One of my favorite activities/games I started using my first year teaching is something my students named “Number Muncher”. It’s an old Discovery Toys game I had from when I was younger. (Thanks mom for instilling my love of mathy games young!) I couldn’t remember what it was called but knew it needed a name, so I decided to have my students name it. I made a list of several of their ideas and had them vote from that list. Number Muncher it was. I’ve since learned that it’s actually called Number Jumbler.
I don’t think I fully recognized the value of activity my first year teaching because since then I’ve used it less and less each year, and I don’t know why because it’s SO good. It’s low floor/high ceiling. It’s a great way to review order of operations, exponents, properties of multiplication and division, and even fractions. It allows students of all levels to be successful but also challenges all students. I’ve mentioned before that I’m working to be more intentional about the tasks I have students do in my classroom, and this one makes the cut. It will be making a comeback this year!
The goal of the game is to write expressions equal to the middle number using the numbers around the outside. You don’t have to use all of the numbers, but you can only use the numbers on the outside and can’t use them more than once unless there are duplicates. (For example, in the picture below, you can only use one 3 but you could use three 6’s.)
Because the numbers are random, some sets of numbers are much more challenging than others. I want students to feel success with this game at first, so I try to make sure that the numbers are nicer to work with the first few times we play (i.e. when I write the numbers on the board I change some without students knowing -particularly the middle number. I think the numbers on that cube are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60. I like to keep that one smaller at first.)
I vary how long I give students to work depending on the numbers, but it’s usually around 3-5 minutes. I usually make it a competition, and whoever comes up with the most correct expressions wins. Each expression is worth a point, and depending on what math concept I want to encourage students to use, I may give students bonus points for certain expressions. For example, I may tell them they get 2 points for every expression they come up with using an exponent.
After time is up, we go over several of their answers on the board. In nearly every one of those conversations, addition and multiplication properties naturally come up as well as whether the parenthesis a student used in an expression were necessary or not and why.
I’ve used this as a warm-up. Other times I pull it out when we’ve got an extra few minutes at the end of class, or when I’ve got some early finishers. How else do you think I could use this with students? As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve thought of the following ideas:
- After students have had individual work time, put them in pairs or groups and give them a few more minutes to work as a group to come up with a collective list. Then we could have a group winner.
- Rather than going over students’ solutions on the board as a class, pair students up and have them check each other’s work. Then maybe as a class we would highlight some of student’s favorite solutions.
- Play sort of like Scategories and only give points for unique answers.
I know this is similar to some of the other order of operation activities out there, but students love to be the one to roll the purple thing to come up with the numbers. They think it’s so cool. I couldn’t find it sold on the Discovery Toy’s website or on Amazon, but I did find a few on eBay if you’re interested in one for your own classroom. You could also use 7 regular dice and pick one to be the “middle number”.