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5 Activities for Teaching Problem-Solving

Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math
This "5 Activities for Teachingpost (click the link for more 5 Activity Ideas) is all about Problem-Solving in Math.  As our testing relies heavily on our students' ability to problem-solve and analyze and solve word problems, we have a heavy focus on problem-solving all year long.  This post aims to give you some new ideas to get your students digging deep into word problems, on their way to becoming problem-solving masters.


1.  Use CUBES to help students analyze the problem before they begin solving - 

CUBES Strategy - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in MathBefore I began using CUBES with problem-solving, I would watch in frustration as my students plucked numbers from the question and began solving without really thinking about WHAT they needed to solve.  Sometimes they would miss some of the steps in a multi-step question, and other times their answers weren't actually answering what the question asked.  By introducing CUBES, my students now actually slow down and examine the question fully first ... leading to much greater success in problem-solving activities.  I introduce CUBES very early in the school year.  I hang an anchor chart in the classroom, and we complete an entry in our Interactive Math Journals (click HERE to see this resource in greater detail).


CUBES Strategy - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math

CUBES Strategy - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in MathI also created sets of concept-related Word Problem Activities using CUBES.  These resources contain a checklist for CUBES right on the page that students need to complete before they begin solving the problem.  I LOVE using these pages for quick formative assessments in the classroom - and they make a great portfolio piece to keep parents informed of what we are doing in the classroom, and how their child is progressing.  There are 2 different versions of each word problem so you can easily provide differentiation for your students or provide some extra practice for students who need some reinforcement with the concepts.


2.  Establish a set of success criteria for the steps to solving the problem - 

Building Better Math Responses - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math
Building Better Math Responses - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in MathOnce my students know how to analyze the word problem, it's time to start talking about how to SOLVE the problem.  Because we have a HUGE focus on communicating HOW the students solve the problem, just showing their work isn't enough - they have to show their thinking, too.  Using my Building Better Responses in Math has been the key to this in my classroom.  This resource breaks down the problem-solving process step-by-step and creates a set of easy-to-follow success criteria for students, ensuring that they have not only solved the problem, but also communicated their thinking during the process.  We start out with our first success criteria, and every time we master a criteria (usually every two to three weeks), we add another criteria to our board (there are 9 criteria in all).  I also post EVIDENCE (a student-created exemplar) alongside the criteria each time we add a new one.  This gives the students a model to reference.  This resource also comes with printables for students to practice each criteria in isolation, as well as pages for scaffolding the steps each time they add a new one.  All pages contain a checklist for students so they can be sure they are completing each step.  

3.  Work Backwards - 

Work Backwards - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math
I LOVE this open-ended activity for getting students to think about word problems.  I start with an answer, and get each student to write a word problem for the answer on a sticky note.  They quickly check in with me before they post their question.  When we first started this activity, students were including the answer IN their question, but with more practice, they are now thinking more about writing the word problem with the answer in mind.  To extend this activity, students can choose a word problem written by a peer, and work to solve it - PROVING the answer is correct.

Work Backwards - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math

4.  Work Together - 

Stick-It-Together - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math
Stick-It-Together - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in MathStudents can be a GREAT reference for each other.  I love letting my students explore word problems together.  They often have different ideas and strategies for how to solve a problem, which leads to awesome conversations about justifying their answers.  I always make them responsible for completing their own pages, but they can work together on the solutions.  My favorite resource for this is my Stick-It-Together Math Resources.  These resources have students working together in groups of 4.  Each students is responsible for solving the problem independently first (on a sticky note), then working together with the success criteria to build the best response they can from each other's responses.  I hear the BEST math talk when using this resource, and I watch them go back into their notes to help them with their solutions, which makes my teacher heart smile.  Each of these resources also contains an editable template, so you can add in any word problem you want to work on - better yet, give your students the opportunity to come up with the problem themselves.

You can also have them work together on large chart paper, or just give them some clip boards for their paper and let them work anywhere they wish within the room.  This is my students' favorite way to problem solve.

5.  Let them be the experts - 

Let Them Be the Experts - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in MathLastly, let your students be the experts.  Allow them plenty of time to see other solutions, and comment on the work (their own, and other's work).  I do a lot of peer and self-evaluation with problem-solving.  After problem solving activities, we do gallery walks - where students' work is displayed, and the students are asked to go around and view all the work, giving "stars and wishes" to their peers.  This makes them really think about what is needed in the solution to fully answer the problem.

I also like to post all the responses on the board, and allow students time to present their solutions - explaining what they did and how they know they are correct, or what they would do differently next time.

Let Them Be the Experts - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math

Let Them Be the Experts - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in MathTo help them differentiate between explaining HOW they solved the problem, and WHY they chose the steps they did, I also like to do an activity where I give the students two different colors of stickers or sticky notes.  They walk around the gallery of math, examining all the solutions, and place the one color where they see students explaining HOW, and the other color for WHY.  This really helps them see the difference between the two.  I then allow them time to go back to their own solutions, to see if they have completed both steps, and improve upon their communication.
Let Them Be the Experts - Different Activities, Strategies, and Resources to Help Your Students Become Masters at Problem-Solving in Math


These are just a few ideas.  I'd love to hear some of your fabulous ideas for helping your students dig deeper into word problems - just leave a comment below to share your ideas.







Your Try / My Try Spelling Chart

Your Try / My Try Spelling Chart
This Your Try / My Try Spelling Chart is one of the best additions I've recently made to my classroom.  Within 3 days, it completed eliminated the "How do you spell ...?" questions that brought my students to a halt during the writing process, made my students actually think about and attempt to spell the word instead of just shooting their hands up, and freed up my time to meet with more students and provide more meaningful feedback and comments while working on writing.  And the best part ... it literally takes absolutely no time or prep to implement in the classroom.  And that's a win in my books.

Your Try / My Try Spelling ChartI set up this chart on a chart stand that didn't get a lot of use in the room so it could be a permanent fixture in the room.  The instructions are simple - during the writing process, if a student has a question about how to spell a word, they can check a dictionary (online or in print) or write the word on the chart under "your try".  As soon as I get a chance, usually within a few minutes, I will write the correct spelling beside it on the "my try" side.  I've also started to put a checkmark beside correct attempts by students, and I still rewrite the word on the my try side.  And that's it.  I started this chart mid November, and by the end of December, we were already onto our 4th page of chart paper - so it's definitely getting used by the students.  I've also seen them go back and check previous sheets when they know the word was on the chart before.

I do a lot of free writing in my room, and that is when the chart is getting used the most, but I've also seen students using it when writing responses during other subjects, so I've encouraged its use for that, too.  My friend, Tina, from Tina's Teaching Treasures, has a great little freebie if you want to do this on an individual basis with your students.  You can check it out HERE.

Check out some of my other writing resources:








Mad Scientist Day

Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades
Mad Scientist Day!  This is seriously one of the best days of the year in my classroom!  As a class, my students have the opportunity to earn points for excellent behaviour and excellent learning - with the points going towards earning extra excellent learning days!!!  Mad Scientist Day is our first one of the year.

This is my second year doing Mad Scientist Day.  This year I switched up the activities a bit. Last year we had Mad Scientist Day the day before Halloween, so our activities were very Halloween based.  This year, that wouldn't have worked.  All of our activities are aligned with the science strands we study during the year, so they have a little information to draw from when we get to the particular units.

I "set the stage to engage" first.  A fun costume and a few props did the trick - something quick and easy to set up.  Students were also invited to dress up as Mad Scientists for the day.

Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades
Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades




















Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades
Our first activity was a STEM activity for making catapults (tie in to Simple Machines - levers).  I divided my class into small groups and gave each group a plastic spoon, two popsicle sticks and masking tape.  They were also allowed to use anything in their desks.  Last year, before Halloween, I had small plastic rats to use as the load and we called our catapults, "ratapults".  This year we used hershey kisses and "chucked chocolate".  I gave them around 15 minutes to build their catapults.  Once we were done, we had a chucking chocolate competition.  Students had to measure the distance they could "chuck their chocolate" in metres and centimetres.  Each group had 3 attempts, and then we compared and ordered the distances (YAY for a math tie-in!!!).
Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades

Mad Scientist Day for Upper GradesNext, the little Mad Scientists got to smash some rocks - cracking open geodes for our tie-in to Rocks and Minerals.  I bought some geode kits from Amazon (affiliate link to the product below).  This was definitely the WOW activity for the students.  It definitely took some time to get through the whole class, so I used the time to take some awesome pictures of my students dressed as mad scientists sitting behind the prop desk.




Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades

Mad Scientist Day for Upper GradesAs we completed each activity, students worked in a little Mad Scientist booklet I made for the day (the AWESOME clip art was part of the Mad Scientist Set by Melonheadz Illustrating - you can see it HERE).  For each activity we had to fill in "What we Did" and "What we Learned".  You can download a copy of this booklet I made HERE (just a note - it's not editable if you are doing different activities, but it can definitely serve as inspiration).
Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades

Mad Scientist Day for Upper GradesNext up was Making Blood Models (tie in to Human Body unit).  I've blogged about this as a full lesson before - you can see this blog post HERE.  Each student had a water bottle.  We added a drop of yellow food coloring to the water for the plasma.  Then we added cheerios (dyed red with a full bottle of food dye) for the red blood cells.  Mini marshmallows were added for the white blood cells, and we used small circles of paper from the hole punch for platelets.  We watched a Brainpop video on blood before we made our models to further our learning.  The students LOVE this one!

Mad Scientist Day for Upper Grades

For our last activity, we had to blow something up!  Mentos and coke fit the bill - and was a fun tie-in to Matter and Materials.  I have wanted to do this FOREVER!  So much fun!  We added 7 mentos to a bottle of coke (I read online that 7 is the perfect number) and watched the fun!

video

Mad Scientist Day was a perfect way to reward students with an awesome day of learning they will be sure to remember.  Engaged students LEARN.  Period.



Using Task Cards with Board Games

A set of task cards and any blank board game makes an engaging yet rigorous way to help your students master math concepts.
My students love task cards - especially ones that get them moving.  That's exactly why I created my Math Circles - sets of task cards that get my students up and moving while learning and mastering the concepts.  So engaging for all students and absolutely perfect for your kinesthetic learners.  If you're anything like me, you have probably have tons of sets of task cards in your teacher stash already.  One day last year, while I was figuring out ways to use my task cards in more engaging ways, I had an awesome thought.  I wanted a GIANT game board so we could "play math" in a GIANT way.  So, I made it my plan to accomplish this during the summer.  I'm so glad I did - our giant game board has been an amazing addition to our math classes, and whenever my students literally BEG me to "play math", I know I've got a winner.

Make the Game Board
A set of task cards and any blank board game makes an engaging yet rigorous way to help your students master math concepts.
I ordered my game board through Vistaprint.  It is a 4 x 8 vinyl banner.  If you create an account with Vistaprint, they have some amazing sales and promo codes they will keep you informed about.  I waited until they had a good sale going to buy the banner.  I bought some board game clip art from Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs and resized the game board a bit in photoshop (powerpoint would work, too) so it would fit.  I resized it to 24 x 48 inches and when I uploaded it in Vistaprint, the image worked perfectly - it's nice and crisp and fills the banner perfectly.

Now, go big or go home doesn't apply here.  You don't have to make a giant banner - anything would work.  You could draw a game board on bulletin board paper (it would make an awesome permanent bulletin board if you pinned the game pieces on it - a bulletin board you don't have to worry about changing ALL year long).  You could also use a large piece of cardboard - get your students involved in drawing the actual game board!  You could also do this on a smaller scale on regular paper so you could use it as a math station.  Anything goes!

A set of task cards and any blank board game makes an engaging yet rigorous way to help your students master math concepts.
Last year when I thought of this idea, I tried it out by projecting an image of a game board on my whiteboard (there are tons of free blank game boards available when you search on google images).  We just used whiteboard markers to track our progress around the board.  Quick and easy and best of all - no prep.

To go along with our GIANT game board, I decided we just had to have some GIANT dice, so I found some on Amazon (I have included my affiliate link below this post).  You can use almost anything for the game pieces - I have a fun little collection of "ugly dolls" (they are just too cute to be ugly) in my classroom that work perfectly.

A set of task cards and any blank board game makes an engaging yet rigorous way to help your students master math concepts.

Play the Game
A set of task cards and any blank board game makes an engaging yet rigorous way to help your students master math concepts.I used my Place Value Math Circle to break in our new game board (but could use any set of task cards - and this doesn't just have to be limited to math).  We rolled out our board game in a nice open area and I divided the class into two teams.  I had previously printed out the numbers for the game (the same set of numbers can be used with many of my math circles) and have made them into necklaces with string and a clip.  These hang on a hook in my classroom and we use them often.

I handed the first team the first card from the math circle.  They had to read the instructions and arrange themselves into the number on the card (numbers are written in different ways on different cards - in word form, expanded form, by place value column, and greater than and less than form).  When they were finished, the opposite team examined the card and determined whether the number the first team made was correct or incorrect.  If correct, the first team got to roll the dice and move the number of spots indicated.  If they were incorrect, they did not get to roll the dice or move.  Then, the second team got the next card in the math circle - and followed the same procedure.  Repeat.  If you are using 2 dice, the game goes quite quickly - if you want to make the game last longer, only roll one.

A set of task cards and any blank board game makes an engaging yet rigorous way to help your students master math concepts.
In the picture above, students were asked to build a number that was 1000 greater than 6,588,301. I also have sets that fit both the US and Canadian way of writing the numbers (either with commas as place value holders, or spaces). 

A set of task cards and any blank board game makes an engaging yet rigorous way to help your students master math concepts.And that's it.  SO much fun.  When we were finished, we came back to the classroom to reflect on our activity.  I posted a question from my Math Reflection Fans and asked them to answer the question on a sticky note which we then posted.  You could also just have them write their answers on a large piece of chart paper (whole group graffiti style) or on the whiteboard. 

My students are already asking when we're using the game board again ... and I have to admit, I can't wait!!!  I've got a Rounding Math Circle that will be perfect for the end of the week!












Introducing Growth Mindset in Math

Growth Mindset in Math - Starting Math Class Right!
This year, before we dive into our first math unit, we're setting up for a successful year by examining our growth mindset in math.

The very first day, I started with a math engagement survey, to see what my students' attitudes were about math and their learning (you can grab a free copy of this survey HERE).  It was pretty awesome to see that most of my students already have a pretty positive attitude about math - that's definitely a testament to the amazing teachers I work with at my school.

This summer I discovered Stanford University's YouCubed site by Joanne Boaler - full of amazing math lessons and activities that are designed to foster a math mindset in students.  I instantly knew I was going to start the year with this.

Growth Mindset in Math - Starting Math Class Right!
As I was reading more about the activities during my prep period on the second day of school, I came across this fun video made at a youcubed summer camp.  As I was watching it, I saw an image of this quote:  "In this class, mistakes are expected, inspected, and respected."  Perfection.  I pulled my big binder of bulletin board letters of my shelf and set to work.  By the time my students came in from recess, there was a new quote to look at on our wall.  When I posted the picture of this quote on my facebook page, a few people had mentioned they had seen this quote with the word "corrected" added (such a great addition ... but I have no more wall space to add the word - lol).  When my students and I discussed this quote to examine what it means, we all agreed that corrected is an integral part of inspected - when we inspect our mistakes, we are not only trying to determine where we went wrong, but also how we can use teacher and peer feedback to correct it.

Growth Mindset in Math - Starting Math Class Right!
One of our first tasks (suggested on youcubed) was to brainstorm what makes a successful math group, as so much of our learning and inquiry will be done in groups.  We did a think, pair, share activity and came up with this great anchor chart to remind us of the norms while we are working.  It hangs right below our "mistakes are" quote - and together they are exactly what we need to remember as we start our math year.

Growth Mindset in Math - Starting Math Class Right!



On Monday we our going to start our Interactive Math Journals, and our first entry is going to be my Growth Mindset in Math entry - the perfect start to our math journals.  You can read more about this entry in a blog post HERE.  From there, we will finish off our week with more great math inquiry lessons from youcubed.

Growth Mindset Math Journal Entry

With all of this, I am so excited to begin our year exploring math.  We're going to have a great year!









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