Category Archives: Math

Halloween Activities from Minds in Bloom

Rachel Lynette, over at the “Minds in Bloom” blog, offers some fun Halloween activities for critical thinking.  One of them is a Halloween-themed list of “Would You Rather?” questions.  For these, I would recommend that you encourage your students to justify their answers, and possibly have a contest for who can give the most unusual reason for his or her response.  (For another way to use “Would You Rather?” questions, check out this post.)

Rachel also has a free “GHOST” Scattergories-type game that you can print.  As an extension, you could have the students make their own spooky versions by changing the letters on top and the categories.

And, finally, incorporate some disgusting math into your Halloween plans by giving your students some “Witches’ Brew Math.” Boiled eyeballs, anyone?

Eyeball Punch - image from Flickr
Eyeball Punch – image from Flickr

Open Middle

Open Middle is a blog that offers unique math tasks for K-12 students.  Dan Meyer, an educator who speaks about how “Math Class Needs a Makeover” in this TED Talk, describes “Open Middle” problems this way:

  • “they have a “closed beginning” meaning that they all start with the same initial problem.
  • they have a “closed end” meaning that they all end with the same answer.
  • they have an “open middle” meaning that there are multiple ways to approach and ultimately solve the problem.”

Several educators contributed problems to the Open Middle site. You can search for challenges by grade level and by mathematical area (such as geometry).  Below is an example, submitted by Ian Kerr, from the 5th grade group of fraction problems.

5th grade fraction problem from Open Middle, submitted by Ian Kerr
5th grade fraction problem from Open Middle, submitted by Ian Kerr

I would encourage you to take a look at the “Open Middle Worksheet” that you can download for students, as it gives students space for multiple attempts, and also asks students to verbalize what they learned from each attempt.  This is an excellent way to reinforce that you can learn from mistakes, and the growth mindset attitude that you may not know how to do it yet.

Week of Inspirational Math 2

I posted last year about the Week of Inspirational Math resources provided on  I used these with my 3rd grade class (there are versions for K-12), and the students really enjoyed this approach to math.  The set of activities and videos promotes a growth mindset in math, and I felt that it really set a great tone for the rest of the school year as we worked on challenges.

I’m happy to see that professor JoAnn Boaler and the team at have produced Week of Inspirational Math 2, which looks just as promising as the WIM1.  The videos provided with this new WIM are a bit more fun, while still remaining faithful to the theory that anyone can be a math person.

Having personally experienced my own metamorphosis from “not a math person” to someone who excelled in math in high school, I am a firm believer that too many of us get caught in the myths and stereotypes that make us believe only a pre-determined group of people can understand math.  I have witnessed in my own classroom students who have given up on the subject and, with effort on both our parts, turned this fixed mindset around to become students who enjoy math.

If you have the opportunity to start your year with one or two weeks of Inspirational Math, I think you will find it is an excellent use of time that will pay off for the remainder of your school year.

from Week of Inspirational Math 2
from Week of Inspirational Math 2

Back to School Games from Breakout Edu

In this Education Week article, “10 Non-Standard Ideas About Going Back to School,” by Nancy Flanagan, she gives the following advice:

“Don’t make Day One “rules” day. Your classroom procedures are very important, a hinge for functioning productively, establishing the relationships and trust necessary for individual engagement and group discussions. Introduce these strategies and systems on days when it’s likely your students will remember them and get a chance to practice them. This is especially important for secondary teachers, whose students will likely experience a mind-numbing, forgettable parade of Teacher Rules on Day One.”

It’s often considered good practice to establish rules and procedures at the beginning of a new school year, but I can definitely attest that my daughter came home from each first week during her middle school years feeling bored and defeated.  Not only did the teacher of each subject spend the entire period going over rules, but many of them showed the same not-so-exciting videos, which repetitively appeared in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. (Fortunately, each year improved dramatically after the first weeks, as her fabulous teachers definitely challenged and engaged her.)

As a teacher of 25 years, I’ve gone through many first days, and I can tell you that I am just as enthusiastic as the students when my staff development weeks begin with rules, procedures, and awkward team-building activities.

Nancy Flanagan goes on in her article to suggest doing engaging activities the first day that will also help the students to learn something.  If you are looking for ideas, Breakout Edu offers some Back to School games that might be just the ticket to ramp up excitement so your students go home the first day and tell their parents what they learned and that they had fun doing it!  There is one game each for elementary, upper elementary, and secondary. There is even one for Staff Development! (Note: You will need to register for free with Breakout Edu in order to get the password to access the games.)

Consider embedding rules and procedures into exciting learning activities, rather than making them the starring topic for introducing the year.  Your students – and their parents – will thank you!

from Breakout Edu Back to School Games
from Breakout Edu Back to School Games

Can You Solve the Bridge Riddle?

TED-Ed has a fun animation of the traditional bridge riddle using everyone’s contemporary worst fear – zombies.  I would recommend using the video with students in 3rd grade and up, and definitely pause in the middle to give them time before showing the solution.  I took a screen shot of some of the vital information to leave on-screen for the students as they try to solve the puzzle.  Can you solve the bridge riddle? Search for “riddle” on TED-ed to find even more perplexing puzzles for your brain!

screen shot from TED-Ed, "Can You Solve the Bridge Riddle?"
screen shot from TED-Ed, “Can You Solve the Bridge Riddle?

With Math I Can

Jo Boaler, Professor of Math Education at Stanford University, and Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology (also at Stanford) have teamed up with several industry partners, including Amazon, to launch an initiative called, “With Math I Can.”  Dweck’s name will sound familiar to those of you who have heard of “Growth Mindset,” and Boaler specifically promotes the importance of having a growth mindset in math.

I’ve mentioned (one of Boaler’s many projects) on this blog a few times due to its great resources for teaching students how to have a healthy attitude about math.  With Math I Can has a similar purpose, but seems to be targeting a larger audience as it encourages you to take the following pledge:

Pledge from "With Math I Can"
Pledge from “With Math I Can

The site gives video resources for the classroom, your district, and home that include the recent set of “Big Ideas” videos from Class Dojo, along with the statistics and brain research that explain why we need to teach students that math is accessible to everyone.  The introduction video on the home page can be used to inspire teachers and parents to think carefully about the messages we send about our own attitudes toward math.

Hopefully, initiatives like “With Math I Can” will help young people to stop saying, “I’m just not good at math,” to “I’m just not good at math, yet.”

3d Printed Mandalas

My 4th grade gifted class is learning about mathematical masterpieces, talking about the symbolism of the circle, and discussing immortality as we read Tuck Everlasting.  I usually integrate a short project on mandalas as a culminating activity during this time of year, since their symbolism fits so well with the other facets of our study.  With a new 3d printer in our classroom, and students anxious to design, I gave them the option of creating their own mandalas in Tinkercad to print on our Polar 3d.  The one you see below is our first successful printed mandala.  We are still working on how we want to fill in the holes.  Traditional mandalas are made with colored sand, so we want to find a way to simulate that, yet retain the printed outline.  I will keep you posted on our journey to the final product! (Here is an interesting time-lapse video of the creation and destruction of a traditional mandala.)