March 14 Pi Day  & Albert Einstein's Birthday

March 14 Pi Day & Albert Einstein's Birthday

March 3, 2016

Problem solving strategies or what I like to call “creative thinking activities” are a necessary component of teaching students math. It helps students expand their perspective and intelligence. Research shows that everyone can learn math to high levels. It is experiences that grows the brain, reviewing and thinking more deeply causes brain synapses to react. Believing in yourself is critical to learning.

How a student feels about his/her capabilities affect how he/she approaches tasks. Struggle and mistakes are really important when learning, this is what grows and expands the brain. Believing in yourself helps a student not feel defeated when mistakes happen. It isn’t important to be fast at math but to think deeply and creatively. The idea that speed is important in math can be detrimental as it can cause students to feel defeated and closed minded when confronted with more challenging math problems. (See this great video by Jo Boaler and her students at Stanford University.) Fun problem solving activities can grow the brain, improve self-confidence and provide students with ability to make mistakes and learn from them in an open-minded accepting environment.

learning math acting it out

At the primary level of school, we teachers focus so much on fact memorization and number understanding that we sometimes fail to develop those crucial thinking skills that makes a successful student. There is a quote I like to use, “Mathematics is the single strongest indicator or future academic success.” A number of studies have shown that spending more time on mathematic concepts at the kindergarten to 3rd grade level, not only increases students’ math skills when they get older but also increases students reading and social skills as well. Who doesn’t want to see that happen?

albert einstein quote

So how can we introduce math concepts at a young age and not make it drill and kill of number recognition and simple computation? The answer is through fun creative thinking activities! Acting out the problem is a great way to start. Acting out is also a great way to get your students in the intermediate grades to get up move around and do something beyond the regular algorithm based worksheets and enjoy math.

Acting it out allows a group of students to discuss the critical elements of the text including what the problem is asking and which aspects are relevant or irrelevant. Then the group can act of the problem utilizing props or manipulative to illustrate what is taking place in the problem. Word problems can be challenging for many reasons including academic vocabulary, reading level requirements and the multiple steps involved. Acting out can bring problems to life and help students conceptually understand what the task involves and aiding in comprehension and problem solving. This strategy may increase student motivation and add personal relevance.

Below are two creative thinking activities for Acting It Out. First activity is for grades K – 3 (Kindergarteners and 1st graders would need some guidance). Second activity is for grades 3 – Middle School (3rd and 4th graders would need some guidance.) Make sure students not only act out the problem but they write down the steps as they go so that the students can replicate what they learned to demonstrate it to the instructor or class.

Implementation Tips of Acting It Out Activities:

  • Use students’ names in the problem, have the situation pertain to them directly.
  • Students should be assigned roles to get started but consider allowing the students to decide additional roles of; director, scene writer, prop creator, time checker, fact checker, etc.
  • Teachers have discretion depending upon time if the presentation are delivered to the entire group/class or each is presented just to the instructor as the groups figure out the problem.
  • Remember once the answer is revealed learning stops for all students. Allow time for students to figure it out as best they can.

Download either activity complete with teacher prompts and plans for your class room now:


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Here are two activities that you can try with your students. First one is for primary grades k – 3 , second is for intermediate grades 4 – 8.

Please click here for a copy of this lesson with directions and questions.

Acting It Out Activity #1 (primary grades K-3)

Farmers Trip to the Market

classroom math activity

A farmer is going to market with his old dog (who can’t swim), a plump chicken and a bag of corn. The farmer knows that unless she is right there, either the chicken will eat the corn or the dog will eat the chicken. She has to cross a stream to get to the
market, she can only carry one object at a time across the water. How can she get the dog, the chicken and the bag of corn to the market safely and uneaten?

old dog
chicken clipart

Download this full activity with rolls and teaching prompts ready to use in class today:


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Acting it Out Activity #2 (Intermediate Grades 4-8)
Alien Attack

You and 9 other individuals were captured by aliens. The aliens decide they will not eat you if you can figure out this riddle. You are placed in a single file line in size order so each of you can see the person in front of you. You can’t look behind you or step out of line without being eaten.

classroom math activities

Each of you will have a black or white hat appointed randomly. You aren’t given the total amount of either color. When the alien says begin you must guess the color of your hat, black or white, starting from the back and moving up the line. Don’t even try to say words other than white or black or signal in any other way or the alien will eat all of you. If at least 9 of you guess correctly, you all get to go free. Can you come up with a plan that will save everyone? You have 5 minutes to talk together to figure out a strategy.

Download this full activity along with useful teaching prompts ready to use in class today:


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