It’s finally May! And, while we’re all excited (Sorry Aussie friends!), the month of May brings its own unique set of challenges because the last weeks of the year are often the toughest. However, with a little planning and creativity, the craziest weeks of the year can become the most engaging for your students. In my own classroom, I planned for a different problem solving or critical thinking challenge for each day of the week and my students spent the majority of their math time exploring the tasks, devising a plan to solve them, and then finding the solution. We spend the rest of the time reviewing content that would be most helpful for the next grade level, usually fraction, decimal, and whole number operations.
It’s always tempting to begin teaching content for the next grade level once we’ve taught all of our content for the year and are looking for content to fill the last few days or weeks. My rule-of-thumb has always been not to teach someone else’s content but to find ways to enrich my own content. One of the ways I have been able to do this is through problem-solving challenges and by enriching and extending my own grade-level content. With this idea in mind, in today’s post, I’m sharing five of my tried and true strategies you can use to engage your students in the last days of school.
Activity 1: Year-in-Review Products
This activity is super fun and requires virtually no prep work! (It also takes several days to complete, so if you need some time to complete your end-of-the-year checklist, this is a great independent task.) The basic idea is that students will create a game or activity to review one of the skills learned during the school year. Board games are generally easy and straightforward to create and play, but there are other ideas for products that students could use. See the list below for some examples of kid-created and kid-tested games from some of my students. Regardless of the product students choose, they should include an answer key and a set of detailed directions. After all of the games and activities are complete, allow students time to play each other’s games or complete the activities– this is the most valuable part of the activity because the students LOVE sharing and playing each other’s games!
- I Have, Who Has? Activity
- Crossword Puzzle (I use the Criss-cross puzzle maker at Discovery Education’s Puzzle Maker website.)
- Card Game
- Tic-Tac-Toe Board
- Problems or tasks on 6-sided Cubes
- Dice Games
Interested in using technology? Search the web for a Jeopardy template and allow students to create a Jeopardy game for one topic or skill. After students complete the game, arrange a time for small groups of students to play each of the Jeopardy games.
Activity 2: Math Menus
It’s no secret that I am a lover of math menus and have used them successfully for several years. One of the best things about using a menu at this time of year is that students can complete them without much assistance from me. Creating the menu does take some time, but once it’s complete, it can be used for days or even weeks.
Here’s how I create a menu:
- Decide on a topic. I then match the topic to a menu type. For topics which include several skills, such as whole number, fraction, and decimal operations, I use a more involved menu like a game show board or list menu. (Read more about menu types here.)
- I use product ideas, as well as, materials and resources that we used during the unit of instruction to fill the board. I am very strategic about what I place where. I want each student to have to demonstrate their knowledge with a variety of tasks, including practice and review, product creation, and critical thinking and problem solving. Read more about product creation here.
- I also offer an opportunity for students to submit their own product creation idea. Students love this because it provides an additional layer of differentiation and creativity.
- I create instruction sheets for all of the products and compile all necessary materials in a central location so that students have access to the necessary materials.
- After I create the menu, I review it with the students and allow them to ask questions before setting them loose to work on their own.
Freebie Alert! Grab a freebie copy of the menu above here or by clicking on the image above!
Activity 3: Weight Logic
This is one of my favorite challenges! Logic puzzles help students develop solid critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the early grades. This is essential to support higher-level mathematics in the later ones.
To complete the weight logic puzzles, students use the sum of the symbols shown on the scale to determine the value of each symbol. For many students, this task seems simple. You guess and check the values until you find a combination that works. But that level of thinking is just the beginning. The real critical thinking comes in when students use strategies, other than guess and check, to determine the value of each fruit.
For example, on puzzle #5 (to the top right), if students recognize that the watermelon and two strawberries on the left side are included in the two pieces of watermelon and two strawberries on the right side, they can subtract the 10 on the left from the 12 on the right to see that the leftover watermelon slice has a value of 2. Once they know that, they can determine the value of the strawberry. How’s that for fostering algebraic thinking in elementary school!
For puzzle #6 (to the bottom left), students recognize that there are three watermelon slices on the right whose total value must be a multiple of three. The only multiple of three that is less than five is 3. If students subtract 3 from 5, then you discover the value of the bunch of grapes is 2 and the value of the lemon slice is 1. Students can then double-check their values using the left side to see if their solution works.
How awesome would our students be if they could articulate that level of thinking? It will take time for students to arrive at these solutions, but once they’ve mastered guess and check, encourage them to look for other ways to solve the problem. Be sure to have students share their solution strategies with other classmates as well.
Freebie Alert! Grab a freebie copy of Weight Logic with Fruit here!
Activity 4: Boggle Math
The next activity is called Boggle Math—similar to the traditional Boggle game except that students create number sentences instead of words. What I love about this activity is that it can be used for several days because students keep challenging themselves to find combinations of numbers that will create a number sentence.
Here’s how it works:
- Create a Boggle board with an empty bulletin board space or on poster board. See the picture to the right for an example. (Depending on the needs of your students, a larger or smaller square array can be created as needed.)
- Students look for and create number sentences using numbers that are touching in some way, i.e. sides or corners.
- Students earn points based on the difficulty and length of their number sentence, such as one point for each unique operation, one point for each additional number after the first three, and one point for each number that is squared.
This activity is a great way to differentiate for students because the length of the number sentences they create is based on their individual ability and understanding of the task. This activity can also be transformed into a whole-class game where teams of students compete to create number sentences and then earn points based on the length of the sentence.
Activity 5: Problem Solving Challenges
If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that I love problem-solving! Specifically, I want to focus on the more non-routine problem-solving challenges. These are my favorite type of problems to use in the classroom; however, they do require more time to allow the students to understand and then solve them. Non-routine problems are ones that cannot be solved by simply adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing to find the answer. They require students to develop and execute a plan of action and can often have more than one solution.
My favorite way to use them is to find a really good one—one that will take some time to complete and where the solution is not easily determined. I divide students into small groups of 2 – 3 (more than three students in a group creates opportunities for disengagement). I give each group a problem-solving challenge, a tub of markers, and a piece of large paper, like construction paper or an old textbook cover (Anyone still have those lying around? The blank backsides are perfect for creating posters!) Once students have their materials, they read the problem, determine a solution strategy, and create a poster.
After all of the groups have completed the task, I have each group display their poster and do a gallery walk to review how other groups solved the problem. Once the students have viewed the posters, we come back together as a whole group and have a math talk to discuss the problem. Here are some of the ideas we discuss during this math talk time:
- How can you decide if an answer is reasonable or not? What would be an example of an answer that is too high? Too low?
- What’s the most effective strategy? Why?
- What’s the most efficient strategy? Why?
- What if a group thought about it this way ________________________ (provide an erroneous solution strategy)? How could you help them get on the right path?
Keeping students engaged during the last few days and weeks of the school year is the key to reducing discipline problems and retaining our sanity. It may even prevent us from counting down the days, well not really, but you understand what I mean. Be sure to give these activities a try for a smooth, engaging, and fun end to the school year.
Sound Off! How do you survive the last weeks of school?