Math Doesn’t Run in My Family

Yes, a student told me this once.  My internal response… baloney! Math was my favorite subject growing up and it saddens me when self-doubt and math phobias creep into the classroom.  My goal is to help my students forget they ever disliked math.  Here’s a preview of how I do this in our first math module of the year.  I’ve used some of these lessons before and others are lessons that I’ve revamping from last year and have yet to try.  I’m oversimplifying each lesson for the sake of brevity.

CHA CHA SLIDE [Place Value]

What do place value and the Cha Cha Slide have in common? Well, imagine a giant place value chart and your students as numbers.  You give them a problem.  4.3 x 100.  They respond, “Sliiiiide to the left.  Two hops this time [hop, hop].”  Or perhaps it’s .35 ÷ 1,000 and, “Sliiiiide to the right.  Three hops this time [hop, hop, hop].  *Warning: This one can be a little dangerous. Space and knowledge of directions are definitely needed.* 🙂


Oh no! Barbie and Ken are en route to their honeymoon when they crash land on a dangerous island.  They must get off of the island but are surrounded by shark-infested waters.  Lucky for them there are special lily pads which grow exponentially and will help them cross the waters to safety if only they can figure out how to manage their growth. Thanks, Classroom Chef, for inspiring me to incorporate Barbie into my math plans!

SPAM [Converting Measurements]

“Check out this can of SPAM!  Ewwwww!  Oh my gosh! Look at it.  That’s so gross! Oh, come here and smell it!  Nasty!  We just have to change something about this!”  After getting students jazzed up about SPAM, they learn what the acronym SPAM means.  It spells out the steps to convert measurements.  There is even a song and some intentional high and low fives to make it stick.  And boy, does this lesson stick like glue year after year.

INTERLOCKING CUPS [Standard Form, Word Form, Unit Form & Expanded Form]

Interlocking cups are put together by students and then pulled apart to reveal each form of the number.  This is a great station lesson.  The cups help students visualize and manipulate numbers.  Oh, we also have chants for each form!  Thanks for the cup idea, Google.

OLYMPIC RACING [Comparing Decimals]

I saw someone post about the Olympics and comparing decimals and it was just the inspiration I needed.  The students will look at the final times of a bunch of runners or swimmers.  They’ll figure out who they think received gold, silver and bronze.  Then, they will watch the race.  The final results will be revealed so students can check their work.  I love this one because it’s the shorter times that win the race.  Thanks for the inspiration, RCA app!

GOLDILOCKS [Rounding with Vertical Number Lines]

Get your Baby Bear, Momma Bear and Papa Bear voices ready for this one.  Baby likes her porridge just the way it is.  Momma likes her porridge just the way it is but high fives baby for being so polite.  Papa Bear always wants more.  Don’t forget to yell at Goldilocks to get out of the house!  Believe it or not, imbedded within this story are the steps to round with vertical number lines.


If you’ve ever seen Supermarket Sweep or Shop ‘til You Drop (two of my favorites growing up), this is a combination of the two.  Since my dream of participating on either show was not achieved, I live vicariously through my students in this lesson.  Students are split into teams.  Fake food items with dollar amounts tagged on them are placed around the room.  Students are given a checkout total and they must run to find the combination of items that add to the exact total.  When they think they have the correct pieces of food, they run back, ring the bell and get a new total.  The race is on!

CLOSEST TO ZERO [Subtracting Decimals]

Students are given a cart full of fake food (can be the same food as the day before) and need to return their items.  But there’s a catch!  This grocery store does not believe in full refunds.  The cashier gives the students a receipt (not itemized) and the students decide which combination of items in the cart they should return to maximize the money they get back.  As long as it’s not a full refund the store will pay.  Hence, they try to get their receipt the closest to zero.

GIANT CHIPS AND DISKS [Modeling Multiplication of Decimals & Area Models]

Play-Doh chips and number disks combined with giant place value charts and area models taped off on the floor make this a jumbo hands-on way to model and relate two concepts.  There’s something about making math life-sized that gets students excited, right?

HUMAN SORRY! PRIZE DOORS [Estimating Products and Multiplying Decimals]

What’s behind door number one? Let’s hope you use your estimation skills well and guess the correct prize door because it will give you a chance to get out of start and participate in a game of Human Sorry!  Solve the problem, pick a door and start on the game board.  Answer more questions correctly to keep moving.  Land on the Sorry! slide spot and hop on a scooter (you know, the ones from gym class) to slide forward.  Whatever team winds up safe at home wins.

LOST JUNGLE KEY [Estimating Quotients and Dividing Decimals]

Did you hear?  Our math support teacher’s brother went to the jungle and lost the key to estimating quotients.  We must go into the jungle to help him find it.  Jungle noises accompany math facts and snakes that hang from the ceiling in this lesson.  Students earn chips and each chip has a letter on it.  Once they’ve earned all of the chips they must unscramble the letters to find the key to estimating quotients.

WOULD YOU RATHER? [Word Problems]

This one is borrowed from Classroom Chef.  Students will debate real-world would you rather situations that incorporate the different concepts in this unit so students can practice applying their new skills.  Thanks for the idea!

If you have an idea that makes one of these lessons better, please share it!  We don’t start school for a couple of weeks and I’d be happy to hear ways to kick a lesson up a notch before my class arrives.