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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

The Power of the Estimation Jar

The Power of the Estimation Jar

We often think of math as the exact-answer subject.  But the kind of math that we do most often during the day doesn’t require an exact answer.  We use this particular math skill when we need to figure out how much time we need to get ready in the morning.  Or whether we have enough gas in the car to get to work. Or whether $50 is enough to cover the items in our shopping cart.

The math skill we use the most is, of course, estimation. And estimating accurately requires a high level of math.  That’s because it’s abstract which means we need to tap into our number sense and reasoning skills.

One way to provide our students with opportunities to work on their estimation skills is during computation practice.  Instead of diving right in to figure out 15 x 12, have students come up with an estimate…about what the answer will be. In fact, periodically I ask students NOT to determine the exact answer and, instead, have them turn in their work with only their estimates recorded.  This is hard for them to do in the beginning because they are so used to working out arithmetic problems, but they soon learn the value in thinking about the problem first.

A fun way to get students to work on their estimating skills is through the estimation jar.  I’ve included two of my estimation videos below.  The first video describes using the estimation jar in the classroom as a way to develop, not only estimation skills, but place value and number sense, as well.

The second video is filled with tips on setting up your estimation table at your Family Math Night event.  It includes something I’ve been adding to my estimation tables recently – the use of a referent.

You’ll find in both videos that there is a heavy emphasis on getting students to think about and make sense of numbers.  I discovered an example of this in action one day while cleaning up after a Family Math Night event.  It was such a powerful example of number sense that I’m now including “thinking” paper at my estimation stations.  If you missed the newsletter where I describe this priceless find, check it out here.  And click here to get the pdf of the thinking paper I’m now using.

A Twist on the Estimation Jar – Classroom Version

Setting up the Estimation Table at your Family Math Night event

New Family Math Night Collaborative Projects: Fish Bowl and Fraction Quilt

New Family Math Night Collaborative Projects: Fish Bowl and Fraction Quilt

In addition to using the 8 stations in our Family Math Night kits, I usually include a ninth station where I set up a Collaborative Project.  I did the soccer ball project at my first event this year but then created two brand new ones that I’m excited to share with you:  Fraction Quilt and Fish Bowl.



In Fraction Quilt, participants cut different colored squares into triangles and use those triangles to design their quilt square. Some of the math they’ll discover along the way are halves, unit fractions and equivalent fractions.  At the advanced level, there’s an option to tie in symmetry.


In Fish Bowl, participants will be creating super cute fish from colorful cardstock.  At the beginning and intermediate levels the focus is on geometric shapes and measuring with a ruler.  At the advanced level, participants will be measuring the area of their fish in square centimeters.  The best part is all the fun crafty materials participants will use to decorate their fish. Any time there’s glue, it’s going to be a lot of fun!


As always, I put together a video version of each of my Collaborative Projects.  Here are the ones for these projects.  By the way, if you’d like to automatically get my new videos as they are published, I’d love for you to subscribe to my YouTube Channel.  Not only do I have a whole bunch of Collaborative Projects but I also have some curriculum content videos.  Click here to check it out and subscribe.



Fun Math Lessons and Projects: Equation Cards and STEAM Bundle

Fun Math Lessons and Projects: Equation Cards and STEAM Bundle

Kids love hands-on activities. They also love working together. So as often as I can, I try to combine the two when creating new lessons that weave in solid math concepts.

That’s the idea behind my K-2 and 3- 5 Equation Cards. The Common Core Standards in Mathematics has a heavy emphasis in the elementary grades on the concept of equality in equations. As we know, too many kids think the equal sign means and the answer is… So I created a set of cards that helps reinforce the idea of balance.


classroom_3-5equations_coverThe cards are super easy to use. Each card represents one expression. Simply pair students up then hand them one of the expression cards. Their job is to solve the expression then find the other pair of students that has the matching expression. These expressions are then placed in the pocket chart on either side of the equal sign creating an equation that clearly shows both sides balancing.

The K-2 set focuses on beginning addition and subtraction.

The 3-5 set focuses on addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and, for the older students, order of operations.

I also include blank cards in the sets. Kids love it when they get the opportunity to create their own expression cards that will be used later by the class. It’s a great motivator! Assign pairs of students a number (two pairs per number) and have them create an expression which they write on the card. The activity gets played the same way but this time all the expressions have been generated by the students!

The best part is each set is only $1. Just laminate the cards and use them over and over!

Other super fun activities that kids love are the STEAM and Family Math Night Collaborative Projects that I usually do at a Family Math Night event. These activities can easily be done in the classroom. Since there are 16 of these hands-on projects, I decided to bundle them. It’s a $15 savings. You can check the bundle out here or click the image below. Of course, each project can also be purchased separately.

I hope you have an opportunity to try one of the activities in your classroom. If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes!

And, finally, this is the time of year when schools begin planning their Family Math Night event. As always, if you have questions about how we can help you host a Nifty Numbers, Math Medley, or Gellin’ with Geometry event, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit our website.

Family Math Night Scavenger Hunt

Family Math Night Scavenger Hunt

A couple of years ago I created a Scavenger Hunt for families to do during a Family Math Night event.  As participants entered the room, they were handed one of two “game boards” …the K-2 version or the 3-5 version.  Kids and parents worked together finding the items.  But it occurred to me recently that it would be a fun beginning-of-the-school-year activity.  So I thought I’d share it with you as we begin this new year.

The K-2 version is a little easier and includes pictures. In addition, it’s played like bingo but with a scavenger hunt twist. Kids explore math in the environment by finding and crossing off items on their bingo board.  Five-in-a-row wins.  For a challenge they can find all the items on the board.

Since it would be difficult for Kindergartners and First graders to play without help, it would be fun to partner them with an older “buddy”.  Buddy classes are perfect for this.  A younger student would be paired with an older student who can help read the words and find the items.  This is a great way for these students to get to know each other and begin bonding.

The 3-5 version is the traditional scavenger hunt.  Again, working in pairs, students need to find and write down ALL the items on the list.  Because these students are older, they should be familiar with most of the math vocabulary.  If not, it’s a great opportunity for them to work together to figure out what a word means.  That said, you could also have them use the K-2 version and instead of finding five-in-a-row, they would need to find all the items.  In this case, you may want to have them write down the items they find just to keep them accountable…

There’s a “winning” component to each version (the first to complete the game is the winner...) but you can ignore that part and simply have the students work together to find the items.  At our Family Math Night events participants who complete the board get to put an extra guess in the Estimation Jar or get an extra raffle ticket.

Finally, there’s a blank K-2 version.  This can be used with the older students so they can create their own game boards working with a partner.  They love this!  It’s a little more work on your end because you need to make sure their work was done correctly. But you can use these in several ways:  shuffle them and use with your own class; have another class use them; use them with your buddy class; use them during your Family Math Night event. Regardless of the way you use them, the fact that students get to use their creativity in designing the boards gets them excited and motivated.  And of course, from a teacher’s perspective, it’s a great way to reinforce the math they have learned.

The beginning of the school year is always an exciting time.  A scavenger Hunt would be a fun way to help kick it off.

As always, we’re here to help you host a fabulous Family Math Night event.  If you have any questions as you begin to plan, do not hesitate to contact us.