Fun Math Activities for Middle School

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What Makes Math Fun?

fun math activities for middle school

“Math is boring.”
“I wish math were more fun.”
Do you ever hear comments like this from students?
Did you feel this way as a student?
Do students walk out of your math class saying, “That was a fun class?” 

What Makes Math Fun?
Can middle school math class be fun?
Is math supposed to be fun?
These are good questions, but my real question is – what makes math fun? Are we talking about having fun practicing math or having fun learning math? Or both?

I’d argue that practicing math can’t be much fun if a student doesn’t understand the concepts. You can have the most exciting, engaging activity, but for the students who don’t know how to solve the math problems, the activity is NOT fun; it’s meaningless and frustrating…especially if they see other students having fun because they ‘get it.’

Before practicing math can be fun, students need to understand the concepts…..at least partially! Maybe a fun math activity can help solidify the concepts, but there must be some understanding to begin with.


What Makes Learning Math Fun?

So, how do we make learning math fun in middle school (or upper elementary)? I’ve developed a few theories and ‘fun’ math teaching practices over the years:

1) The math class environment needs to be non-threatening. You can be a super-nice teacher and still have a threatening atmosphere in the classroom. What makes math threatening?

  • Not getting the answer fast enough. Pressure to work quickly may be self-imposed (leading to anxiety that makes it harder to think:-/) Or, the classroom expectation may be for answering math problems quickly. There needs to be at least some time when slow is ok.
  • Being wrong. Being wrong in front of other people (peers). When students answer math questions in front of others, many of them feel very vulnerable. They want to get the right answer, and don’t want other people to think they’re dumb if they make a mistake. Students may feel uneasy if they are afraid of being called on when they don’t volunteer or don’t know the answer…..and that uneasiness can make it harder to think. Does that mean you should never call on a student who doesn’t volunteer or who is having trouble? Of course not. Students do need to learn how to deal with those situations and those feelings. However, there are ways to help students feel ok with being wrong. One of those ways is to reassure them that you’ll help them understand why they were wrong.
2) Students need to feel they can ask questions and that the questions will be answered. For most of my teaching career, I was guilty of being ‘behind’ in the curriculum.
  • That’s mostly due to the fact that I’d get off-track during our math lessons. If students asked questions that showed they really needed more explanation, or asked questions that took us on a math tangent, I usually answered them…or I asked other students to answer….we discussed…and much of the time, the class learned something new or gained deeper understandings of math concepts beyond the initial question.

If students think the answer to their question will be, “We’ll cover that later,” or, “You and I can discuss that later,” they won’t keep asking. Math class needs to be a place where students feel curious and feel confident in expressing that curiosity.

3) Let students be the ‘teachers.’ One way I’d do this is to have willing students teach me how to complete a  process, in front of the class. The idea was that they needed to treat me like I knew nothing about the process, and they had to walk me through a problem, step by step. They also needed to answer my ‘why’ if I questioned a step.

The students always got a kick out of the mistakes I’d make if they didn’t give clear enough instructions; these sessions always included some laughter (and good-natured exasperation from them when I just didn’t ‘get it’), and inevitably helped those students who were having trouble with that math concept. They also helped the ‘teachers’ to communicate about math more clearly.

4) Help students get comfortable with ‘why.’
“Why?” was often my response, whether students had a right or wrong answer. ‘Why’ helps us all in the math classroom.

  • It helps me understand if they got the right answer for the right reason; the right answer for the wrong reason; the wrong answer, but correct thinking (with a little mistake); or the wrong answer and wrong thinking.
  • It helps students to understand the same. And the more I asked why, the more THEY eventually asked why.

5) Learning math is fun when students discover math concepts on their own. It’s fun when they get time to explore math concepts. Exploring does take time, but it’s worth the time – exploring tends to lead to deeper understanding, often in more areas than just the math concept they were exploring.

6) Learning math is fun when students get to discuss their math thinking. Yes, some will do more listening than talking, but when math discussion is the norm, more students will open up and share.

7) Learning math is fun when students get to problem-solve. They expand their creative math thinking!

8) Learning math is fun when instruction is engaging – when you add some personality to the lessons; or maybe add some doodling and color to note-taking, with Doodle Notes or Math Wheels.

Fun Math Activities for Practicing Concepts

After students understand the math concepts, then practice can be fun!
Fun ways to practice math? There are so many! You can find all of these types on TPT, from so many teacher-authors, or on Pinterest, or just by searching the internet:-)

  • Mazes
  • Color by numbers
  • Digital games and activities
  • Print games
  • Active math games like trashketball
  • Projects (PBLs)
  • Choice boards
  • Escape Rooms
  • Puzzles
  • Task Cards/Footloose
  • Card Games
  • Dice Games

    What are some ways you make learning and practicing math fun?

Ellie

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Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!

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