What's your favorite time of the school year? I'm guessing that it probably isn't testing time, nor the test prep weeks leading up to it! In spite of the fact that we never want to teach to the test or prepare students just for a test, the fact remains that students have to take the standardized tests, and we want them to do the best they can. So, how can we best use our test prep to help them?
1) Spiral Review The most effective test prep method I've found is using spiral review throughout the year. The warmups I use review previous concepts, reinforce current concepts, and introduce new ones. This way, we are always solidifying concepts ("prepping for the test"), and as we get closer to test time, the warmups give us a chance to discuss concepts that might show up in the testing, but that we won't cover until after the testing occurs. Using these warmups may put me a little 'behind' in the curriculum on a daily basis, because they take time; but it helps solidify understanding and puts my students a little ahead with other concepts at the same time. I'm good with that:)
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For Teacher Appreciation week, I created two FREE problem solving math wheels (they are in the same PDF file)  they can be used to teach problem solving strategies, be used as a center activity, or be used as a finished early activity. When complete, they can be added to students' binders/interactive notebooks to be used as references all year.
I hope you can use them! Just click the image to download.
Do you believe that one of the best ways to learn is by using a variety of activities, including games? I do!
It’s just more fun and students don’t even realize how much they’re learning. While any game that helps kids learn is a winner in my book, I have some wonderful middle school games and activities I’ve created to use at home or in the classroom. Truth or Dare Math (and ELA) Game Remember playing Truth or Dare when you were younger? I’ve brought the concept to the classroom and incorporated math and language arts concepts (and Google classroom!). Students can choose a Truth, which is a onepoint questions about the concepts. Or, they can boost their score faster with a more challenging Dare question. It’s one of my favorites among middle school games and it really gets the students excited. Decimal Dice I’ve always loved the dice game Yahtzee!, so I decided to create my own little spin on it. Students love rolling the dice and creating fraction pairs. The challenge comes when they have to convert those fractions into decimals or whole numbers. It only takes a few turns before students learn the rules. It’s an incredibly engaging game for small to large groups. Footloose Task Card Games (Math and a couple ELA) Why should learning concepts be boring? I’m always looking for and creating middle school math and ELA games to get students more engaged. With Footloose Task Cards, students answer various types of questions about math (and ELA) concepts  sometimes they are basic knowledge questions, sometimes they're word problems, and sometimes they're quite challenging. It's easy to differentiate using these cards:) Students move around to get new Footloose cards each time they complete one, and they write all their answers and work on their Footloose grids. It's a great way to keep students practicing and moving  and it's amazing how quiet they are during this time! Math Color By Number Coloring for adults is one of the biggest trends at the moment, and it's become a great way to help students practice math concepts:) I’ve put together a fun bundle that uses the color by number approach to make it more fun to learn and practice probability, algebraic expressions, prime factorization, combining like terms and more. While I do offer each separately, the bundle’s a great resource to have on hand as practice for a variety of math concepts for 6th and 7th graders. I could list my own middle school games and activities, and those of others, for days. But for now, try out the ones above, check out the other activities I’ve created on Teachers Pay Teachers and keep coming back to the blog for more games and great resources.
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This is a post I wrote back in 2013 (now revised), on my other blog, so the observation I refer to was quite a while ago now...how time flies!
I was observed by one of my assistant principals today (a Friday). After 20 years, I don't get superworried when I'm going to be observed, but I still feel a little anxious. Today, I decided to have the students complete a problem solving activity and then start a "Footloose" activity, even though they wouldn't finish....Footloose normally takes about 40 minutes, so I figured they could do about half and then finish on Monday. (I do this fairly often, to give students flexibility in their work time  they can take as long as needed to complete problem solving, but if they get done quickly, they can move on). Things went so well during the observation...AP commented that there was so much going on in the room, and that the kids were so engaged! I was happy:)
During the class, students worked on group problem solving, (which they have done previously, with other math skills). These particular problems involved comparing and ordering fractions. Our procedure was as follows:
1) Each group received a different sheet with a problem "situation" and 34 questions about that situation. (I have five different sheets so that we can do the problem solving several different days with the same concepts, if needed and if time allows). 2) Each group read their situation and each of the questions together. 3) Each student spent 57 minutes, thinking/working individually to solve the questions, writing their work on their own recording sheet. 4) When students completed their individual thinking time, they compared their ideas (and answers if they had them), discussed any differences in thought, and worked to agree on final answers. 5) The final answers (with work) were written onto a group answer sheet to hand in. When we did this type of group problem solving the first time (with decimal problems), we spent about 5 days on the problem solving, with each group working on a different problem sheet each day. The students really like the problem solving, partly because they are able to talk out their answers with each other. It's great to hear their communication about math and how they are able to point out the steps a group member needs to complete or the concepts that they may have missed. Today, it was great to hear them say "Oh, we're doing this again. I like this!" My AP commented that he listened to hear what they were talking about, to see if they were focused, and he could hear one student explain to another how the work that they had done was different from another student. The problem solving took about 15 minutes, and then as each group finished their problem, they moved on to Comparing and Ordering Fractions Footloose. This is a great game for keeping students engaged, but moving! Students start out with one card and a sheet of paper with 30 blank "blocks" in which to write answers to the questions on the cards. Each card has a number on it, and students record the answer to each card in the same number block as the number on the card. After answering the question on the card they start with, students put the card on the chalk ledge and pick up another card with another question to answer. Students continue answering and returning cards until they have answered all 30 questions. Students work so quietly when they are doing this activity! My AP said it was like "night and day" when they switched from the problem solving to Footloose  they were talking about the p.s., but as soon as they started the Footloose, it was sooo quiet.....and I didn't have to say anything for it to be this way  it just happened. As I mentioned, I don't really get worried when an observation comes around, but it was great to hear the positive feedback for these activities that I create for my students!
What are your favorite end of the year activities? One of my favorites for the end of the school year is to have the students create "Memory Wheels." I laminate them and save them to put up at the beginning of the new school year. Creating these wheels gives students a chance to reminisce about the school year, and the wheels give the incoming students a chance to see what the "old" students thought was fun about their 6th grade school year.
Students write "6th Grade" in the center, and then write a sentence or two in each section. They create illustrations to go with the sentences in each section. Students use a template to help them create their wheels, and I have them use either oak tag or large white construction paper.
Other Wheel Template Uses:
The wheels could also be used at the beginning of the year, as a "getting to know you" activity. The student's name would go in the center circle. The student would need to choose 8 things to share about him/herself, and then write a brief description of them and illustrate them. I haven't used the wheel in this way yet, but I like the idea:) The wheel templates can be used for any type of project, at any time during the school year. In the past, I have used the wheels as a book report project: students choose main events from the book to feature in each section, they write a brief description of each event, and then illustrate each one. The title and author are written in the center circle. Update: I've created quite a few wheels in different content areas!
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Have I mentioned that I love Jo Boaler’s books and site, Youcubed.org? Well, I do! She shares so much fantastic research and so many wonderful ideas.
So, I was reading her book Mathematical Mindsets this week, and read about the “array game” (called How Close to 100), which I’ve seen all over Pinterest and thought was very cool. I tried it with my classes last year during a little bit of down time, and they liked it. I hadn't really thought of using it this year, but last week I noticed the baggie of polyhedral dice that I've had for a looooong time and thought it would be cool to use the dodecahedron dice for the array game. With these dice, the students could use numbers up to 12, rather than 6.
To set up their game, students each outlined a 20 by 20 area on their own graph paper. They took turns rolling their dice and creating arrays to represent the multiplication problem they had rolled. It was very interesting to observe the way students arranged their arrays. Some started in the corner and worked their way out, while others started on one side and worked their way across. Some made the arrays touch, if possible, while others left a row between each one. Some just drew their first few arrays anywhere and then discovered that they didn't have a lot of room to fit additional ones. The "winner" was the student with the fewest number of boxes left (some did get to zero left). The students really had fun with this!
Of course, some finished their games earlier than others. In these cases, I asked students to create arrays that used different numbers than the numbers they rolled, but represented the same area. For example, if they rolled 12 and 5, their arrays could be 10 by 6, 15 by 4, or 20 by 3 (not 30 by 2, we discussed, because the grid is only 20 by 20). If they rolled a number that couldn't be represented by a wholenumber array, they could then use an irregular shape, or a triangle  anything they could find the area of. It was interesting to see how some students got stumped when they tried to draw an irregular shape to represent a number like 81.
Most students enjoyed this twist (we continued it the next day so they all got to play this version), but a few complained that it made their heads hurt! That's ok...I know they were really thinking and growing mathematically! The next extension for early finishers (only a few) was to use the icosahedron (20sided) dice, and have students create area models to cover their grids and find the answer to the multiplication problems. This required a larger grid, so I had them tape 2 pieces of graph paper together and create 20 by 40 grids. Using the icosahedron dice gave a mix of 1digit by 1digit, 1 by 2digit, and 2 by 2digit problems to model and solve. Most students didn't get very far with this before we ran out of time, but I think this is a great way to them to visualize what multiplying by a twodigit number means. I'd like to revisit this one! I'm so glad I thought about using those polyhedral dice! Have you used polyhedral dice in your math classroom? If so, please share how!
Using the Date to Encourage
More Math Thinking
2) The other way I used the dates was to write the date so that students have to solve an expression for each number in the date.
It's been fun to see some students writing these in the corner of their notebooks during class! Others have asked to write their equations or expressions on the board during the last period of the day. What I love about these ideas are that they are quick, can be done at any time (beginning of class, finished early time, closing of class, or in homeroom) and they help kids to expand their number sense and use some "out of the box" thinking. The "date as an expression" idea can also be expanded to challenge students: students can create their own expressions, students can solve the expressions (using the bar as a division sign  a student did this on his own one day!), and if you happen to make a "mistake," students can find it correct it!
I also look at the datewriting as a way to introduce notation my students haven't seen before, like the cube root, as well as reinforcing some concepts, like exponents. I don't know about your students, but mine often forget that 2 cubed means 2 x 2 x 2, not 2 x 3. Using the exponents in the date keeps bringing that concept back for review.
Update: I've started posting math dates at the beginning of every week on Instagram (always on Instagram) and Facebook (most weeks on FB), so if you'd like to use them, I hope you'll follow me on one of those platforms (if you aren't already).
Another update: I've created Math Dates resources for you to use throughout the year  these have been published by individual months and as a yearlong resource.

AuthorHi, I'm Ellie! My mission here is to support teachers as they work to provide engaging, meaningful experiences for their students. I've been in education for 25 years, teaching all subject areas at both the elementary and middle school levels, and am here to share what I've learned through those years, as well as what I continue to learn. I hope you'll find some ideas or resources here to help you out! Categories
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