5 Tips to Help Middle School Math Students
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
How often have you gone to a conference and been super-impressed by what a speaker shared? Has it happened often? It happened to me when I went to a conference as a very new teacher (in my second year, I believe), more than 20 years ago. At that conference, I was lucky enough hear Dr. Lola May speak. She was a great presenter, and certainly made an impression on me. I still have the book that was given at that conference and have referred to it many times over the years.
It was at this conference that I first learned how to use "casting out nines" to check the answers to multiplication and division problems. I had never heard of this method when I was a student, but being a new teacher, I kind of assumed it was a method well-known to other teachers.....
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.)
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).
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 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.
Other posts you might like:
When teaching math, I’ve always found that making it fun helps students better remember various concepts.
This idea led me to start using brain teasers to combine mathematical concepts with the challenge to think outside the box. It’s an exciting way to put the skills they’re learning to use without them even realizing it.
Students enjoy it, and I love seeing them master concepts without just doing endless math problems and drills. It’s a win-win for everybody.
What Makes Brain Teasers So Effective
I’m sure I’m not the only one who loves that sense of accomplishment that comes with figuring out a brain teaser. Students love that too. I’d love to say doing a dozen math problems gives that same feeling, but that isn't true for many students. Brain teasers are just more fun...besides, “teaser” sounds less intimidating than “problem.”
Brain teasers are ideal for boosting brain activity, which is why they’re used to help prevent brain decline. They’re also more fun, which reduces boredom, and we know that when students aren’t bored, they pay more attention and have better focus. Another reason they’re so effective is students are able to apply concepts they’re learning in a more real-world style way. This leads to improved memory:-)
How To Make It Content Specific
The great thing about brain teasers is they’re not set in stone. I see new brain teasers all the time, so that means someone, somewhere has to be creating them. This means if they can do it, so can I (and you). To make them more effective for students, create your own or modify an existing brain teaser to make it more content specific. For instance, a single brain teaser could involve both Geometry and Algebra.
Adding a brain teaser to the end of a lesson that reinforces concepts helps students remember more about the lesson. It’s also helpful to combine concepts over time to build on what students are learning over the course of several weeks or months. ProProfs has a simple tool for creating brain teasers. I recommend just checking out various brain teasers to get an idea of how to write your own or alter one for your needs.
How To Incorporate Brain Teasers
Honestly, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do this. As long as students are having fun and learning, you’ve incorporated brain teasers correctly. Professional Learning Board offers some great tips about incorporating brain teasers, such as:
How To Find Great Brain Teasers
This is probably what you’re most interested in! I could list hundreds of resources here, but I’m just going to list some of the most useful ones related to math brain teasers.
Teaching Percent of Number
When teaching students to find the percent of a number (or the part or whole), I introduce two different ways to find the missing number - using proportions and using equations. Since different students often prefer different methods, I teach both, have them practice both, and then let them choose the one they like better. I've given an example of each method below.
The Percent of a Number Wheel shown here includes both methods. Each section of the wheel includes an equation and two examples, with room to solve using both methods. There's also a little room on the wheel (or around it) to add extra notes or your own examples, if you'd like. Around the wheel are a few practice problems that can be completed together or individually.
Method 1: Proportion
1) Substitute the given values into the %/100 = IS/OF proportion. Use a variable for the missing number.
2) Solve the proportion to find the missing value.
Example: What is 15% of 70?
Method 2: Equation
1) When given the percent, change it to a decimal.
2) Substitute the given values into the equation. Use a variable for the missing number.
3) Solve the equation.
* If finding the percent, be sure the answer is in percent form (multiply the decimal answer by 100).
Example: What is 15% of 70?
part = % ∙ whole
x = 0.15 ∙ 70
x = 10.5
When we work with the equations, I do manipulate the equations to show students how they are all versions of the same basic equation.
For example, if we start with part = % ∙ whole and we're looking for the whole (say the part is 35 and the percent is 25), we end up with
35 = 0.25 ∙ x. From solving algebraic equations, students know that to
find x, both sides will be divided by 0.25, which gives them
x = 35/0.25
(whole = part/%)
If you decide to use the wheel, I hope you and your students like it!
If you're looking for more percent of a number resources, check out the Percent of a Number Center Resources on TPT.
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