Mathematics Month: 5 Practical Ways to Mathivate Kids

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Jennifer Anderson |

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Teacher Voices, MAP

#Mathematics Month: 5 practical ways to Mathivate kids Math teacher Kim Thomas wants nothing more than for her students to have a mathmazing time in class.

Using MAP report data to help guide topics, Kim engages her students at Woodruff Alternative School in Peoria, Illinois, with a wide number of activities she’s created over her decades in the classroom. Discovery, ownership, and personalization are at the heart of her lessons, she says– and of course, play.

Kim is currently writing a book—Mathivate: The Mathilicious Way to Put a Positive Parabola on Everybody’s Face—so other teachers can create classrooms that are equally mathmazing.

In celebration of Mathematics Month, here’s how Kim makes math exponentially fun:

1. Math Muscles

What: Bingo

How: Throughout the week, students work with partners to answer five quick math questions at the start of class each day. After discussing as a group, students populate the answers on their individual bingo cards. Friday is bingo day.

Why it mathivates: The math questions are personal to the students’ learning. Because of MAP, I know what they’ve learned and what questions they should already know. Not only does Bingo help them academically, it teaches them it’s okay to lose and how to be a gracious winner. It also helps with my classroom mathmanagement. Kids love to play and don’t want to miss out on a round. If someone’s talking too much, I can say, “Hey, you’re going to miss out on a round if you continue to talk,” and they quickly pay attention.

2. Mathivational Music

What: Popular songs set to math lyrics

How: Math lingo is incorporated into the beats of the song. For example, the song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” becomes “Watch Me (Whip Out That Equation) and kids do the “hypotenuse leg.” Dancing is encouraged.

Why it mathivates: I have my kids for 10 x 9 minutes. They cannot just sit in their seats the whole time. Music gets them up and moving. I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t love music. And it’s just so much fun when they come up with their own songs. It keeps them mathivated to do their work.

3. Checkbook Challenge

What: Real-world simulated application of math

How: Students practice what it’s like to live for one month on minimum wage. Each student gets a customized check and a notebook to keep track of spending. Purchases include everything from an apartment to clothing to weekly bills—and surprise charges, such as the dentist. Coupons help offset costs.

Why it mathivates: It’s a real-life experience on how to budget and save—things that aren’t in a math textbook, but skills they’re going to use their whole lives. Parents like it because their kid sees what they have to do for a household each month. And it’s an eye opener for kids to see that it’s very difficult to live on minimum wage the way they want to live. I tell them, ‘If you don’t want to make minimum wage, you’re going to have to learn another skill, which takes education.’

4. Math Days-of-the-Week

What: Rotating activities

How: Each day has a different theme.

5 Practical Ways to Mathivate Kids


Why it mathivates: When my students come in on a certain day, they know what we’re going to do. I just love games and so do they. Kids remember better when they’re having fun. I do have some kids who love Tangeo Tuesday better than Mathoggle Monday and vice versa. Can you make everybody happy? Well, you try.

5. Scratch-Your-Brain Sheets

What: Worksheets

How: During lessons, students take notes on a sheet Kim pre-populated with fill-in-the blanks based on the lesson’s content (i.e. ____ in the same plane that do not _____are called  ____ lines.) The class then creates examples together.

Why it mathivates: It’s a total snoozefest if you say, “Take out your notebook.” No kid wants to hear that. So I call them scratch-your-brain learning sheets. It’s more interesting for them to try and figure out what to fill in the blank spaces. I love for them to discover. It makes it so much more meaningful than me telling them.

This is the second installment in a four-part blog series with mathemagical teacher Kim Thomas, Illinois’ 2016 Teacher of the Year. Read part 1: Mathematics Month: The Contagiousness of Kim Thomas’ Mathilicious Teaching.

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