Making math fun? I know, I know. That’s not possible, right? Well, over the years of working with middle school kids, I have picked up a few ideas that are worth sharing. Even though these are targeted toward that age group, modify them for what you need!
Math Activity #1: “Multiplication Slap-jack”
First, take out any jokers or extra cards in a standard deck.
For example, on this hand, a 9 and an 8 were turned over. So the first person to say “72″ gets to keep those 2 cards. Put them at the bottom of your pile and keep flipping!
Before you begin, you’ll have to decide with your partner the values for each card. I usually just have each number (ace – 10) be it’s face value. Then, I have jacks = 11, queens = 12, and kings = 0. If you really want to challenge your kid, you could make kings = 13, but I don’t see a lot of reason to memorize 13′s. Or for younger kids, leave out the face cards all together!
So, in this example, the problem would be 11 x 6, or 66.
Another variation you can do is to have red cards represent negative numbers, and black cards represent positives. This helps kids learn the rules for multiplying integers (pos x pos = pos; neg x neg = pos, and pos x neg = neg.) So for the game, if the cards are the same color, the answer is positive; if the cards are different colors, the answer is negative. With this variation, in the problem above, you’d really be doing -11 x 6 = -66.
This game is a great way to help a kid memorize their multiplications facts, without just doing flashcards!
Math Activity #2: Adding Integers with “zero pairs”
One of the most difficult math concepts for kids to grasp is how to add and subtract integers (positives AND negatives). Although this activity isn’t really a game, it’s a great visual representation of how to add integers that really seems to work for kids. And best of all, the only thing you need is a paper and pencil! For fun, though, I sometimes use different colored pieces of candy to mix it up a bit. Here’s how it works:
The first thing you need to help a kid understand is that one positive number cancels out one negative number. You can explain this in a variety of ways: if I earn $1 and spend $1, I’m left with $0; if I have 1 apple, then eat 1 apple, I’m left with 0 apples; etc. After explaining this, I draw my kids a picture of 1 positive sign and 1 negative sign – this is called a “zero pair.” When I have 1 positive matched up with 1 negative, together they are called a “zero pair” because they add up to zero, or cancel each other out. Once your kids understand what a “zero pair” is, you can move on to actual addition problems.
Here’s an example of an addition problem and how to teach it to your kids:
Then, look for any zero pairs. If there are zero pairs (in this problem there are 6) cancel them out. After you have canceled out any zero pairs, count what’s left. Whatever remains is your answer. So, in this problem there are 2 positive signs left – the answer is 2!
2 – Be sure to look at which sign is left over after you’ve canceled out your zero pairs. It’s easy to just count up what’s left (2 in the example above) and forget to label it in your answer as a negative number.
3 – Finally, make sure that when you draw your positive and negative signs, you don’t get sloppy! Otherwise, it’s easy not to have them lined up and accidentally cross out too much or not enough. You also have to be careful with your counting when you draw!
Don’t forget…you can substitute colored candies for your positive and negative signs to help entice your kids. Try black and orange jellybeans around Halloween time, green and red M&Ms at Christmas, etc. You get the idea
Math Activity #3: The Internet, of course!
You may be surprised, but the internet is full of math games and activities that your kids will love to play! All of the websites below have some of those activities that will help sharpen your kids math skills while they’re having fun! Check ‘em out!
Good luck with all your math adventures!