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Author: Karyn

Homework the FUN Way

Homework the FUN Way

Everyone loves to play games.  They’re engaging, motivating, and fun.  And from an educational perspective, they can be a powerful learning tool.  Here’s what games can do:

    • reinforce skills learned in the classroom
    • develop mental math skills
    • encourage strategic thinking
    • foster mathematical communication
    • build confidence
    • engage parents

But one of the best things about games is that they offer meaningful practice in a way where kids actually want to do math.  That’s because games, by their very nature, are fun.  It’s not too hard to entice a child to play a game.  And because of that, games offer important practice in a way that worksheets can’t.

When it comes to homework, we need to tap into the innate interest and motivation that games provide so that we can help parents sneak in some important math reinforcement.  It’s no secret that the more engaged parents are in their child’s education, the better their children do in school.  And current research says that homework can be effective when it piques students’ interests, doesn’t take too long, and allows repeated exposure to master new skills.  Games fit the bill on each of these.

So let’s make it easy to engage ALL parents in their child’s learning by periodically sending home games for homework instead of worksheets.

This is where our Power Packs come in.  These Power Packs are filled with engaging dice games created specifically for parents to play with their children.  Not only are the games fun but we took great care to design them around the skills students are learning in the classroom.

Each Pack comes with the games and game pieces needed so all you have to do is pop the Pack in students’ backpacks.  It’s as simple as that.  Soon, parents and kids will be enjoying the games together – not to mention each other’s company!

To give you an idea how this might work as a part of your classroom routine, we put together an introductory letter and weekly game take-home slip (2 pages) that you can send home to families.  And with conferences coming up, it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce the game packs to parents.  In fact, you may also want to share this fabulous TED Talk that underscores the importance of practice – or what the speaker calls the learning zone.

Of course, the Power Packs are also perfect for your Family Math Night event.  Here’s how we use them at our events.

As always, our goal is to support you in your support of parents.  If you have any questions about our Power Packs, or any of our Family Math Night products, feel free to email us at

What Do You Notice? poster – Number Grid Puzzle

What Do You Notice? poster – Number Grid Puzzle

I hosted my first Family Math Night event of the school year last week. I had 33 student station facilitators – the most ever! It’s so exciting when kids volunteer to spend an evening doing math.

I also had a new What Do You Notice? poster. Here’s the skinny…

Title: Number Grid Pattern

K-2: number recognition, pattern
3-5: pattern, addition

Background Information: My youngest son visited the Basilica Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona, Spain and brought this pattern back for me as a gift. Here’s a photo of his gift: (And before you read the next paragraph where I describe the main pattern, you may want to discover your own patterns first.)

Having done a lot of these types of puzzles, it didn’t take me long to figure out the all rows, columns, and diagonals add to 33. It just so happens that 33 was the age of Jesus when he died.

The second and third columns are interesting. Notice how they both have the numbers ’14’ and ’10’. The second column includes ‘7’ and ‘2’. The third column includes ‘6’ which is one less than ‘7’ and ‘3’ which is one more than ‘2’. Number sense tells us that both columns, therefore, should add to the same number – which they do.

Younger students can focus on number recognition, repeated numbers, finding the number that represents their age, etc.

Here’s what it looked like at the event:

What Do You Notice? Descriptions

What Do You Notice? Descriptions

It’s been on my TO DO list for a long time.  Years, in fact.  But I’ve finally checked it off and I’m thrilled with the results.

As many of you know, for each of my Family Math Night events I include a What Do You Notice? poster.  These posters are designed to get kids and parents thinking about math on a deeper level.  Although each poster has been included on our website, there has never been details…until now.  I’ve taken each of the posters and written a thorough description of the math involved.  I’ve also included the specific skills by grade span, K-2 and 3-5, and given several examples of student responses.

Here’s an example:

What Do You Notice? Rectangular Arrays


Primary students (K-2): shapes, counting, repeated addition, area

Intermediate students (3-5): classifying quadrilaterals, area model of multiplication, multiplication, prime, composite, and square numbers

Mathematical Background
For this one, I represented each number as a rectangular array. I also color-coded the arrays hoping that students would notice the relationship between the colors and the arrays that went with them. Notice how the orange arrays are square numbers. The red arrays are our prime numbers. Then I used blue for arrays that were non-square and had a length of two. Purple was non-square with a length of three.

I was also hoping that students would notice that some numbers were represented by more than one array (composite numbers). Prime numbers had only one array. Note: ‘1’ is not a prime number which is why I colored it orange – the color of the square numbers.

This activity does a nice job of visually reinforcing the area model of multiplication: L x W = A

Sample Student Responses

“The long grid before the square and/or rectangle grid(s) have the same number of blocks.”
“None of them are the same.”
“There is a color pattern.”
“Some numbers are on there more than once.”

The idea is to make it easier for you to include these posters at your events.  But it’s not just limited to Family Math Night events.  Teachers have written me about how they include them in their classroom learning and some are even displaying them in the school hallways to give students something to think about as they walk the halls.

However you decide to use them, I know they’ll help your students explore math in new and exciting ways.

Math…it’s a Workout

Math…it’s a Workout

“Your workout has to be fun.  You’re not going to stick with it if it isn’t fun.”  I hear this every time I’m in the middle of a difficult workout.  And every time I hear it I want to ‘bop’ the lady on the DVD who is guiding me through the “fun”.
It’s not always easy, but I try to get in a workout several times a week.  Unlike the opinion of Ms. DVD, however, working out is not always a lot of fun.  There’s usually some pain involved.  Those lunges hurt.
So the other day when she repeated herself for the umpteenth time, I started to think about why I continue to pop in that DVD and torture myself for 40 minutes.  After all, she said it was supposed to be fun and I wasn’t feeling the fun.  I just wanted the workout to be over so I could get that sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing you’ve done something good for yourself.
And there it was.  My motivator.  That sense of accomplishment.  And I was willing to endure some pretty tough exercises in order to get it.
But there was another motivator, too.  Results.  If I didn’t get any results from my pain, well then it wouldn’t be worth doing.
It’s the same in the math classroom.  Some math problems are not fun.  And some math problems are not easy.  But that doesn’t mean that they’re not important to do. The key is to help students make connections between the problems they’re working on and the reasons for doing them.  We need to show them the benefits.
That’s where Carole Dweck comes in – author of numerous books on Mindset Theory.  In her research, Professor Dweck shows that when we work on difficult problems neurons in the brain form new and stronger connections.  She likens our brain to a muscle that grows with effort and difficulty.  And as our brain grows, we get smarter.
Wow.  That’s pretty important stuff.  Too often kids think that “smart” people don’t need to put in effort.  We need to share with them that anyone can grow a smarter brain if they work at it.  And what a powerful motivator – knowing your brain is growing through the hard work you’re doing.
But, like my workouts, kids also need to experience results.  It’s these little victories along the way that build confidence and make the effort worth it.  So, as educators, we need to set up the environment so that kids can be successful.  There’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment for having completed a difficult task.  And as kids succeed and gain confidence they become better prepared to take on more and more difficult challenges.
Yes, doing certain things can be hard.  But doing things that are hard can benefit us.  So as we head into “testing season”, let’s remind our students that effort and difficulty grows a bigger, stronger, smarter brain.  And a bigger, stronger, and smarter brain will give them the opportunity to succeed at just about anything they want.  And that’s worth working hard for.