5 Tips for Middle School Math
The math homework dilemma – to give or not to give (IF you have the option in your district)? How much to give? To go over it all or only review some of it? What will be most helpful to your students?
Maybe your experiences have been similar to mine: I’ve adjusted my practices from year to year, sometimes spending a lot of time reviewing homework, but other times spending little; some years giving homework related to the lesson, other years giving homework that was basic skills practice; some years lots of problems, other years just a few. There seemed to be pros and cons to each.
Thinking about this topic yet again, I decided to look for some research to see how we can help students get the most out of the homework we assign.
A Fun Way to Check Multiplication Problems
Middle school students still like those fun seasonal activities! Many years ago (I have no idea how many) I used this pattern coloring activity with my middle-schoolers. I don't remember where the idea came from, and I had even forgotten that I ever used it! However, I was looking through an old "November" file to find some ideas for a fun activity for a sub day, and found the tracers and examples in my file.
Once I found it, I DID remember that the kids used to really enjoy this activity. They had fun creating the patterns and deciding what colors to include. So, I gathered materials (graph paper, tracers, colored pencils, thin black markers, construction paper) and left them for the sub, with these directions:
Using Your Time Effectively and Efficiently
Having the perfectly-run math class....that's been my goal, year after year. Somehow, in middle school, it has consistently tried to evade me!
In other posts, I've shared that I taught elementary math for years, and always had an hour for math class. That hour gave me the time I wanted to have good warm-ups every day (sometimes taking up half the class with one particular problem that led to additional discussion/extension!); the hour gave me the time to go over homework the way I wanted to. And it still gave me time for a new lesson and practice.
But when I got started teaching math at the middle school, with "44"-minute periods, that was all over. (They aren't really 44 minutes - the students get no time between classes for switching, so switching time comes out of the 44.)
Making them work in 40-minute class periods
I taught elementary school for 12 years and I loved my math centers! They were great. Math class was always an hour, and we had five computers in the classroom, so having a computer center was always an option.
Then I moved to middle school. Math was 44 minutes (minus time for switching classes.....so more like 40 minutes). How could I fit more than two rotations in a 40-minute period?? I longed for block scheduling (our district has never had it)...that would make it so much easier to complete center rotations! For the first year or two of middle school, I kind of gave up on the idea of centers...the activities I wanted students to complete took longer than 20 minutes. So, that would be enough time to finish 2 rotations, IF students started the second they walked in the door and then had no time to clean up/organize at the end of class. But eventually I needed to get my centers back, so I experimented with a few different set-ups before I landed on a structure that works.
Surface area is a such a fun topic to explore in the middle school math classroom! To really understand what surface area means, students need to interact with actual three-dimensional objects. Before we talk about the math formulas or how to calculate, we spend time discovering how to find surface area in our own ways.
I give students every-day items to work with. Typically, we use product boxes (rectangular prisms) with different dimensions, and I ask the students to visualize and then draw what the boxes would look like if they were taken apart and laid flat. Most students take about 5 minutes to complete their drawings, depending on how detailed they choose to be, and for the most part, they do a very good job drawing the nets of the boxes. Next, I have them spend a few minutes comparing their nets with group members, deciding whether those nets are reasonable representations of the object (even if they are drawn a little differently), and determining whether anyone appeared to be missing anything (some students will draw only five sides, and their group members are able to help them figure out what's missing).
After drawing their nets, I assign the groups two tasks - to find the surface area of their particular box and to determine a formula for the surface area of rectangular prisms. At this point, we have already studied area, so the only thing we discuss before they set upon their tasks is the actual meaning of the term surface area....we brainstorm the possible meanings and agree on the defintion. Then they set off measuring and calculating.
I’m a firm believer that one of the best ways to learn is by playing games. 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 one-point 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.
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.
Hi, I'm Ellie! I've been in education for 25 years, teaching all subject areas at both the elementary and middle school levels.