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Math Starters to Ignite Learning

In today’s post, I share ways to start the new year with a bang and ignite student learning with math starters.

One of the strangest rules I have ever heard came from my first middle school principal. He said my students could not leave my classroom during the first five or last five minutes of class.

Why? I thought to myself.

Because, as he said, they were the most important minutes of the class period.

This was the first campus where I had ever heard such a thing, but it really made me stop and think about the message behind it. As I thought more about this expectation, I really started to understand.

I needed to grab my students’ attention during the first five minutes of class– which meant I needed to program the start of my class with a fun and engaging math starter. 

What are Math Starters?

Starters, critical thinking activities designed to get the students thinking about math, provide opportunities to “sneak” in grade-level content and skills in a fun and engaging way. Intended to take no more than 5 -10 minutes of instructional time, starters can include a large number of tasks.

Over the years, I have used a variety of starters, including number of the day and word wall activities; however, my favorite activities are challenges that allow me to reinforce a variety of critical thinking and problem-solving strategies. 

Math Starter Ideas

Emphasize Algebraic Thinking

1. Ask students to find five ways to represent a number, such as 1000, or have students represent the day of the month or the ____ day of school in a variety of ways.

2. Encourage algebraic thinking with tasks where students have to determine the value of one or more symbols, such as snowflake + snowflake = 12 and snowflake – snowman = 2.

3. Challenge students with a logic puzzle. To create this puzzle, fill a 3 x 3 grid with three or four different objects, maybe some fun seasonal erasers, (you will have multiples of some objects). Then assign each object a value (keep it secret). Record the sum of each row or column on the outside of the table. Challenge students to find the value of each object.

This is an example of a logic puzzle.

Encourage Problem Solving

4. Give students a quick problem-solving task to complete, such as “During the winter snow season, the Snowy Mountain Coffee Spot sells hot chocolate for 47 cents. If Katrina paid for a cup of hot chocolate with exactly five coins (quarters, nickels, dimes, or pennies). Which five coins did she use?”

This is an example of a problem solving task.

5. Challenge students with an Open Middle task.

Use Clues to Eliminate Options

6. Give students clues to determine the mystery number. See the example below.

The number is:

  • not an odd number,
  • more than the value of a penny,
  • less than the number that is two more than five,
  • more than the number of sides on a square.

7. Using a set of pattern blocks, give students clues and have them sequence the pattern blocks within a horizontal set of four numbered boxes. For example, students can order the hexagon, the blue rhombus, the trapezoid, and the triangle with the following clues.

  • There is a quadrilateral in the even-numbered boxes.
  • The shape with the least number of sides is not on the right side.
  • The shape with one pair of parallel sides is not next to the triangle.

Analyze Relationships

8. Review math vocabulary with “What’s the Relationship?” To use this activity, write 5 – 7 related math words on the board. Then have students determine how the words are related to each other. Add a twist by including a non-related word and ask students to determine which word doesn’t belong.

9. Create a Venn Diagram with pattern blocks and then ask students to determine the common attribute for each set of shapes.

Build Number Sense

10. Tiling tasks require students to use a set of numbered tiles, 0-9, to complete problems. Typically, each tile fits in one, and only one, solution. Use tiling tasks, like the one below, to challenge students to find the value of each symbol. (Use the form below to grab this freebie and challenge your students!)

This is an example of a tiling task.

Let’s jump-start the new semester with a bang! Start your next math class with one of the activities above. Then tell us all about it in the comments below.

Sound Off! Give one of the ideas above a try. Then tell me about your experience in the comments section below.

Shametria Routt Banks

Shametria Routt Banks

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