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Exponents and Dollar Store Puzzles

30 Sep

Student desk during activity with question card, work sheet, and puzzle pieces.

Do you ever get tired of giving students endless practice problems from textbooks or worksheets? I do! A friend of mine that teaches remedial math shared this activity with me, and I want to share it with you all! My 8th graders love it, and I love it because they’re practicing their facts, working collaboratively, and I’m able to do a quick check to see if they’re getting correct answers.

  • I feel like this activity is really easy to explain in person, but my typed explanation might sound like this is a complicated activity. It’s not! Hopefully the pictures will help. 

Here’s the gist: Students are given a blank sheet that’s separated into 4 boxes. On a table in the front of the room I have divided puzzles and cards. Each group gets a card with some problems on it. They all solve the problems on their sheet in the box with the picture that matches the card. When they’ve decided as a group that they have the right answers, they send one person up to the table with their answers. I check their sheet. If it’s right, they get some puzzle pieces and another card. They start the next card in the corresponding box. They must send a different group member up for answer checks each time. On completing the fourth card they get the rest of the puzzle pieces. Usually the first group to complete the puzzle wins a prize.


Front table setup during the activity. The first card they get without pieces, then as they get cards right they get new cards and pieces. The last pile is the pieces they get after completeing the fourth card. 

When preparing the activity I make copies of the worksheet for each student. Then I print the problem cards on cardstock. I use a different color for each group. This helps me to keep things organized when handing out the pieces. I got 24-piece puzzles from the Dollar Store. This works perfectly because I can give them 6 pieces for each correct card (MATH!!). I got different puzzles so the pieces don’t get mixed up. The kids love the Jake and the Neverland Pirates puzzle. I don’t show them what their puzzle looks like ahead of time. That would be too easy!


Exponent Rules Cards

I usually use this activity for review. I’ve even used it in my algebra class, where each card was one problem (Like writing linear equations from two points). I typically give students 20-30 minutes depending on the problems. As groups finish they’re allowed to start on their homework.

Bonus: Here’s a link for a free download of the cards!!

Free PDF of Cards and Work Sheet

The cards here are exponent rules, but feel free to use the blank sheet to make your own questions. I’d love to hear from you if you use this in your classroom. It really easy a cheap and easy activity with minimal cutting.


Integer Practice with Dice and Spinners

13 Sep

When I gave my PreAlgebra pretest this year several of my students said “We never learned negatives!” My heart sank. I replied “You didn’t do integers last year,” and of course I got the response “What’s an integer??” Dismay! Despair! Dread! We all know kids struggle with integers and here I was learning they’d not even been exposed to them. I decided this is where I had to start. I spent a few days going over the rules and giving notes and doing problems as a class. I feel like I worksheeted the kids to death. For a review of all the operations before a quiz I wanted to do something different than just giving the students a worksheet full of problems. So I came up with a fill-in the blank worksheet. Students worked in pairs and I gave each pair a die, spinner, and a paperclip. Each student received a worksheet. Then I gave them time to work through the sheet. It worked really well, and I was able to check students’ work as they went. They all got a variety of problems, and several students said they enjoyed creating problems this way.

Supplies for the Activity

Supplies for the Activity


I plan on using the spinners and dice again. This could work with fill in the blank fraction sheets, or fill in the blank equations. It’s nice because it doesn’t give the students too big of numbers to deal with. If you wanted them to have larger numbers you could have them roll two dice at once to create a two-digit number. You could also use this activity as a center.


How the spinner works…

I hate making my own spinners. They never work quite right, and sometimes those brass fasteners are hard to find! So now I just use paperclips. I give the kids one and have them set the paperclip in the middle, then put their pencil down in the center and spin the paperclip. Works brilliantly, and it’s sooo much easier.20130912_142007

Feeling generous… Integer worksheet and spinner template for FREE on TpT:


Introduction Centers

7 Sep

Before I start explaining my centers I want to share a little background about my teaching situation this year. In my previous 6 years of teaching I’ve been at a large public school where there were many other math teachers to collaborate with. I also was able to talk with the teachers that taught my students the previous year. This had tremendous advantages. I also knew what the teacher did with the students in terms of curriculum or group work. This year I am the ONLY middle school math teacher in my building. I’m teaching 6th, 7th, PreAl, and Algebra. The teacher that taught math previous years was not asked to return. I feel so lost about my students! I don’t know what their previous math experience has been like, and I don’t know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. It’s definitely a learning experience for me.

Because I do feel so lost about what my students know and have done before I first wanted to see how well they worked in groups. I also want to start training my students how to do centers early, because I feel like I’m going to need to do a lot of differentiating with so many different levels of ability. Also centers take a lot of work to set up so I wanted to use one that would work in all of my classes. I decided to just do basic skills review. I thought this would be good for the students and also help me to see where there may be some gaps. Since it is the first time we’re doing centers I created three centers and we rotated about every 7-8 minutes.

For My Basic Center Set-up check out this post:

I will tell you I got new tubs this year so my pictures might look a little different. 🙂 (The dollar section at Target can’t be beat!!)

Here’s my Introductory Centers!!

Center 1: Go FishDSCF8772

I use Go Fish cards in centers a lot. You can create them in Excel and then print multiple copies (just like regular playing cards have four 2’s, your cards can have four 0.5’s). I also like to take out some aggression using the giant paper cutter in the teachers’ workroom.

This center I did Fraction/Decimal Go Fish. Students have to get a pair containing one decimal and one fraction. I used very common/basic equivalent fractions and decimals. I printed the cards on cardstock and then cut them out. I also typed up an instruction page on cardstock and put that in a page protector.


Center 2: Amazin’ Activity –

DSCF8777This center has a gameboard, gamepieces, dice, cards, and an answer key. I used this game for the cards. I cut off the celebrations at the bottom. I love this because it comes with an answer key. Thanks Big Ideas!! Oh yeah, did I mention it was free and I didn’t have to create it?? Awesome.

In the tub I put the gameboard I created on Word, some random game pieces, one die, the game cards, answer key, instructions, and a whiteboard and marker. This is for the player who’s turn it is to work out the problems.

For the word gameboard you’ll need to print both pages and then line up the blue lines, cut one so you can match them up to create one large rectangular board.

A note about the gameboard: By now you might be thinking, I don’t have time to do all this for centers!!! Well I will not lie, it does take some time to set up. However, I plan on using the gameboard and instructions for the game many times throughout the year. The only thing I’m going to change are the question cards. You can easily make question cards by cutting up a worksheet full of problems, or if you have exam view use that! The kids really do appreciate it.


Center 3 – Puzzle Time

DSCF8779This center I did a very simple Tarsia puzzle. (Again see my post on Centers for a free download of this awesome software!!) Students had to fill in the blank to find the correct answer and solve the puzzle. This is a great intro to solving equations as well.

Since I’m feeling generous I’m going to post all of this on Teachers Pay Teachers for free!!! As soon as this happens I’ll post the link in the comments section below.

I think the kids did a great job with their first center day. They really enjoyed the games and also asked some really great questions. I’m hoping to build their confidence in math and show them that it can be fun!


I hope you’ll try to incorporate centers into your classroom as well. It does take a lot of work, but all great things do. 🙂

Writing Linear Equations Centers

9 Nov

Currently my PreAlgebra students are working through a chapter on writing linear equations. I wanted to come up with some centers for them to review what we’ve been working on in class. I did these centers with them yesterday in class and it went really well. The kids did great and I think almost all of them found the centers to be helpful. Here’s the overview of each center along with some shots of the centers in action.

  • Wicked Whiteboards

I created two sets of cards: 1 set of cards with a point on them, and 1 set with a slope. Students took turns drawing a slope card and a point card. Then everyone in the group wrote an equation for the line that passes through the slope and the point. Having the students all do the same problem is great because then they can check each others’ work. Also my whiteboards have a coordinate plane on the back so they could practice finding an equation by graphing as well.

I think the kids did really well with this center. They love drawing on the whiteboards and worked well in their groups to help each other write correct equations.

  • Amazing Activities

For this center I created “Graphing Go Fish” cards. Half of the cards were graphs with a linear equation drawn on them. The other half were the equations that matched the graphs. Students had to get pairs by matching the equations and graphs.

This activity was the students’ favorite. They loved playing Go Fish and it was great to hear them saying the equations aloud.

  • Puzzle Time

For this center I created a Tarsia puzzle where the problems were two points (ordered pairs), and students had to match these up with the correct  equation. If they do this all correctly the smaller triangles fit together to form a large triangle.

Students do well with these puzzles. They always try to get it finished, and they know they have a short amount of time to work on it so they work quickly and well together.

  • Small Group Instruction

This week for SGI I passed back their quizzes from earlier in the week and then went over some of the problems with each group. Then I had time to individually conference with students that may have done poorly on the quiz. It gave students the opportunity to ask questions without the worry of the entire class knowing they missed a problem on their quiz. Also the groups worked together to make corrections on their quiz. Many students wrote down that this was the most helpful center.





9 Nov

If you teach then you know this buzzword: Differentiation. Oh yes, glorious differentiation. Sounds so good on paper, but also so hard to implement in the classroom. The goal of differentiation is that a teacher would have multiple ways of presenting material so that you hit as many students as possible. But the trick is to come up with these multiple ways, and implement them in a way that all students are engaged all the time. This year I made it a goal of mine to do more differentiation, especially in my regular classes. I decided the best way to do this in math was with centers.

General Set-Up

I first set up my classroom so that the desks were in groups of four. Then I created the seating chart by grouping students of similar ability levels together. I also gave each “quad” a name of a famous mathematician and made signs so the groups could remember their name. Figuring out how to set up 7 quads in my classroom was a challenge all in itself. Here’s what my room currently looks like.


I knew I wanted to come up with four centers, so two groups could be working on the same center at once. Also then I would only need to make two sets of each center. I wanted to use tubs so that I could put the materials for each center in the tub and they could easily be passed around. I also wanted to have the center names be the same so I could label the tubs and these would remain constant each time we did centers. I would just change the activity inside the tub. Here are the four centers I came up with…

  • Wicked Whiteboards

This center has four whiteboards, four markers and 1 eraser in the tub. Each time we do centers I will come up with practice problems for the students to work out on the whiteboards. (The kiddies love whiteboard work).

  • Amazing Activities

Each time the “amazing activity” will be some sort of tactile learning activity. Typically these activities would use dice or cards or some sort of game.

  • Puzzle Time

These could be logic puzzles, but I have been using Tarsia puzzles a lot. If you’ve not installed the free Tarsia puzzle maker yet you need to get on that! It’s so simple to use and free!!! Check it out here:

Tarsia Download

  • Small Group Instruction

Small group instruction is where I’ll be working with the groups on some concept they’ve been struggling with. Here is where the majority of the differentiation will come in. I can work on challenging problems with my advanced groups and do some review with my lower groups. I really like this small group setting, and I hope the kids will do well when they are in a 1-8 ratio.

Other Important Features

  • Exit Slips

Each time we do centers I’m going to have the kids fill out an exit slip. This will help me tremendously when setting up future centers. I can see what they thought was helpful, and what areas they still need more review on. I created a tray where students will turn in exit slips after the centers.

  • Schedule

Each time we do centers I write a schedule on the board and this helps students to basically run themselves. I use abbreviations for the centers and it works well.

  • Center Station

I set up a table in the front of the classroom with all the tubs for the centers so students will know where to get the tubs and where to put them when they finish.

  • Timer

This is an optional thing. Mostly I just watch the clock. Sometimes I will fudge the intervals a bit. Especially if I need more time with a lower group in the small group instruction. The main thing is that each group gets sufficient time with each center. Also you want to make sure there are about 2 – 3 minutes left at the end of class for students to fill out exit slips. If not everyone is scrambling and you don’t always get a slip from everyone.