Making Math Fun!?! (she: Rachel)

Howdy! My name is Rachel, sister of Jessica and cousin of Mariel. I’m now a diligent follower of this wonderful blog, but I must say, until the last couple of months, blogs just weren’t my thing. But, oh, how life has changed. I’ve been married almost 6 years to my wonderful husband, Andy, and just 3 months ago, we had our first child – my darling baby boy, Ryan. That’s when life changed! Until Ryan came along, I was teaching math full-time at a middle school and a high school. That kept me busy enough that I hardly knew what a blog was! Now, however, I’m only teaching part-time, and many of my afternoons are filled with blogging. I consider it a privilege to share a few tips about math on this blog. Now, on to the real stuff!

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”

Do you remember that game we all played as kids called slap-jack? We would divide a deck of cards in half, you and your partner would each flip over one card at a time, looking for the jack, and the first person to slap the cards when a jack showed up got the pile. The object was to try and get the entire deck. Well, this game is a combination of slap-jack and multiplication flash cards. Here’s how you play:

First, take out any jokers or extra cards in a standard deck.

Next, shuffle the deck and divide the remaining 52 cards in the deck into 2 equal piles of 26 cards each.

You and your partner each get one of those piles. At the same time, turn over the top card of the deck so that you see two face cards (one from each pile). The first person to multiply the numbers on the cards and yell out the correct answer gets to keep those cards. The object of the game is to collect the whole deck (or you can set a time limit on the game and try to collect the most cards – it’s pretty difficult to get the entire 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:

-6 + 8
First, draw 6 negative signs, and 8 positive signs.

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!

A couple of tips to watch out for:

1 – Make sure that you are only crossing out zero pairs. NEVER cancel a positive with a positive, or a negative with a negative. It must be 1 positive and 1 negative in order to cancel out.
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!

- Rachel


Owner & Author at Or so she says...
Mariel (mahr-eeee-elle) is a mother to six, wife to one. Loves homeschooling, golfing, cupcakes, traveling, cuddling, non-fiction books, gardening, James Taylor, and family time. This is her blog. Enjoy!


  1. How cool! My daughters love games, especially card games. Now I have a cool card game to show them. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  2. Nice, Rach! I never realized you were so math-y! Good to see you more in the blogging world! ;)

  3. Woo hoo! I needed this lesson! I understand now….thanks Rach!

  4. As a complete math failure, I admire you.

    I’m sure I’ll be pulling up this post in a few years!

    Thanks, Rachel!

  5. Hey, I know you!! How funny–I found this blog through my high school friend’s blog and I’ve been reading it ever since. I had no idea Jessica was your sister! I was so surprised to see you on here. We’re all connected somehow, aren’t we. I “lurk” on your blog, too. That baby’s a cutie! Hope we see you soon, but probably won’t until the next Valantine reunion.

    Cool blog, by the way!

  6. My oldest is in 1st grade, but I do need to remember how simple you put it!

  7. I LOVE MATH!! You helped me think outside the box for some fun new ideas for my kiddos. THANK YOU!!

  8. I wish you were my math teacher back in middle school! Great ideas!

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