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Never Too Old to Play a Game

I currently teach remedial math students on the college level. These are the students who fail to pass the math placement test to enroll in College Algebra - that dreaded class that everyone must pass to graduate. The math curriculum at our community college starts with Basic Math, moves to Fractions, Decimals and Percents, and then to Basic Algebra Concepts. Most of my students are intelligent and want to learn, but they are deeply afraid of math. I refer to them as mathphobics.

We all have this type of student in our classrooms, whether it is middle school, high school, or college. When working with this type of student, it is important to bear in mind how all students learn. I always refer back to the Conceptual Development Model which states that a student must first learn at the concrete stage (use manipulatives) prior to moving to the pictorial stage, and in advance of the abstract level (the book). This means that lessons must include the use of different manipulatives. I use games a great deal because it is an easy way to introduce and use manipulatives without making the student feel like “a little kid.” I can also control the level of mathematical difficulty by varying the rules; thus, customizing the game to meet the instructional objectives my students are learning. However, as with any classroom activity, teachers should monitor and assess the effectiveness of the games.

When using games, other issues to think about are:

1) Excessive competition. The game is to be enjoyable, not a “fight to the death”.

2) Mastery of the mathematical concepts necessary for successful play. Mastery should be at an above average level unless teacher assistance is readily available when needed. A game should not be played if a concept has just been introduced.

3) Difficulty of the rules. If necessary, the rules should be modified or altered in order that the students will do well.

4) Physical requirements (students with special needs). These should be taken into account so that every player has an opportunity to win.

In addition to strengthening content knowledge, math games encourage students to develop such skills as staying on task, cooperating with others, and organization. Games also allow students to review mathematical concepts without the risk of being called “stupid”. Furthermore, students benefit from observing others solve and explain math problems using different strategies.

Games can also….
  1. Pique student interest and participation in math practice and review.
  2. Provide immediate feedback for the teacher. (i.e. Who is still having difficulty with a concept? Who needs verbal assurance? Why is a student continually getting the wrong answer?)
  3. Encourage and engage even the most reluctant student.
  4. Enhance opportunities to respond correctly.
  5. Reinforce or support a positive attitude or viewpoint of mathematics.
  6. Let students test new problem solving strategies without the fear of failing.
  7. Stimulate logical reasoning.
  8. Require critical thinking skills.
  9. Allow the student to use trial and error strategies.
Mathematical games give the learner numerous opportunities to reinforce current knowledge and to try out strategies or techniques without the worry of getting the “wrong” answer. Games provide students of any age with a non-threatening environment for seeing incorrect solutions, not as mistakes, but as steps towards finding the correct mathematical solution.

Only $3.00
One math game my students truly enjoy playing is Bug Mania.  It provides motivation for the learner to practice addition, subtraction, and multiplication using positive and negative numbers. The games are simple to individualize since not every pair of students must use the same cubes or have the same objective. Since the goal for each game is determined by the instructor, the time required to play varies. It is always one that my students are anxious to play again and again!

A Go Figure Debut for a Fellow Kansan Who Is New!

Jenny's TPT Store
Jenny has been teaching 7th grade math for 20 years. Not only is she a math teacher like me, but she lives just up the road here in the great state of Kansas. She claims to have the best job in the world although many of us might debate that fact. Like many of us, she grew up always wanting to be a teacher.

Jenny describes her math classroom as active and focused. She likes to keep her students actively involved in class with lots of classroom discussions and cooperative learning. She feels like the most important thing she can do is help students not to learn just rote procedures, but to really make sense of and understand math. What Jenny loves most about teaching are the kids. She just loves 7th graders because one minute they can be so grown up, but the next minute they are just kids again.

On a personal level, Jenny loves to read and do puzzles. With her family, she enjoys watching movies and Netflix and playing board games.

Jenny’s Teachers Pay Teachers store is called Wilcox’s Way. She currently has 110 products in her store, nine of which are free. Her resources focus on middle school math since that is what she teaches.

Free Resource
Her featured FREE resource is called Integer Addition and Subtraction Card Games. It contains 60 cards that can be used to play the ten games described in the packet. The cards all contain simple integer addition and subtraction problems that the students will solve as part of the games. There are 15 sets of cards with four different answers. The answers on the cards are -7, -6, -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. There are two addition problems and two subtraction problems to get each answer. These games are designed for students that have learned to add and subtract integers, but continue to need practice.

Only $3.50
Her highlighted paid item is entitled Proportional Relationships and Unit Rates Partner Activity. This series of individual and partner activities focuses on finding and identifying the constant of proportionality (unit rate) from verbal descriptions. Students then work with a partner to graph these unit rates. Students also work with proportional relationships presented in tables, graphs and equations. 

This resource contains a series of three activities. Each activity has two parts.  For part 1, students work individually. Then, working together, they complete Part 2 of the activity where they will graph information about the situations from part 1 on the same graph.

Jenny also has a blog which is also called Wilcox's Way. (When you have a catchy name, you might as well stick with it.) Her March 22nd posting is entitled "I Am So Excited to Review for State Testing....said no teacher ever."  She really is excited this year because she is planning to do it Escape Room style which I think will be awesome! I highly recommend you read all of the details about this engaging and fun way to review at her blog. 


Earth Day - A Time to turn Trash into Treasure

With Earth Day just around the corner, I began thinking, "What sort of extraordinary things could I create from ordinary things which might otherwise be thrown away?"  Here is just one of my Trash to Treasure ideas.


Go to any Quick Trip or a store similar to that and ask if you could have some plastic cup lids, two for each child.  (Stores are usually happy to help out teachers.)  I like the sturdy 4" red ones.  Instead of placing a straw in the designated spot, place a brad to connect two of the lids.  These should be touching each other top to top or flat side to flat side.

After the lids are together, place a few stickers on the outside of the lids.  What do you have?  A card holder!  Just slide the game cards in between the two lids, and they will actually stay there!  These are great for little hands which have difficulty holding several cards, or for older hands which aren't functioning like they use to, or for disabled or crippled hands.  My grandchildren love them because they can now play Old Maid without dropping and showing everyone all of their cards.

Free Resource
Also, go to my store and download a free version of my resource entitled Trash to Treasure.  It is an eight page handout that features clever ideas, fun and engaging mini-lessons in addition to cute and easy-to-construct crafts made from recycled or common, everyday items. In this resource, discover how to take old, discarded materials and make them into new, useful, inexpensive products or tools for your classroom.


Do you have a Trash to Treasure idea?  Share it with us by leaving a comment.


A Book Review: "Setting Limits in the Classroom"


Available on Amazon
Setting Limits in the Classroom by Robert J. MacKenzie
How to Move Beyond the Dance of Discipline in Today's Classrooms

Recommended for: All Staff

The theory of education is something we were all required to study in college. It sounded good in the book; it was great for discussion, and it made us feel smart! But that same theory tended to fall apart when you became the teacher of actual students. In addition to theory, what we really needed were practical suggestions for classroom management, effective ideas for dealing with children, and management methods that were classroom proven. Well, look no further; this is it!

In his introduction, MacKenzie states that, “Teachers can’t teach their academic subjects effectively until they can establish an effective environment for learning. Classroom management is simply too important to be neglected or handled ineffectively.” The book discusses effective classroom structure, your approach to teaching rules, how children learn your rules, and establishing consistent rules. Throughout the book, the author wants you to recognize the discipline you might be using that just doesn’t work. He concludes the book with how to develop a school wide guidance plan.

Setting Limits in the Classroom gives answers to your most testing behaviors that you may experience in the classroom. It is solid advice for fixing the way you interact and deal with students. It is also practical in that it gives various real life scenarios to reenact to practice classroom management and apply in your classroom. It offers firm, down-to-earth, and sensible solutions that effectively cut off students' attempts at negotiating, bargaining, and being belligerent towards the teacher. It offers many options to the unsuccessful extremes of permissiveness and rigid authority and all points in between. MacKenzie outlines no-nonsense methods for setting clear, firm limits supported by words and actions. The book is really a step-by-step manual that shows you how to create structure and methods that work, stop power struggles, motivate students, and even solve homework dilemmas. It is a must read, and I highly recommend it for middle school and high school teachers.

To peak your interest, here are a few quotes I especially liked from the book.

1) Your consequences will have their greatest impact when they are immediate, consistent, logically related, proportional, respectful, and followed by a clean slate.

2) Much of what we consider to be misbehavior in the classroom is actually limit testing or children’s attempts to clarify what we really expect.

3) When our words are consistent with our actions, we don’t need a lot of words or harsh consequences to get our message across.

4) When we ignore misbehavior, we are really saying, “It’s okay to do that. Go ahead. You don’t have to stop.”

This is an ideal book for a whole school study or new teacher development training! In the appendix is a study group guide that lists the objectives for each week as well as study-group discussion questions for each chapter. I have successfully used this book with many student teachers who have in turn used it as a discipline and classroom management guide.