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  • Math Corner

    The Math Corner

    15 Math Games in 15 Minutes or Less

    By Natalie Lorenzi

    Get students hooked on these fun and effective math games so they can keep their number skills sharp!

    Grades PreK-K, 1,-2, 3-5, 6-8

    5 Minutes

    1. Simon Says, “Geometry!”

    Ramp up this traditional game by having kids illustrate the following geometric terms using only their arms: parallel and perpendicular lines; acute, right, and obtuse angles; and 0-, 90-, and 180-degree angles.

    Challenge: Increase the pace of the commands and see if your students can keep up!

     2. ’Round the Block

    Have students stand in a square. Give one of them a ball and a math challenge that requires a list of responses, such as counting by twos or naming shapes that have right angles. Before the student answers, he passes the ball to the person next to him. Children pass the ball around the square as quickly as they can, and the student must give the answer before the ball comes back to him.

    Challenge: When the correct answer is given, the child who has the ball must respond to the next challenge, sending the ball back around the circle in the opposite direction.

     3. Bouncing Sums

    Cover a beach ball with numbers (use a permanent marker or sticky labels). Toss the ball to one student and have her call out the number that her right thumb touches. She tosses it to the next student, who does the same and then adds his number to the first. Continue for five minutes and record the sum. Each time you play the game, add the sum to a graph. On which day did you reach the highest sum? The lowest?

    Challenge: Use fractions, decimals, or a mix of negative and positive integers.

     4. Straw Poll

    Ask a question and let students vote by placing a straw in one of several plastic cups, each labeled with a different answer. Later, younger students can graph the results, while older kids calculate the ratio and percentage for each response.

    Challenge: If the entire school body was polled, and assuming each response got the same percentage of votes, how many votes would there be in each cup? What if your town was polled? Your state? The U.S.?

    5. Shaving Equations

    Place a dollop of shaving cream on each student’s desk, and them to solve equations by “writing” in the cream.

    Challenge: Ask students to set up a problem. On your signal, have them rotate to the desk adjacent to theirs and solve that problem. Have kids check answers at their desks before starting a new round. 

    10 Minutes

    Even 10 minutes of fun math games can jump-start learning.

    6. Hopscotch Math

    Set up a hopscotch grid with a calculator layout. With older kids, you can include the square root symbol and negative integer sign. Students first hop on one number, then an operation, another number, the equal sign, and finally the answer. For double-digit answers, students can split their last hop so that their left foot lands on the digit in the 10s place and their right foot lands on the digit in the ones place.

    Challenge: The student taking a turn tosses a stone onto a number and must avoid that number in the equation.

     7. Global Probability

    Seventy percent of Earth is covered with water. Test this statistic by having students stand in a circle and toss an inflatable globe to one another. When a student catches the globe, record whether the student’s left thumb is touching land or water. That student tosses the ball to a classmate and then sits down. Once everyone is seated, determine the ratio of the number of times students’ thumbs touched water to the number of times they touched land. Record the ratio and repeat the activity on other days. (Over time, the ratio should be fairly close to 7 to 3, or 70 percent.)

    Challenge: Predict the probability that someone’s thumb will land on any of the continents based on the ratio of the area of each continent’s landmass to that of the planet as a whole.

     8. Sweet Math

    Model this activity with one package of Skittles or M&Ms and a document camera, or let each student have his or her own package. Younger students can graph the contents of their packages by color. Older students can calculate the ratio of each color compared with the total number of pieces of candy in their packages.

    Challenge: Compile the class results into one graph, then have each student compare his or her ratio to the ratio for the entire class.

    9. It’s in the Cards

    For a twist on the traditional card game War, assign values of 1 to the ace, 11 to the jack, 12 to the queen, and 13 to the king, and face value for the cards two through 10 (for younger children, limit the game to number cards only). Playing in pairs, each student lays two cards face up, then subtracts the lower number from the higher. Whoever has the higher answer wins all four cards. If the totals are the same, the players flip over two more cards and repeat until there is a winner.

    Challenge: Use the two cards to form a fraction, and then compare to see who has the larger fraction. If they are equivalent, repeat until someone wins the round.

    10. Priceless Verse

    Give each group of four or five students some play money — a one-dollar bill, two quarters, three dimes, four nickels, and five pennies. Read the poem “Smart” by Shel Silverstein, and have students exchange money according to each stanza. (“My dad gave me a one dollar bill/’Cause I’m his smartest son/And I swapped it for two shiny quarters/’Cause two is more than one!”) Ask younger students if the person who started with a dollar got a good deal or not. Older students can calculate how much the child in the poem lost with each exchange.

    Challenge: Use a calculator to determine the percentage lost with each exchange.


    15 Minutes

    Teach quick math concepts with fruit, dice, even Twister!

    11. Weighing In

    Line up a variety of fruits and veggies, such as oranges, bananas, cucumbers, kiwis, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Ask students to predict the order of the foods from lightest to heaviest. Use a balance scale to test their predictions, then rearrange the foods according to their actual weights.

    Challenge: Slice each fruit in half. Invite students to analyze how the density of the fruit or vegetable affects its weight.

    12. String ’Em Up

    Which is greater — arm span or height? Ask students to stand in groups according to their predictions: those who think their arm span is greater than, less than, or equal to their height. Give pairs a piece of string to test and measure, then regroup according to their results.

    Challenge: Estimate the ratio of the length of an arm or leg to body height, then measure to check the accuracy of the estimate.

    13. Twister Math

    Stick labels with numbers, shapes, or images of coins onto the circles of a Twister mat. Give each student in turn an equation, a description of a shape, or an amount of money, then have the student place his or her hand or foot on the answer.

    Challenge: Label the mat with numbers ending in zero, then call out numbers and tell kids they must round up or down to the nearest answer.

    14. One-Meter Dash

    Hand groups of students a meter stick, a pencil, and a sheet of paper each. Allow them a few minutes to jot down three items in the room whose length they predict will add up to one meter. Then give them five minutes to measure the items and record their lengths and add them together. Have groups report their results. Which group came closest to one meter?

    Challenge: Students measure to the nearest 1/8 inch, then convert their measurements to decimals.

    15. Number Builders

    Give each pair of students a die with six to nine sides. Have them set up blanks for the digits in a number. (Their numbers should be the same length, from four to nine digits long.) Before playing, decide if the highest or lowest number will win. Students take turns rolling the die and filling in blanks. Once a number has been written, it cannot be changed. Roll until all blanks  are filled, and then compare the numbers. If time permits, have students subtract to find the difference between their numbers.


    Challenge: Instead of building an integer, build a fraction or decimal. 

    Making Math Facts Fun!

    1.  Colored Dice:  

    Pick up a bag of colored dice at a local bookstore or pharmacy.  Students roll the dice and either add or multiply the two numbers to practice their facts.  This is an easy game for them to do while you are making dinner or even sitting at a restaurant.  You can play against each other and keep score of who has the greatest sum or product.  As your kids get older, you can incorporate different colors to mean different operations.  For example: choose 2 red dice and 1 white:  Roll all 3 dice, add the 2 red dice, and then multiply by the white die.  This increases children's flexibility with numbers and speed as well.  I always keep dice in my purse in case we are stuck waiting somewhere!  

    2.  Math War:

     Using either a deck of playing cards or a deck you've made out of index cards, play "war" to practice facts.  Split the cards between the two players.  Turn over the top two cards – you can either add, subtract (keeping positive answers), or multiply the two cards to see who wins.  The winner takes all 4 cards, and you play again just like the traditional card game of war.  Whoever has the most cards at the end wins!  My students love this game!  Again, it's a very easy game to keep in the car or your purse so learning is always near.  

    3.  100 Chart: 

    The 100 chart is an amazing tool to help build your children's number sense and allow them to use something concrete to memorize their facts.  They can use it as a visual tool when they need a point of reference or they can use it as a tactile tool by touching the numbers or using a game piece to count forwards and backwards.  For multiplication and division, have your children color in the multiples of each number so they can start to see patterns with the facts.  For example: to learn the facts of 6, color in 6, 12, 18, etc. so only the multiples of 6 are colored in. Your child will start to make a connection to the products of each fact instead of just memorizing random numbers. (You can print free 100 charts off the Internet.)

    4.  Triangle Facts:

    These are used as traditional flash cards, but they help to make the connection between all three numbers in the fact which is so important for the "memorizing" process.  Choose a fact, e.g., 6 + 3 = 9.  Place each number in the corner of the triangle with a star next to the answer (in this case, 9).  While holding the triangular card, cover one of the numbers with your finger so your child can only see 2 numbers, then have him/her find the missing number to complete the fact.  For extra practice, have your child write the 4 fact families for each card.  Students can practice on their own or you can quiz them.  Triangle facts are easy and fast!  You can buy them, make them yourself, or print them free online.  

    5.  I Know Cards:

    This is a great way to help with the facts that your child gets stuck on every time!  There are always those tough facts that students just sometimes can't remember, so making "I know cards" will help them come up with a strategy for finding the answer.  For example: to help with 6 x 7 = 42, have your child write on an index card or piece of paper, "I know 6 x 6 is 36, so I add one more group of 6: 36 + 6 = 42, so 6x7=42".  Your child can use whatever strategy he or she likes but the focus is on what s/he already knows, not what s/he doesn't know.  You can hang the "I know cards" in their rooms or read through them weekly.  

    10 Ways to Boost Your Child's Math Success 


    1. Make sure he understands the concept, or he's facing the daunting challenge of memorizing meaningless rules and drills.

    2. Teach her to write clearly and neatly. Tracing letters or writing on graph paper will improve her number writing.

    3. Be around to refresh his memory or explain forgotten concepts.

    4. Review math vocabulary to ensure she can define the skills she's learning.

    5. Promote putting down the calculator. Computing math problems in his head will reinforce concepts more quickly.

    6. Check to make sure your child is approaching her homework properly. She should study the textbook and practice the sample problem before starting the assignment.

    7. Encourage him to tackle more than just the assigned problems.

    8. Approach word problems together. Suggest that she read aloud, repeat, and draw a picture of each problem.

    9. Explain how math applies to real-life situations and challenge him to help you solve the math problems you encounter when you're out together, such as figuring out how many apples to buy or calculating change. He'll be more interested in mastering math if he realizes its value.

    10. Does she really know it? If she can answer a basic math question within three seconds she's mastered the concept. Try drills and flash cards to get her up to speed. 

    Math Websites:

    1. Khan Academy


    3. Prodigy