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Teaching in the winter is tough.  It's often gloomy outside, and the kids are either drowsy or have way too much energy.  Extra creativity is required to teaching during winter, but even more so around the holidays.  Let's face it, students (and teachers) are counting down the days until winter break, and it can be tough to keep their attention.  Here are some ideas to teach during those rough times.

1) Snowball Fight:  If you haven't tried this, you may already have your doubts just by reading the title.  But, if done correctly, students love this, and it is effective.  You can do this with various math concepts, but I will just give an example with integers.  Let's say your class is practicing integer operations. Every student needs a blank piece of paper to start.  Each student will write their own integer problem.  They then crumple up the paper, and you let them throw them around the room like a snowball fight for a set amount of time.  30 seconds usually is enough.   Set a loud timer, when the timer beeps students will grab whatever crumpled up piece of paper is closest to them, they open it up, solve the integer problem, and write a new integer problem.  To switch it up, you can tell them which operation to use.  After a set amount of time.  You let the students have another "snowball fight", set the timer and repeat the activity.  

Be clear about the process before hand, and model what it looks like when the timer beeps.  Students love this, because they get to throw paper at each other, and this is a great way to help them use their bottled up energy while practicing math.  


2)  Plan a holiday meal:  Use your local grocery ad to plan a holiday meal.  Students love looking through ads and picking out foods for their meal.  Have them total up the cost and account for sales tax.  Have them look up the sales tax for you area and apply it accordingly.  You could also have them "purchase" things like napkins, paper cups, the non-food items.  In some areas the food is taxed differently than the non-food items.  Have them apply the tax accordingly.  Compare their meals with their classmates.  

You could have them plan their meal beforehand and have them estimate cost.  Then they could calculate their percent error with the actual cost.  

They can calculate unit rates with items in the sales ad.

If the ad shows original cost and sales cost then they can calculate percent change of 10 items.  Of their 10 items, which items has the highest percent change? Which item has the lowest percent change?  

3)  Engaging seasonal problem-solving tasks:  Students love holiday activities, even middle school students.  However, you will want to keep the activities learning-based so you are not just wasting time in the classroom.  Students can differentiate between "busy work" and "effective problem-solving" work.  If you just give them busy work, most of them won't be working.  I have created 5 problem-solving tasks that are engaging, effective and easy to differentiate for the middle school math classroom. 


  • Snow Day:  This task requires students to reason through the size of a snowman and calculate the volume of the snowman.  Easier level: Students can calculate the area of the 2d snowman.  This task also includes a challenge as an extension.
  • Santa vs The Grinch:  Students calculate who wins in a sleigh race between Santa and the Grinch.  Higher level: Students use systems of equations and solve both algebraically and graphically.  Lower level:  Students reason through the task using problem-solving skills.  This task also includes a challenge as an extension.  
  • Geometric Snowflake: Students learn how the Koch snowflake is created and find the area of a stage 3 Koch snowflake. Higher level: Students use the Pythagorean Theorem to find missing side lengths. Lower level: Students use a ruler to practice measurement and find the composite area of the shape. This task also includes an extension for higher students.
  • O Christmas Tree:  Students are given equations in slope-intercept form and end points to draw on a graph.  The finished product is a work of art. Easier level:  Students use substitution to find the end points.  A challenge is also included as an extension.  Graph is included.
  • Colorful Crystals:  Students classify real numbers as whole, natural, integers, rational, or irrational.  Students then color snowflakes according to their answers.  This activity is perfect to keep students engaged before a break of with a substitute.  















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Ok...so you have taught them slope, and y-intercept and ALL the different forms you can write a linear equation.  They have all the information they need, but they need practice.  You could always give them 15 equations straight from the textbook ....or you could give them something fun and engaging.   This was why I created graphing art. 

When I was full-time in the the classroom, I kept looking and looking for something like this, but I never could find what I was looking for. So I created my own...and the kids loved it.  At the time, I wish I had time to create more, but they were very time-consuming to create so I couldn't.  Now that I am on a break from teaching, this was one of the first things I wanted to create.  Fun pictures that were made from graphing linear equations.  After I created one, I realized it definitely needed color.  I also realized I could incorporate one more math skill of finding composite area to apply color. 


    
Students are given an equation written in slope-intercept form.  They then graph the line segment with the given end points.  As they continue through the various equations they will gradually be forming a picture.  They then color the picture given the area of the composite figures.

One last thing, can we mention that grading these pictures is an absolute breeze.  SO much easier than trying to grade 15 individual graphs by students from a textbook.  These literally take a glance to check for accuracy.
  

I have a Halloween-themed graphing art that you can try out for FREE in my TpT store.  CLICK HERE TO head on over to my Teachers pay Teachers store to download yours for free.

I put all my graphing art into a bundle so you can save big time. CLICK HERE to save on graphing art!

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I am a strong advocate in teaching students conceptual mathematics.  I believe the more they understand the "why" of the mathematics and can make connections across domains they will become better mathematicians and better problem solvers.  However, I also believe procedural fluency is a critical component in mathematics.  One way to build procedural fluency is practice. 

I know, however, that middle school students do not like a boring worksheet to practice procedures, and assigning 10 basic problems out of a textbook is just as boring.  Students are more willing to engage in an assignment when it is fun.  That is why I created mystery pictures.  

Mystery pictures include about 20 questions for students to practice procedural fluency on a specific math topic.  Once they answer they question they find the answer on the coloring grid and color the square(s) according to the key in the question.  Once complete, students will have revealed a fun mystery picture.  If done incorrectly, their picture will not look correct.  Therefore, correcting these mystery pictures is a breeze.  

I have a few available to download for free if you would like to try them out in your middle school math classroom.  Click here to grab yours for FREE!

I have others available in my Teachers pay Teachers store if you would like more for your classroom.  You can check those out HERE





If you don't know what the discovery method is, let me give you a quick summary of the basics.  With the discovery method teachers create an opportunity for students to DISCOVER mathematics (formulas, algorithms, connections, etc...).  This is basically opposite of a teacher standing in front of the classroom and TELLING the students the mathematics.  The discovery method leads to a greater understanding of mathematics and also builds students' confidence.  Here are 4 tips to implements the discovery method in your classroom. 

1. Open-Mindedness Environment:  Since students are discovering what works and what doesn't work failure is bound to happen.  In fact, you want failure to happen, because students will learn what does not work.  However, students hate failing, because they do not want to look inferior to their classmates.  This is especially true once students hit middle school, where students protect their image fiercely.  If you don't set up an open-minded classroom, many students will rather not try than try and fail. 

Setting up an open-minded classroom needs to start from day 1.  It's a culture you need to establish and live in your classroom.  Talk to your students about how mistakes are opportunities for growth.  Even displaying student's mistakes (without names) and taking time to learn what mistakes were made is a great strategy, because your students will see how learning really does happen from mistakes. 

2.  Guided Task:  You need to give your students a guided task.  Guided tasks often have more than one answer, are approachable for all levels and have room for continued challenge.  A simple example might be, "Create a prism with a volume of more than 230 cubic meters and less than 200 cubic meters."  A challenge you could add on to this question is a condition of surface area as well. Let your students have a productive struggle. 

3.  Teacher Assistance:  Teacher assistance is absolutely essential for successful discovery. Teacher assistance is NOT lecturing nor is it telling students what to do. Teacher assistance IS walking around the room and asking questions to the students.  The questions may look like "Explain to me what you are thinking."  "Explain to me this step that you did right here."  If students are stuck, "Tell me what you do understand" or "Tell me what part you don't understand." Guide your students but do not spoil the discovery process.  

4.  Conclusion:  Since the point of the discovery method is that students discover something you need to make sure to bring it all together to verify that ALL students have actually discovered what they need to discover. Also, if your guided tasks have multiple solutions or multiple ways to arrive at the solution you need to discuss this.  One way that I have done this in my classroom, is when students are working and I'm walking around I make notes of the different ways students are solving the problem.  I then have groups present different aspects of their process.  I usually don't have time, nor is it necessary, to have groups make a huge presentation of their whole process.  You just want to highlight the important points with the goal that all students make the discovery that you need them to make, such as an algorithm or formula.  

Once I implemented the discovery method in my classroom, retention of the material increased because students could connect the mathematics to experiences

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