Category Archives: Math

Hidden Figures

I suspect that part of the reason that not many minorities enter S.T.E.M. careers may be because we don’t hear enough about the ones who have.  This coming January, Hidden Figures will come to theaters to tell the story of three African-American women who worked at NASA, and helped to propel John Glen into orbit.  You can see the trailer for the movie here.

As part of the promotion for the movie, PepsiCo and 21st Century Fox have teamed up to sponsor a contest for females who are 13 years and older who hope to change the world with S.T.E.M.  The winner will receive a $50,000 scholarship, so if you know a girl eligible to apply please pass this on.

In addition, you can visit the Hidden Figures website to play some S.T.E.M. challenges and read some other inspiring stories about significant S.T.E.M. contributions made by women.

image from:
image from:

SolveMe Mobiles

I was wandering around the “Would You Rather Math” blog the other day and noticed a tweet from the author (@Jstevens009) on his sidebar about SolveMe Mobiles. “It’s challenging and stokes curiosity,” he wrote.

You don’t have to tell me twice.

I immediately visited the link and spent my lesson planning time “testing” the site to see if it would appeal to my students.  Kind of like the way I “test” all of the cookies in a fresh batch to determine if my family will think they are satisfactory…

Fortunately, most websites don’t disappear after you test them (unlike chocolate-chip cookies), so my students will still find plenty of curiosity-stoking challenges to keep them busy when they try out SolveMe Mobiles.

The games are similar to the Balance Benders series of books, which my students enjoy.  They help you to practice algebraic thinking as you try to figure out the value of each of the shapes on the mobile based on the clues that you are given.  Of course, it starts out deceptively simple, like the one below.

SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1
SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1

Both shapes have a value of 5 since the entire mobile is balanced, and has a total value of 10.

There are 200 challenges, so you will eventually reach ones like this:

SolveMe Mobiles #163
SolveMe Mobiles #163

The online interactivity is fun because the mobile will tip if you identify the wrong value for a shape.  Thank you, SolveMe Mobiles, for this much subtler way to say, “You’re Wrong!” than many other games use.

If you are going to want to record your progress  If your students want to record their progress, they can log in.  Otherwise, there is an option just to play without registering.  You can also build your own mobiles.  Or your students can.  I mean, you probably want the students to do it – but I won’t tell anyone if you do it, too.😉


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?