Math can be made fun by introducing engaging and fun activities and drills.
Math activities (or rather games) can be added to the classroom schedule, as a way to make math learning fun and meaningful at the same time. All of the activities are wonderful as a form of revision, which require minimal set-up time. In addition, most of these activities span between 5 to 15 minutes, making it a short part of the math block. Considering that the math block is quite extensive, I use these activities sporadically when there is additional time or if the students could use a bit of brushing up on a specific math strand rather than having it a part of the set schedule. That said, here are a few favourite math activities of mine:
1, 2, 3 Blast Off: Get the students to sit in their rows or groups. Each student in the row is assigned two numbers from 1 to 9 (e.g. a student is assigned 4 and 7). For younger students, it makes sense to assign one number per student. Once all the rows or groups have their assigned numbers, call out a number (e.g. 12). The students have to then stand up, so that the standing students add up to the sum. For example, if one student has 5 and another has 7 those two can stand up to make a sum of 12 while the rest of the row stays sitting. This one requires a bit of explaining and modelling, especially for elementary and middle school students, but it is easy to play after the first or second trial run. As students become more familiar with the activity, you can change the operation, adding division or multiplication, for example.
Crumple & Shoot: I learned about this particular activity through a video explanation on the Cult of Pedagogy (an amazing website with lots of information for teachers). For those who prefer to read, this written explanation is also available. This game is definitely one that requires a bit more planning, but it can be a wonderful way to practice and revise different topics.
Four in a Row: This activity comes from Evans (2005), where a pair of students have to use a number tile to play a form of math bingo. I use the number tile template from The Mathematics Shed. In pairs, each student takes a turn to roll two dies and then finds the sum of the two numbers. Evans (2005) suggests using a different colour printable marker for each student to identify the sum, but I use red and green buttons instead. The first player to cover a row of four whether diagonally, horizontally, or vertically "wins" the round. If you like this activity, check out Evans's (2005) book, Making Math More Fun for several other math activities.
Mental Math Warm-up: In Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire, Rafe Esquith explains how he starts every math lesson with a mental math exercise. Students have to bring out their number tiles. They are then asked a question and "they hold up the tile they believe to be right" (p. 67). Esquith suggests weaving other subjects into the question. For example, think of the number of states in the United States and then add a dozen (p. 68). I already love the idea of using number tiles and Esquith's suggestion of integrating other subjects is even more appealing. Ultimately, it makes the mundane task of mental math a bit more interesting to our students.
Splat: Divide the classroom into two teams (e.g. one side versus the other side) and write random numbers all over the board. Call up one student from each team and ask a question that requires a number answer. For example, how many months are there in a year or find the sum of 8 + 12. The student who splats (i.e. "hits" with hand or points to) the correct number first wins the team a point. Call up the next two students once they are done.
Time Table Contest:Here, all the students have to stand up. Ask one student a multiplication question (e.g. 5 x 4). If they answer it correctly, they can sit down. As they sit down, they can select another student and ask the selected peer a multiplication question (e.g. 2 x 7). If the student that has been selected gets it correct, they can also sit down and then tag the next student with a question. However, if they answer it incorrectly, then the student who tagged them (i.e. the student who asked the question originally) has to answer their own question. They can remain sitting if they answer their own question correctly. Otherwise, they have to stand back up (yeah, I know).
Which One Doesn't Belong: This one comes from the popular website Which One Doesn't Belong. Students are shown an image with four visuals. There are no right or wrong answers; the idea is to encourage students to participate and share their thinking. Tell Me Everything (the website is one of my favourite math resources) or Would You Rather Math are two other similar activities that are fun to try out.
Zap That: This one is fun for learning patterns and sequences. Say a pattern out loud (e.g. 5, 10, 15 or A1, B2, C2 or whatever rigour works) and then tag a couple of students to add to that pattern. The fourth person to get tagged has to shout out ZAP; otherwise, we have to restart the whole pattern.
Math drills are simple ways to add a bit of math fun to the day, ranging anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. These are short and snappy drills, serving as a quick revision, especially around number sense and numeration. Here, some may argue that these math drills are a form of a "drill to kill" approach to learning, where student learning is deterred by repetition. For example, math drills often do not provide teachers with the insight into students' mathematical thinking. However, math drills can be useful if the intention is clear. For me, math drills are a way to revise material while also being able to use the student responses as a form of assessment. While it does not provide the whole picture, it does provide a snapshot of students and their partial understanding of a math concept. Then, I use that oral assessment to reteach a concept or work with students in small groups. Ultimately, this is a part of a balanced math approach rather than focusing on math from one specific strategy.
Add Up: For this drill, there are 10 plates with the numbers 1 to 10 written on them. Start by saying a number sentence with missing components; for example, say, "I want you to think about 5 + (number on the plate) = ? for today." Then, if plate that is flashed to the students is 10, they have to say, "5 + 10 = 15."
Bubble Math:This is a drill that I picked up from a Grade 1 teacher while I was a student teacher in my first year of the Teacher's Education program at the University of Ottawa. In this drill, you have to draw a snake using bubbles. Each bubble has a number sentence (e.g. 2+3), which students have to solve under a minute or whatever time frame is provided to them. As a way to differentiate the bubble math worksheet, there can be different types of questions for different students. In a whole group, Bubble Math can be done similar to the Add Up or Number Plates activities, where the teacher flashes two plates and students think about the response.
Guess My Rule: Write a pattern (e.g. 1, 4, 7, 10) and have students guess the sequence. In this example, the next number in the pattern is 13 because this pattern is skipping by 3s. This can also be done using patterns with letters, numbers (as seen in the example), and symbols.
I Spy: Get students to guess an object by saying, "I spy something that there are six of these in the room" or "I spy something that has the number six on it." This is an activity suggested by the Ontario Ministry of Education (2018) as a part of their Doing Math With Your Child resource, which has several other activities in the guide.
Math Flashcards:These math flashcards with a twist are quite a fun way to get students thinking, in addition to practicing strategies like counting on, composing/decomposing, inverse operations, subitizing, unitizing, and so on. The flashcards are written on a strip of paper with the edge of the paper folder to hide the answer. Students can work on these in pairs, although I typically use them for a whole class drill.
Mystery Puzzle: The mystery puzzle is a snappy drill that requires students to solve a puzzle. Here is an example: I am greater than 3. I am a factor of 25. What number am I? This can be a challenge of the day at the beginning of a lesson or sometime during the week similar to a riddle.
Number Plates: These are 12 plates that have the numbers 1 to 12 represented using red dots. Shuffle the plates without students being able to see the dots. Then, flash the plates one-by-one while students guess the number. This drill is particularly helpful in a KG or Grade 1 classroom, where students are learning about number identification and recognition through subitizing.
Evans, T. (2005). Making math more fun: math game ideas.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2018). Education in the doing mathematics with your child: a parent guide. Queen's Printer for Ontario. Toronto, ON.