elementary math teaching

Jump-start the new year!

Start the new year with Math activities that engage all students, promote growth, and help students feel that they’re getting a fresh start.


What if I asked you to copy down by hand pages of text in a language you didn’t know? It would be painfully boring, and you’d soon be frustrated or even angry.


But what if I taught you the language first? Then you’d be engaged with the content. You’d know if you were transcribing a fairy tale or top secret documents. You would be in on the story.

teach elementary math

Some students feel that practicing math problems with pencil and paper is like the first scenario. They see practice problems as writing and rewriting symbols following a memorized procedure. They’re not in on the story – they’re simply writing in a language foreign to them.


While we should limit the amount of paper-pencil practice students do, it is also important for them to do some.


By first providing concrete (hands-on) experiences that help students understand the math behind symbols and equations, you’ll see that more students can stay engaged with practice problems later, when they are required to do paper-pencil practice.


Hands-on activities not only lead to stronger student engagement, they help students reset their math mindsets.


One of my FAVORITE math activities that is fun, challenging, and super engaging is The Stolen Pendant.



Stolen pendant elementary math STEAM activity


In this activity, kids learn that a beautiful necklace pendant has been stolen by 3 thieves: Bandit, Rascal, and Clyde. The thieves have split up the jewels and sold them off. The kids need to help Detective Sherloff Homie do a lot of math to ensure that the thieves (who have been caught) properly pay back the necklace’s owner.


Students use what they know about the whole and fractional parts, proportional reasoning, multiplication and division, and mathematical discourse (math talk) to work together or independently to solve the case!


As kids engage in this fun and complex activity, they use many problem solving strategies: they build and deconstruct pattern block designs, explain their reasoning, connect their concrete understanding to symbols and equations, and write about their process.


The best part is, they are having fun while working really hard and doing lots of math. 


Using the provided discussion questions, teachers can take advantage of the positive vibe in the classroom to help kids realize the power they have to solve really challenging math problems.


Suddenly, the pride students feel from solving the case has a new meaning they can carry with them: they are each intelligent, capable mathematicians.


Stolen pendant elementary math STEAM activity


Another math activity that takes kids from frustration to fun is Fraction Swap: The Best Fraction Game Ever!


fraction math for elementary teachers

When students play Fraction Swap, they are using strategic thinking in a race to cover two wholes with hands-on fraction pieces.


Students are constantly looking for opportunities to swap out several smaller fraction pieces for equivalent larger pieces.


This hands-on, engaging, and motivating game makes fractions click for those who get to play it. 



For students to have a great school year, they need to buy in.  Math activities that are motivating, like games and mystery challenges, pique the interest of even the most resistant mathematician. Hands-on experience creates concrete understanding, which serves students (and teachers!) throughout the year.


Eventually, students will do some paper-pencil math practice. But before that, they NEED engaging, hands-on activities that truly teach them that they are mathematicians!

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