = mx + b), 1 day then ongoing.  My students still sing this song and will never ever forget what a 0 slope or undefined slope look like.  I miss it!!
  14. Fraction Song, 2 days then ongoing FOREVER.  I have hs students who see me out and tell me they sing it all of the time.  Songs are a fantastic way to access their memory!  (I just read “Make It Stick”).
  15. Geometry Booklets, 1 unit.  This made the 1 million Geometry terms you have to go over in MS fun.  And they can keep it for later classes.
  16. M&M Percents (need to blog), 1 day.  Paper plates, M&M’s and percents.  I did this activity the first day of our percent unit.  I found the somewhere and loved it.  I can’t believe I never blogged about it.
  17. Kinesthetic Algebra (Introducing Variables), 1 day.  I still use this with HS students.  It is a short activity that gets a lot of ah-ha! moments.
  18. Turning Words into Math (Translating Algebraic Expressions), 2 days.
  19. Fibonacci Rabbits (need to blog), 1 day
  20. Factor Craze and Pascal’s Triangle (Factors and Exponents), 1 – 2 days
  21. Solving for Y with Cups and Kisses (Solving equations for a variable), 1 day
  22. Goldfish – Capture Recapture (Ratios and Proportions), 1 day
  23. Dominoes Pizza (Linear equations), 2 – 4 days.  This is a free Mathalicious lesson.

My Favorite Activities

  1. White Boards – Individual and Mega
  2. Problem Solving – Fawn is the queen, and her site will help you!  Kids love it!
  3. Math Stations – Great for review days.  I also did this with proof writing in Geometry.
  4. Trasketball – Awesome review game.  Kids can get too competitive.
  5. Speed Dating – Great to get kids working with different people all period. HS students will be embarrassed bc of the name and work quietly. lol!
  6. Flyswatter Game – Protip:  Buy sturdy flyswatters, and have extras!
  7. Draw It!
  8. Dry Erase Necklaces
  9. Mathalicious Lessons – my students loved these and they were very structured so they were easy for me to implement.

My Favorite Technology

  1. Desmos
  2. PearDeck
  3. Mathalicious
  4. Kahoot!
  5. Plickers
  6. Remind
  7. Socrative

Plickers aka “Can We Do This All Period?”

If you want 100% of your students engaged and asking you to do an activity, you need to try Plickers.

photoThe amazing Pam Wilson introduced us to them at Twitter Math Camp.  We were ALL amazed and impressed!

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A Plicker is a “paper clicker” with a bar code that the students hold up and then you scan with any smartphone or iPad.  Only one device needed, no batteries required!  The students can pick A, B, C, D or True/False.  The data immediately shows up on your phone AND on their website as a bar graph.  I assigned my students a number, so I can even see who missed the question as I am scanning the room.

From your computer, you can project their responses onto your overhead.  It only shows the correct responses in the “Live View”.

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It also stores the data on their website so you have a record of correct and incorrect answers.  I know you think that I must be lying, but I am not.  These things are AMAZING.

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I decided to affix my students Plickers to the back of their INB with clear contact paper.  That way, they should always have them handy during class, and hopefully they won’t get destroyed!  I oriented them all differently (either A, B, C, or D facing up) on their notebooks so they couldn’t see how other students were holding up their notebooks to get a hint.  It’s so much fun for the students and for me!

I have been using it as a warm-up, to asses prior knowledge or expose them to a new topic that we will begin that day.  I think it would also be a great “Pre-Assessment” or “Exit Ticket” tool.

You can see below how other teachers are using them in class as well.  If you have an idea about how Plickers could be used, please put it in the comments.  Also, if you have blogged about Plickers, please post your link in the comments so that we can all get great new ideas!

Add It Up Partner Activity and Games – MS Sunday Funday!

I teach 6th and 7th grade math so I get my students for two years in a row. The beginning of 7th grade year is a review of their entire 6th grade year. It’s fabulous because I get to go pretty fast through the material and only focus on what they need. I don’t usually need to teach the entire lesson again and they did the discovery activity the year before. This leaves plenty of time to practice, practice, practice!

This year I’ve had much more fun than ever before with in class practice thanks to the great math teachers at TMC12. This summer I learned all about their favorite things, many of which included fun ways to practice.

I have found that practice is more effective when I put kids in groups or with a partner and either play games or do a fun activity. I never, ever just give them a worksheet to work on.

Right now my favorite activity is Rachel’s math “placemats”. I made a dry erase template for the activity and called it “Add It Up”. All you need to play is a worksheet and a template. You can use any worksheet that you have. To play, two or four students work on individual problems and then add the sum up and write it in the middle. I check the sum. If it’s correct, they move on. If it is incorrect, they don’t know which problem is incorrect. I usually tell them to work each others problem.

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This is a great way to differentiate. I usually have the students work with students that work at the same “pace” as they do so one student doesn’t get frustrated. Everyone can thus work at their own pace. Quicker students move from the easier problems at the beginning to the work difficult ones. And, I put incredibly difficult problems at the end. It’s the one day when I can really challenge my highly gifted students. I can also take time to sit with my students that need more help and do some re-teaching.


My other favorites are games. I’ve had the kids play Zero lately with cards and they love it. I’ve also made block games (from Cheesemonkey) this year and puzzles. I’m using a puzzle for the first time in two weeks as a challenge exercise so I’ll see how it goes!

Dry Erase Index Card Necklaces

I loved new blogger Bruce’s post “My Name is 6 x 7” where each student wears a multiplication fact (say 12 x 6) on a name tag.  Then, everyone calls that person 72 for the whole time they are wearing their multiplication name tag.  As soon as I read this, I knew I had to try it with my 6th graders!   Most of them are still having trouble with 9’s and 12’s facts.  My problem is they are only in math for 1 hour a day, so for this to be effective, they would need to wear their facts for a few days in a row in my class.  Since I didn’t want to use up 32 name tags a day (labels can get expensive), I came up with a dry-erase nametag solution.

Nora gave me the great idea in a comment on my Math Stations post about making necklaces out of index cards.  I laminated index cards, punched two holes in them, and then put string in them to make dry-erase index card necklaces.  When the students come in, they can write their fact on their necklace and wear it.  Whenever they speak, they must introduce themselves (ie – 12×6 would be called 72!  And whenever anyone speaks to them, they must call them by their multiplication name (72).

These necklaces are so cool that I am trying to think of other fun ways to use them!  Bruce said a teacher in his building puts longer problems on them.  I am thinking:

  • 10 x 10 x 10 on a card, their name is 10 cubed (or the other way around).
  • Turn the cards around so they are on their backs.
    • Put a vocab word on it and then 5 kids have to write an example on your card.  Turn it around and then see which ones are correct.
    • Write vocab words they don’t know so they can play, “Who Am I?”

That’s all I have for now.  But if you have a brilliant idea (and I’m sure that you do!), please leave it in the comments!

Graph Paper Interactive Notebook in Math Class – MS Sunday Funday

Last year I transitioned from regular notebooks to spiral bound graph paper notebooks.  I LOVE graph paper notebooks for two main reasons.  First and foremost, I never have to pass out graph paper.   We make many tables, charts, and graphs in my class so having their notebook BE graph paper is just divine.  Additionally, I teach 6th grade and many of them still have giant handwriting and/or their work is all over the place.  With the graph paper notebooks, I can strongly encourage them to put one number in each square.  This helps in almost every mathematical procedure that they do.  Numbers are small, neat, and all lined up.  Beautiful.

 I also do a modified version of the INB (Interactive Notebook).  I didn’t do very well with the Left Hand Page OR the Table of Contents last year, but thanks to Megan I am motivated and planning to be much better this year!

Most teachers like to use the composition books for the Interactive Notebook.  They DO have these graph paper composition notebooks!  But, I would have to buy them all myself and have the students reimburse me.  My parents have a hard enough time finding the graph spiral bound notebooks and I don’t want to stress them out further.  Whatever you do, don’t let them use the notebooks with the glued in pages (not the composition books).  The pages of the notebooks with the glued in pages start falling out, in mass, after about 2 weeks of use.  This is a nightmare.

Notebook Tips:

  • You will probably need one notebook per semester.
  • It usually takes us about 30 minutes to set up the notebook initially.
  • Have extra blank notebooks on hand it you want to set them up any day in week 1.  Someone is not going to have theirs yet.  You just give them one of your new, blank ones, email the parent a reminder, and then collect theirs as an extra when they bring it in.  You can use this one next semester.
  • Use Foldables or half sheets for their notes whenever possible so you don’t have to trim every worksheet you give them.  That gets very old, very fast.
  • Modeling is the key when doing a math class notebook with younger students.  I have 6th and 7th grade, so I made a Powerpoint that shows how to set up the notebook step by step.

Read more Middle School Math Sunday Funday Posts!

#msSunFun

MS Sunday Funday – First Day / First Week Activities

Hi!  Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more updates!  I am @jreulbach.  🙂

Welcome to a collaboration of posts by amazing middle school math teachers!

This week’s theme is First Day / First Week Activities.  Next week, the theme will be sharing how you have your students set up their math class notebooks.  This can be interactive notebooks or traditional notebooks.

To submit a blog, click on this link.

** Brand new blogger!