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Halloween Math: 5 Fun Starters

Want to celebrate the season without costumes and candy? In this post, I share five quick Halloween math starters to engage and challenge your students.

When students arrive at my classroom door, they are greeted with the following message:

“Welcome to class. You may start thinking now.”

Garfield

It was a statement on a Garfield poster that I just loved and it let my students know that I expected them to think in my classroom. When class started, I presented students with a starter, a quick critical thinking activity, to charge up their brains and “hook” the 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 variety and to support the strengths of all my students, I typically use a different starter for each day of the week.

To celebrate October, I’ve created five Halloween math starters that are sure to engage your students and get them thinking critically about math.

Halloween Math Tasks

These activities are designed 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 differentiation tips for each of the activities.

In addition, an answer key is provided at the end of this post.

1: Estimation 180

Halloween Math Task #1: 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 about 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 quantity.

Variation: Try a different candy corn problem such as estimating the number of candy corns in the scoop or estimating the number of scoops to fill a jar.

2: Logic Puzzle

Halloween Math Task #2: 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. To help them, the sum of each row and column is shown on the outside of the table.

At first glance, this puzzle may seem very challenging for some students. Encourage students to look for the best place to start. Then, probe further to make sure 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.

3: Traditional Problem Solving

Halloween Math Task #3: Traditional Problem Solving Scenario

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 paper.

After students have had an opportunity to complete the task, review the students’ solution strategies as a class and discuss the most effective and efficient methods for completing the 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?”

4: Number Logic Tiling Task 

Halloween Math Task #4: Number Logic 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. 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. (Just 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.

5: Which One Doesn’t Belong? 

Halloween Math Task #5: 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 of teeth, curly “q” off of the stem, etc.

For this task, you may want to divide your room into four sections and assign each section a pumpkin. 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 exclude 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.

Let’s Celebrate the Season!

It’s not just Shocktober for teachers, it feels that way for our students too. Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate the season with these fun Halloween math starters.

Grab your set using the form below. They can easily be displayed on a projector or under a document camera.

Want more spooky, fun math tasks? Click here!

Sound Off!

Which Halloween math task(s) are you most excited about trying with your students? Why? Respond in the comments below.

Halloween Math Answer Key: 

1: About 893 candies

2: Witch = 12, Pumpkin = 8, Black Cat = 4, Vampire = 2

3: Gomez is 7 years old, Pugsley is 12 years old, and Frankenstein is 15 years old.

4: 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

5: Answers will vary.

Shametria Routt Banks

Shametria Routt Banks

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