Starters are critical thinking activities designed to get the students thinking about math and provide opportunities to “sneak in” grade level content and skills in a fun and engaging way. Using starters offers an additional opportunity to get your students thinking mathematically from the first moments of class– the best moments because it’s a chance to “hook” your students right from the start. Designed to take no more than 5 – 10 minutes of instructional time, starters can include a variety of tasks. To allow for some variety and support the strengths of my students, I use a different starter for each day of the week. Read more about them here.
This week, as a way to celebrate October and the upcoming Halloween festivities, I’ve created five Halloween-inspired starters that are sure to engage your students and get them thinking critically about math. I designed these activities to target grades 3 – 5; however, with a little creative adaptation, you can modify them to meet the needs of younger grades. I’ve provided some tips for how to do that with each of the activities. In addition, an answer key is provided at the end of the post.
Ready for some Halloween fun? Let’s get started!
Monday: Estimation 180
This activity actually came from an awesome website called Estimation 180 where students are presented with a picture and asked to estimate some quantity related to the elements of the picture. For this particular task, students are asked to estimate how many candies are in the bag. To do this, students need to first estimate the number of scoops in the bag and then the number of candies in the scoop. Once they obtain these two quantities, they can multiply the number of scoops by the number of candies in one scoop. The beauty of this task is the discussion piece. Listening to students communicate how they arrived at their estimates will reveal a lot about their thinking. The creators of the website also emphasize discussion surrounding estimates that are too low or too high and the thinking required to rule out a certain set of quantities. Learn more about Estimation 180 here.
Tuesday: Logic Puzzle
I call this next activity a logic puzzle because students have to use the information they glean from the puzzle to determine the numerical value of each symbol. (The sum of each row and column is shown on the outside of the table.)
At first glance, these puzzles may seem very challenging for some students. Encourage the students to look for the best place to start. Then, be sure to probe further to make sure the students understand why one starting position may be better than another. Use the questions below to support students during productive struggle.
a. Where is a good place to start? How do you know?
b. Once you believe you have determined the value of one of the symbols, how can you use the information to keep you moving forward?
c. How can you use the sums on the perimeter to check your work?
d. How will you know when you have completed the puzzle correctly?
Variation: Change the sums to numbers that are smaller or larger. For example, divide each sum by two to provide support for younger students or those who need a simpler task. Consider using decimal values to represent the symbols for older students.
Wednesday: Traditional Problem Solving
This task is a traditional problem solving scenario. To get the most from this task, allow students an opportunity to complete the problem individually or with a partner. Students can then record their thinking and their work on the activity page. After all students have had an opportunity to complete the task, review the students’ solution strategies as a class and discuss the most effective/efficient methods for completing each task using math talk. Use the questions below to support students during productive struggle.
a. What do you know about the boys’ ages?
b. What information can you use to help you get started?
c. What process will you use to solve the problem?
d. How will you know when you have found the right solution?
Variation: For younger students or for students who need a simpler task, change the task to say- “Young Frankenstein has two brothers, Pugsley and Gomez. The sum of their ages is 34. Frankenstein is older than Pugsley, but Pugsley is not the youngest. Gomez is 8 years younger than Frankenstein who is 16 years old. How old are the three brothers?”
Thursday: Tiling Task
Of all the tasks, tiling tasks are my favorite! This set requires students to analyze number sentences and determine a number from a set of 0 – 9 labeled tiles to represent each symbol. (Grab the tiles here.) It also emphasizes all four operations, logic, and algebraic thinking. Each tile represents one and only one symbol. Initially, this task can be quite intimidating. (You can ask my hubby!) Therefore, after students have completed the task, discuss the ways that students approached the task with questions such as:
a. How do you determine where to start?
b. Are there number sentences that help you “narrow down” the possible solutions?
c. What do you do when you are stuck?
d. For which number sentences is it easiest to determine the value of the symbol?
e. In what order did you complete the task?
f. How will you know your solution is correct?
Variations: Allow students to work in groups or complete the task together as a class.
Friday: Which One Doesn’t Belong?
The last task is a very open-ended one. In fact, as long as students can justify their response as to why one pumpkin is out but the others are in, they are correct. This is a great opportunity to allow students to get creative with their reasoning. Here are a few examples of characteristics to use to group: pumpkin color, the shape of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, number teeth, curly “q” off of the stem, etc. For this task, you may want to divide your room into four sections and assign each pumpkin a section. Then have students go to the section for the pumpkin they
For this task, you may want to divide your room into four sections and assign each pumpkin a section. Then have students go to the section for the pumpkin they feel does not belong. Once divided into groups, have each group discuss what defining characteristic they used to select the pumpkin. As students discuss, be sure to wander around and listen to the variety of ways students excluded the same pumpkin. Then, have each group share some of their reasoning.
Variation: Because this is such an open-ended task, it is accessible to a wide variety of students and will naturally be varied by the characteristics students select as their elimination criteria.
Monday: About 893 candies
Tuesday: Witch = 12, Pumpkin = 8, Black Cat = 4, Vampire = 2
Wednesday: Gomez is 7 years old; Pugsley is 12 years old; and Frankenstein is 15 years old.
Thursday: Cat = 4, Pumpkin = 0, Swirl Candy = 2, Candy Bar = 3, Candy Corn = 6, Bat = 7, Polka-Dot Candy = 8, Ghost = 5, Witch’s Hat = 9, Spider = 1
Friday: Answers will vary.
I hope these fun starters help get you and your students in the Halloween spirit! Want more spooky, fun math tasks? Click here!
Sound Off! Which task do you feel will be the most beneficial for your students? Why? Respond in the comments below.