This past week was one of the best weeks I’ve had with my 6th graders in a long time.  Sara Van Der Werf has said during PD to take note of the good moments in your classroom, the moments when students are engaged, because we want to recreate those moments!

When I think back on this past week in 6th grade, one thing stands out to me.  Movement.

Nearly every day this past week, a good portion of the class my students were out of their desks practicing problems.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

This is something I *know* I need to be doing, but I’ll be honest, I had gotten out of the habit of intentionally putting it in my lesson plans.  Last year I had class sizes of around 33, and it was definitely more difficult to do these types of things both because of space as well as for behavior reasons.  Because I hadn’t been using these types of things last year, I had sort of forgotten to be intentional about this, even with much smaller class sizes this year.

Here’s some of the activities we did this week to practice problems using greatest common factor and least common multiple.

Every student had a card with a different number on it.  The numbers did not go in order and were random.  Half of the numbers were printed on one color paper, the other half on another.  Students were to pair up with someone who had the opposite color card as them, find the greatest common factor of the two numbers, check their answer using Desmos (Did you know you can type in gcf(24,32), and it will give you the greatest common factor?!), switch cards, and then find a new partner.

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I did have a few cards left over so that if a group of students finished and there weren’t any other groups close to being ready, I could give them a new number so they could keep working.

VNPS.  I admit, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve tried using Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces with 6th graders, and the times that I have used it, I’ve used it with one of my sections that I thought could handle it, or with only a handful of students who had finished their other work.  This was the first time I had tried it with all students in all of my sections.  It was great!  I will definitely be doing this again!

Loop Activity.  We did a loop activity, or sometimes called a scavenger hunt.  I hang pieces of paper with problems around the room and on each paper is the answer to the previous problem.  If students do the problems correctly, they will loop back to the first problem after completing all of the problems.  Here is the link to the post where I shared this activity.

Word Problems.  When we did word problems, we didn’t spend a ton of time going over examples together as a class.  We did two problems, and then students spent the remainder of the hour working on their own with partners.  Even though we didn’t spend a ton of time as a large group, students still did great on their own.

Now, here’s to hoping I remember this in the future, even when I have larger class sizes!

6th Grade Unit 2: Intro to Algebra (Part 3 -Equations)

You can read more about our Intro to Algebra unit here (part 1) and here (part 2).  In this portion of the unit we get into solving equations.

There are several things I do prior to actually solving equations to get students thinking algebraically.

I absolutely LOVE puzzles like this.

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One of my students caught something in this puzzle that I had missed the first time I solved it.

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In one of my classes we had some extra time, so I had my students create their own.  It was super fun to watch them get excited over this and to see their creativity in what they used in their puzzles.



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Then we used one of my online puzzles –Solve Me Mobiles, and one of my favorite movement activities, Balance Points.  I blogged about both of those activities here.

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When we play Balance Points I put an equation up on the board and with a partner, whatever the answer is students need to have that many body parts touching the ground.



When we get into solving equations, I stole Julie’s idea found here.  If you teach middle school and haven’t read that blog post yet, you need to stop and do that right now.  I’m not even going to say anything more about it to force you to go read it.  Most of my students will only work on one-step equations.  In some classes they’re ready for multi-step equations or some students in the class are.  Here is the link to download a couple worksheets I use and an add-em-up activity.

Open Middle also has some great one-step equation problems.

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Surface Area & Volume Scavenger Hunts

How is it that even after several years of teaching 6th grade, I can still go to my old files looking for stuff to teach an upcoming unit and find pretty much nothing?  How?  How does this happen?  I know I taught it in the past, but what did I do?

This happened with a recent unit on surface area and volume, so I created two scavenger activities.  One on surface area and volume and another with word problems on the same stuff.

I’ve been using “loop” activities or “scavenger hunts” for a while.  I especially like them for the times when I need students to practice a specific type of problem.  It’s a great way to disguise a worksheet as an activity.  I love that they are self checking and get students up and moving around.

I have tried a few different ways of creating this type of activity up when making my own.  This is what I’ve found to be most efficient for me when I’m making the activity.  On the top of a sheet of paper I put the first problem.  Then I put the answer to that problem on the bottom of the next sheet.  It’s been a big help for students to make the font as big as possible so that students can see it from a ways away.  Then on the top of that sheet I put the next problem.  The final answer goes on the bottom of the first sheet.   At the end of the activity, I am able to check students’ work by checking the order of their answers.

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Students can start at any card.  They solve the problem and find that answer on another sheet.  This continues until they have done all the problems.  If they do everything correctly, they will end up back where they started.

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Because this is a self checking activity for students, I tend to be “less helpful” to students while they are working on activities like this.

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And an added bonus is that you can hang the problems just as well to the outside of the school as you can the walls of your classroom.  So when it’s beautiful outside and your class has been awesome all week, you take them outside.  🙂

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Here are the links to download the activities.

Update:  I also uploaded an area review worksheet I used to intro this unit.  I’m trying to incorporate more self-check assignments for my students so they know whether or not they are on the right track while working on them.

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I also thought I’d share the documents I used to create the images for these activities.  I recently discovered I can use Google Drawings to create prisms.  It works really well for triangular prisms and rectangular prisms.  It’s not quite as easy to create trapezoidal prisms, but it was the best I found.  Here is the link to the images I made for the surface area and volume scavenger hunt, and here is the link to the images for the word problem scavenger hunt.

Movement: Incorporating Math Concepts into Movement Activities

(I’ve written several other posts on movement:  Post 1 • Post 2 • Post 3)

Movement has been a huge part of my classroom since attending Sara Van Der Werf’s session at a conference my first year teaching.  When I first started being more intentional about incorporating movement into my classroom, I would often have students do 10 jumping jacks, 5 push ups, or skip around the room, etc.  Every once in a while I have an epiphany about a way to incorporate the concepts I’m teaching students into these movement activities and think to myself, “Why did it take me so long to come up with this?!”

Here’s the list of what I’ve found to work best so far, more for my future reference than anything.

  • Perimeter/Area – I have students skip around the perimeter of the room or hop through the area of the room.  (I will also often add clockwise or counterclockwise to the directions.  I’m always shocked at the number of students who don’t know these words!)
  • Exponents – When doing something like jumping jacks, I started giving students an exponent to evaluate, rather than just a number.  This way I can sneak in exponents all year long.  “Do 3 to the second power jumping jacks.”
  • Prime/Composite – I’m all about finding ways to expose students to vocab words all year long.  I sneak these vocab words in by having students “Do a prime number of push-ups.” or “a composite number of sit-ups.”
  • To get back to their desks when we’re doing with a movement activity, I will sometimes have students count the number of “hops” to get to their desk and then do something with that number such as find the prime factorization of the number or we’ll talk about who hopped a prime number of times or whose number is divisible by 3, etc.
  • Ratios – I pick 2 activities and have students do them at a specific ratio.  For example, “Do jumping Jacks and sit-ups at a ratio of 3:2.”  (This was my “Why haven’t you thought of this before now?” moment of this year.  6th grade is ALL about ratios.  Seriously, why did this one take me so long to do?!)

I would love to hear how you incorporate the skills you’re teaching into movement activities in your classroom!

Movement: Slope Dude

I’ve been in search of a movement activity/game that I thought I could get my 8th graders to buy into.  I’ve written here and here about things I do with 6th graders, but I haven’t been brave enough to try those with my older kids yet.  I use stand and talks frequently, but I was looking for something that was more like a game.

Insert slope dude.

I had first read about Slope Dude on Sarah’s blog a while back.  I loved it, but at the time I wasn’t teaching classes where this was relevant (in hindsight, that probably wouldn’t have mattered, I should have done it anyway).  Now that I’m teaching 8th grade, I was excited to use it in a place the fit into what I was teaching.

The day before I showed students the video, I pumped them up about the video we were going to watch that would change their lives forever and how it was a SUPER high budget video.  😉  I love giving them an excuse to roll their eyes at their crazy math teacher!

In class the next day, we watched the video.  They had a love/hate relationship with the video, and it was fantastic.

I put this slide up on the board completely taken from Sarah and told them to stand up.  They groaned and complained, but not for long!


I played exactly how Sarah did.  We first went through the motions together before playing.  It’s just like Simon Says.   Here’s her post on Slope Dude Says, and you can download her posters here.

These are comments from my students in the past couple weeks:

“We were going to play Slope Dude Says in English, but then the teacher came back.”

“I feel bad for Z.  He’s missing out on slope dude.”

“Can we play again??”

“Are we going to play Slope Dude Says today?”

During work time, I saw numerous students move their arms to help them determine the sign of the slope before finding the actual slope.

“I’m pretty sure L wasn’t here for slope dude at all, can we play it today?”

“Even when we’re done with this stuff, can we still play Slope Dude Says?”


I call that a win.


Movement: A Game Changer in my Middle School Classroom

Much of my first year teaching was spent trying to figure out what on earth to do with 6th graders!  While I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, I always said I never wanted to teach middle school, and when I got my first job knowing I would be teaching 6th graders, I was really at a loss.  When I was a 6th grader, I was still in elementary school.

I felt that my job as their first math teacher in the middle school was to teach them how to be a middle school student.  I still fully agree with that statement; however, my view of what it looks like to teach them how to be a student is drastically different now than it was  as a first year teacher.

I went to two sessions at two different conferences my first year teaching that were game changers for me when it comes to teaching middle schoolers.  By my second year teaching, I was able to honestly say that I loved teaching my 6th graders, but without those two things, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to be able to say that I really truly love being a middle school teacher.  I am now teaching middle schoolers all day and love it.  I’m exhausted all. the. time. but I love it.

The first game changer was the idea of using games to get students practicing different skills.  I blogged about one of the things I took from that session here.  The second was a session on incorporating movement into the classroom.  One of the presenters was none other than Sara Van Der Werf.  (Sometimes I feel like all I write about are ideas I’ve stolen from Sara.  This entire blog could really just be an ode to Sara.  Thanks Annie for saying that so much better than I ever could!)

Anyway, I took SO many things from that session that I was able to implement immediately into my classroom and so many ideas that I was able to build upon to make work for me.  I mentioned one of them, Balance Points, here as well how I use her Stand and Talks here, but there are so many other things that I continue to use from her session.

When I started incorporating more movement activities in my classroom, I was worried they would take away from the precious time I have with my students.  However, I quickly realized something.  The times when I knew my students needed a brain break but tried to push through to finish what we were on were often way less productive than the times I would stop and give them a quick break.  There are still times that I literally stand in amazement in my classroom over how focused my students are after giving them a short break.  I also worried about the transition time from class work to brain break back to class work.  Yes, the first time I do a brain break with students it takes a bit longer to explain it, but after that, as long as I give it a name so students know what I’m talking about the next time, the transitions go pretty smoothly.  I also found that these brain breaks are a great way to review concepts we had previously covered.

My goal is to post semi-regularly on a different movement activity I do in my classroom.  We’ll see how consistent I can be, but today’s activity is what I call Divisibility Hop.

While writing this post, I looked up Sara’s version of this game from my notes from her session and realized that it has morphed into something a bit different in my classroom.  I think both versions are great.

Sara’s version is called Factor Hop.  She puts a number in each of the 4 corners of the room -these numbers are the factors.  She calls out a number, and if the number you are standing by is a factor of that number, you hop to another corner of the room.

I’ve been calling the game Divisibility Hop.  I put 4 numbers in the corners of the room.  They are generally 3-4 digit numbers.  I call out a number, and the number I call out is the factor.  If the number students are standing next to is divisible by the number I call out, they move to another number.  I will change up the numbers periodically.

The first time we play this I tell students something along the lines of, “The name of the game is Divisibility Hop, so you can’t walk to the other number.  I don’t care how you get to another number as long as you don’t walk, you’re safe, and everyone around you is safe.”

I’ve had students do the worm across my room, penguin walk, seal walk, you name it.  For many kiddos, this is the perfect sensory activity!

Today I had a student curl in a ball and start rolling across the room and say, “They see me rollin’.”

Yes, I truly love teaching middle schoolers.  They are the best.

My Favorites: 2 Equation Activities

I decided to give the #MTBoS #MtbosBlogsplosion blogging initiative a try, at least for this week.  This week’s topic is “My Favorite” and in typical me fashion, I couldn’t pick just one, so here are a couple of my current favorites related to solving equations.  Ask me in a couple weeks what “my favorites” are, and I’d likely give you a different answer depending on what topic I’m covering then.

My Favorite App:  SolveMe Mobiles

I’m probably super late in discovering SolveMe Mobiles, but I love it!  I’ve used it with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and all students have been enjoyed it.  One of my 6th graders came to me this week, “Can you please help me with this puzzle?  I was working on it last night with my brother and we couldn’t figure it out.  We stayed up until 10:00 trying to figure it out.”  You know you’ve found a winner when a students voluntarily does math at home, gets his brother to play along, and they stay up late trying to figure it out!


If you haven’t checked this app out yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.  (There is also a website if your students don’t have iPads.)  I love that the app is simple and easy to use, but it also offers many different features.  Students can draw on the screen, zoom in and out, and you can drag down from the mobile and it creates an equation with the shapes.  I have only used the “play” mode with students, but they are also able to build their own.

If students type in an incorrect answer the mobiles tilt to reflect that one side is heavier than the other.


I’ve also had some great conversations with kids when they do something like I’ve got pictured below and they tell me that it’s balanced and wonder why it doesn’t work.


My Favorite Movement Activity:  Balance Points

My first year teaching I went to Minnesota’s annual math conference and attended Sara Van Der Werf’s session on movement.  The entire session was a game-changer for me.  Not only was it the first time I was able to experience first-hand Sara’s awesomeness, but I also took away a ton of stuff I instantly applied to my classroom.  Right away, I saw the impact movement had on my students and my lessons, AND realized that movement activities don’t have to take away from the time we’re doing math.

To play Balance Points, students are paired up, and I put an equation on the board such as x + 5 = 9.  While staying connected in some way, such as holding hands, students must show the correct answer by having that many body parts touching the ground.  I encourage them to be creative and won’t accept “boring” answers.  0609_wheelbarrowrace

I wish I had pictures to share of my students playing this.  They LOVE it.  There isn’t a person in the room who isn’t smiling and laughing, myself included!   There’s usually a lot of  “Come quick!  Check our answer!” because students are about ready to fall over from the crazy positions they’ve come up with.  So fun!!  I haven’t done this, but you could use this for order of operations as well.

What other ways could you use this with students?  Let me know what you try!