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About Scottie Altland

Scottie is an Elementary Curriculum Specialist at Demme Learning. Scottie is a certified elementary educator with specialties in math and curriculum development. Previously, Scottie taught grades 5-8 in public schools and worked for a local non-profit organization, offering families and students a broad range of family life education programs. As a mother of two, she enjoys spending time with her family, is an outdoor enthusiast, and continues to love teaching and learning.

3 Problem-Solving Math Activities


Try some of these easy and fun problem-solving math activities with your student today!

A problem is simply a “problem” because there is no immediate, known solution. Problem solving activities in mathematics extend well beyond traditional word problems. You can provide your student with activities that promote application of math skills while “busting boredom” at the same time! Puzzles and riddles, patterns, and logic problems can all be valuable exercises for students at all levels of mathematics. By engaging in short, fun activities like these, you can help your student become a more skillful, resilient, and successful problem-solver.

When practicing problem-solving skills, be certain to give your student time to explore a problem on her own to see how they might get started. Then discuss their approach together. It is important to provide support during the problem-solving process by showing that you value their ideas and helping them to see that mistakes can be useful. You can do this by asking open-ended questions to help your student gain a starting point, focus on a particular strategy, or help see a pattern or relationship. Questions such as, “What have you done before like this?”, “What can be made from …?” or “What might happen if you change…?” may serve as prompts when they needs inspiration.

Try the activities below to boost your student’s problem-solving skills.

Download the activities here.

3 Problem-Solving Math Activities

1) Toothpick Puzzles

Toothpick puzzles (also referred to as matchstick puzzles) provide students a visualization challenge by applying their knowledge of basic geometric shapes and orientations. The only supplies you need are a box of toothpicks, a workspace, and a puzzle to solve. The goal is for students to transform given geometric figures into others by adding, moving, or removing toothpicks. These puzzles range in complexity and can be found online or in math puzzle books. As an extension, challenge your student to create their own puzzle for someone else to solve.

Sample toothpick puzzles of varying difficulty:

Toothpick puzzles (also referred to as matchstick puzzles) provide students a visualization challenge by applying their knowledge of basic geometric shapes and orientations.

Download solutions to this activity here.

2) Fencing Numbers

The goal of this activity is to create a border or “fence” around each numeral by connecting dots horizontally and vertically so that each digit is bordered by the correct number of line segments.

Print a sheet of dot paper.

Use pencils and scissors to cut the size grid you want to use.

This game can be modified for abilities by adjusting the size of the grid and amount of numerals written. For example, a beginning student might begin with a grid that is 5 x 5 dots with a total of four numerals, while a more advanced student might increase the grid to 7 x 7 dots with six to eight numerals.

Begin by writing the digits 0, 1, 2, and 3 spread repeatedly in between “squares” on the dot paper. Each digit represents the number of line segments that will surround that square. For instance, a square that contains a 3 would have line segments on three sides, and a square that contains a 2 would have line segments on two sides, and so on. See the example boards and solutions for a 5 x 5 grid below.

Beware; there may be multiple solutions for the same problem! Thus, encourage your student to replicate the same problem grid multiple times and look for different solutions. A more advanced student can be challenged to create their own problem. Can they make a grid with only one solution? Is it possible to make a problem with four or more possible solutions?

The goal of this activity is to create a border or “fence” around each numeral by connecting dots horizontally and vertically so that each digit is bordered by the correct number of line segments.

BONUS DOWNLOAD: Download free addition facts songs, coloring pages, and activities.

3) It’s Knot a Problem!

Exercise lateral thinking skills– solving a problem through an indirect and creative approach that is not immediately obvious. You need two people, two pieces of string (or yarn) about one meter long each (or long enough so the person who will wear it can easily step over it), and some empty space to move around. If possible, use two different colored pieces of string. Each person needs a piece of string with a loop tied in both ends so it can be worn like “handcuffs”. Before tying off the loop on the second wrist, the participants loop the string around each other so they are hooked together. The figure below illustrates how the strings should appear when completed.

The goal is to unhook the strings while following these guidelines:

1) The string must remain tied and may not be removed from either participant’s wrists.
2) The string cannot be broken, cut, or damaged in any way.

Caution! This activity not only tests problem-solving skills, but it also promotes positive communication, teamwork, and persistence.

Exercise lateral thinking skills– solving a problem through an indirect and creative approach that is not immediately obvious.

Problem-solving skills are not always taught directly but often learned indirectly through experience and practice. When incorporating problem solving activities aim to make them open-ended and playful to keep your student engaged. Incorporating fun activities like these from time to time foster creative and flexible thinking and can help your student transfer problem solving skills to other subject areas. By providing guidance and helping your student to see a problem from different perspectives, you will help foster a positive disposition towards problem-solving. As your student continues to learn how to effectively solve problems, they increase their understanding of the world around them and develop the tools they need to make decisions about the way they approach a problem.

Download solutions to this activity here.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!


Student Organization Tips (For Students and Parents)


Student organization involves work and study spaces, time management, and supplies; it can be overwhelming. We hope these tips will be helpful for you.

If you feel like your student is overwhelmed when it comes to organizing his materials and managing his time, take heart. Student organization is one of the most difficult challenges that face middle- and high school-age students, as well as their parents. The transition from the adult taking the lead to the student taking ownership takes time to establish. Teaching the basics gives your student the opportunity to find a system that works for their needs. Read the tips below to help your student get organized and feel successful right from the start!

3 Tips for Student Organization

1) Work and Study Space

Have an identified space that they associate with learning and studying that is (ideally) free of visual and auditory distractions. A clear work surface, adequate lighting, access to necessary supplies (including an outlet for a computer), and a comfortable atmosphere that fits their personality will help them concentrate. The space might be a permanent location, such as their room, a quiet area of the living room, or a closet that has been converted to a study area. On the flip side, a portable study space such as a wheeled cart that can hold and sort supplies or a lap desk may be better for your student. Utilize the resources your family has, reorganize them, or add something new and together create a unique workspace for your student.

2) Time Management

Encourage your student to rise and shine at about the same time each morning and have a consistent bedtime. Compiling a to-do list the night before will find them not only more productive but more in control of their time. To stay on top of things, have them set alarms, write notes on shower doors or mirrors, set up a reminder app, send an e-mail or text and copy the people who will hold them accountable to finish a task. Use a stopwatch to time activities to help them learn how much time to budget the next time around.

Daily planners can be used to sketch out how academic, extracurricular activities, and free time are to be worked into each day. They may need to experiment to find the planning tool that works best for them, be it a wall-calendar, desk calendar, notebook/pocket calendar, computer, or an app on a tablet or phone. Encourage them to use color-coding for similar activities to allow for quick viewing. Remind them to consult their planner often and check on, maintain, and alter their organization system when needed. Organized people are constantly tweaking their systems to adapt to new situations, and your teen should be learning do the same.

Talk about the benefits of a balanced schedule with your teen. Actively listen to what they have to say and allow them to have input. While they may be tempted to learn several new hobbies or take on a part-time job, you can offer guidance and support so they learn how to prioritize their academic and recreational pursuits.

3) School Supplies

Allow your student to select and set up their supplies so that they are invested in the process. Some students like an accordion file system better than a tabbed divider system. Others may find that heavy-gauge notebook paper with reinforced holes are more effective so that important information doesn’t fall out and get lost. Try clear slip-sleeves for papers that they need or want to keep in their notebook for the whole year. Plastic crates make filing and access to papers quick and easy; also, they can be stacked to maximize a small space. Labels, cue cards, and color-coding can also be helpful filing tools. It may help to have color-coordinated folders and notebooks for each subject. Suggest separating the folder pockets into sections such as “work that needs to be done” and “work that is completed” so they can easily store and locate items. Colored dots or sticky notes can be placed on the corners of assignments to help your teen identify a particular subject or prioritize work, such as using green to mean “complete today” and red for “due next week.”

As your student becomes more independent, learning to organize and prioritize different aspects of their lives they will more efficiently use their time and as a result, may (at times) experience less stress.

Fortunately, “being organized” can look different for each person and even change over time. Help your student get organized by introducing tools and solutions that help with organization. Start small, then branch out as you both become more comfortable. Remember, be patient as they may need to experiment with different systems to find one that works for them. In the end, being organized will help them perform better academically and in the long-term, their professional and adult life.


5 Fun Summer Math Games


Explore numbers, shapes, measurements, and more with your children with these fun summer math games.

Summer offers parents and preschoolers time to enjoy the outdoors while still “stretching the brain.” The outdoor environment provides endless rich opportunities to build upon your child’s mathematical skills. Together, you can explore numbers, shapes, measurements, and more by trying some of these fun and easy guided activities or by simply asking the right questions to engage your child in talking about math.

Summer Math Games

1) Have a Ball!

Gather a variety of balls (football, basketball, soccer ball, golf ball, bouncy ball, ping pong ball, baseball, etc.) and place them in a box or laundry basket. Have your child sort, order, weigh, and count the balls. He can also experiment with positions (in, out, around, on, under, etc.) as he places the balls in relation to another object, such as a table or chair.

2) Number Walks

Write a number on an index card and stick it to a container, such as a wagon, bucket, or paper bag. The object of the game is for your child to place the same number of items in the container as the number on the card. When she has the correct number of items, she can show you and then replace the items back where they belong. When replacing the items, you might encourage her to try to count backward. As an extension, you can have your child look for groups of similar objects.

3) Spray It!

Draw at least 10 numbers or shapes with sidewalk chalk in a designated area. The amount of numbers or shapes drawn can be increased or decreased given your child’s skill and comfort level. Give your child a spray bottle filled with water. To play, ask your child to find a particular number, shape, or to find the answer to a math fact. When he finds it, he sprays it! Variations of this might include finding even or odd numbers, skip counting, counting backward, finding shapes with the same number of sides, or finding a shape that has a given number of sides. As an alternative to using a spray bottle, your child might enjoy using a flyswatter, wet sponge, or duster.

4) Fraction Hopscotch

Head outside and draw a hopscotch board. Ask your child to stand on zero and toss a coin or pebble onto a fraction. As they hop they are to say each fraction. If they land on a double, they must name the equivalent fractions. If there are three squares: straddle it and say each fraction, then jump and a do a half twist in the air and land with both feet on the center fraction. Variations of the game might include mixing up the order the fractions appear on the board and hopping on fractions with common denominators, equivalent fractions, or in order from least to greatest (or greatest to least).

5) Math Relay

Make up cards ahead of time for different math skills. For instance, changing a fraction to a percentage or multiplication and division facts. If you have multiple children at different skill levels, you can color-code the cards based on the skill you want them to practice. Draw a line with sidewalk chalk with the words “Ready, Go!” written beneath it. Draw a second line approximately 8 to10 yards away with the words “Stop, Solve, and Sprint”. Place the math cards with the problems at this line with some sidewalk chalk. Have your child begin at the “Ready, Go!” line while you wait at the “Stop, Solve, and Sprint” line. When your child hears, “Ready, Go!” they sprint to the other line, solve a math problem, have you verify the answer, and sprint back to the start line where they either take a short break or they tag the next child in the relay to complete a problem. Repeat for several rounds.

Summer Math Apps

Can’t go outside? On the go? KinderTown recommends the following apps for early learners who are practicing math skills:

Math Blitz App Review

Math Blitz develops visual perception, memory, and concentration skills in children and helps them learn social skills while playing with others. The object of the game is to tap the same object in all of the sectioned areas of the game board. Be the first to tap the object and earn points. Be careful, because an incorrectly tapped object will cause you to lose points. There are options for 3 and 4 players as well as a practice area where children can get a feel for how the game works before actually playing. The app is free and is appropriate for kids ages 4-8 and lots of fun for adults, too!

Read KinderTown’s full review here.

Bugs and Buttons 2 App Review

Bugs and Buttons 2 includes six games at three different levels, each covering early math, pre-reading, and critical thinking skills. Your young learner can practice his fine motor skills in a fun and engaging manner. Math games such as “Button Repair” address visual/spatial issues. Other math skills your child will practice include sorting, counting, and matching. This app is for kids ages 4 -6 and offers fun challenges without frustration.

Read KinderTown’s full review here.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!


5 Summer Math Tips


Here are five summer math tips to keep your child's math skills sharp during the summer months.

Keep your child’s hard-earned learning from slipping down the “summer brain drain”. Here are five summer math tips to keep your child’s math skills sharp during the summer months.

5 Summer Math Tips

1) Explore Math Concepts with Blocks

If your child will be starting Math-U-See for the first time in the fall, allow them to explore math concepts with the blocks in preparation. Get the blocks out every few days and try different activities with them such as sorting them by color or size. Allow your child to create shapes or extend simple patterns with the blocks. Benefits (besides fun) are readiness for learning math facts and problem solving.

2) Go to the Library

Check out your local library for great children’s books with a mathematical theme. These books present math ideas in fun ways and can help your child see the big picture. Some read aloud recommendations include:

The Icky Bug Counting Book by Jerry Pallotta
Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth
Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! by Marilyn Burns
A Remainder of One by Elinor J. Pinczes
The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang
A Place for Zero: A Math Adventure by Angeline Sparagna LoPresti
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander

3) Use Online Math Drills

Try Math-U-See’s online math drills to review and maintain math fact fluency.

Or print custom worksheets to target specific concepts.

Research shows that the ability to easily recall basic math facts is key to succeeding in many areas of higher mathematics. Without the ability to retrieve facts automatically, students are likely to experience “cognitive overload” as they try solve multi-step problems and encounter more abstract concepts. When students rely on inefficient methods, such as counting or drawing pictures, they often make calculation errors. By continuing to work on fact fluency you are helping your child significantly improve their performance and comfort for when they begin to encounter higher level math concepts.

4) Make Word Problems Fun

Present word problems as fun puzzles to solve. Older children might enjoy solving the word problems on the student pages for the lower levels, and it will help to keep math facts easily accessible in their brains. Additionally, your child may enjoy creating their own original word problems for you or a sibling to solve.

5) Do Math on the Go

• Have your students practice their math skills on the go with the Math-U-See Manipulatives App.
• Play a round of “Numeral Hunt”. The goal is for each participant to find the numerals 0-9 in ascending order. Encourage your child to look on license plates, road signs, and buildings. Try playing a second round and spying the numerals in descending order.
• Look at the weather forecast together online, on TV, or by looking at the paper. Help your child learn what the high and low temperatures are for your area.
• Ask your student to use only the number four and any combination of mathematical operations to come up with the numbers one through twenty as the answers. This is good activity for an older student who knows the order of operations.
• Play a simple game of finding basic shapes, such as rectangles in light switches, squares in windowpanes, circles in clocks, and so forth. Ask your child to explain how they differentiate each shape by their defining and non-defining features. For example, a triangle has three connected sides, and non-defining features such as its position or size.
• The next time you visit the grocery store, pull two different items from the shelf and ask your child which one is heavier: “Is it the can of soup or the box of noodles?” Your child will begin to learn and understand the concept of weight in relation to an object’s size (e.g. just because an item is bigger, doesn’t mean it is heavier and vice versa).
• Taking a road trip? Pick a milestone such as stopping for lunch in fifteen minutes or a gas station to refill your tank in five miles. Ask your child what object they would like to look for until you get to your designated stop. Ideas might include certain car models, vehicles of a certain color, tractors, horses, etc. Encourage them to be creative, and keep their environment in mind. Each player estimates how many of their chosen object they will find by the time the milestone is reached. Next, say “Go!” and the counting begins. When you arrive at your designated stop, see who is the closest to their estimate.

Fortunately it is possible to reinforce math throughout the summer without textbooks and formal lessons. With just a little creativity and minimal effort, your student’s math skills can be kept fresh and ready to go all summer long!

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!


6 Fun Spring Spelling Activities


Spring spelling activities that are seasonal, easy, and play-based!

Talking, singing, playing rhyme games, reading aloud, and experimenting with writing and drawing with your child are great ways to establish a good literacy foundation. During the spring months, try some of these seasonal, easy, and play-based literacy activities to support and encourage your preschooler’s curiosity and confidence with spelling.

Spring Spelling Activities

1) Water Words

On a warm spring day take a bucket of water and a paint brush (a one-half or two-inch bristle-head brush works well) out to the sidewalk or driveway. Have your child paint letters and words with water on the concrete.

Variation: Take this activity a step further and create muddy messages: On a wet day find a stick and some space in the soil and practice writing words in the mud. A sunny day? Fill the watering can or grab the hose and create your own muddy canvas.

2) Air Spelling

Take some time to explore outdoors and talk together about the new things you see now that spring has arrived. A tree, bug, bird, or the sky may be just a few topics your preschooler wants to explore and discuss. “Write” these spring-related words together in the air with your finger, hand, arm, or a small stick.

Variation: Have your child write their spelling words on your back with their finger. Try to guess the word they are spelling.

3) Rhyme Anytime

Use phrases like ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ or make up nonsense rhymes together about things you are doing – for example, ‘see my feet walk to the beat’ or ‘put your glass from your drink into the sink’. Sing nursery rhymes with your child such as ‘Jack and Jill’, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’ or the Alphabet Song when you’re at home, in the car, or out and about. By doing this, you are teaching your child about language, rhyme, repetition, and rhythm. These activities also will help her understand the meaning of words as well as how words are created.

4) Carrot Pencils

Dip the tip of a whole carrot into some paint and have your child trace over words you have written (or typed) or practice writing his own words on paper.
Waxy Words: On a piece of white paper have your trace over or write his own letters or words with a candle (a white or light colored candle works best). Next, have him paint over the entire paper with watercolor paint. Let the paper dry completely and see the words appear.

5) Rainbow Spelling

Have your child trace over words in several different colors of chalk, crayons, markers, or colored pencils. This activity can also be taken outside and completed with sidewalk chalk or sidewalk paint (available online or at most craft stores).

6) Stick ‘n’ Spell

Gather some spring-related items such as seeds, dandelions, small sticks, small leaves, blades of grass, or feathers. Separate the objects into containers. Write words on cardstock, large enough for your child to trace over with a glue stick or some paste and a paintbrush. Next, have your child select an item to stick on to each letter, covering each as completely as possible. When the glue has dried, have your child trace over each letter with his finger and say each letter and then the word.

Spring Spelling Apps

On a rainy day or on the go, you and your child might like to try these apps recommended by KinderTown that promote early literacy skills.

Starfall ABCs App Review

Starfall ABCs brings each letter to life with pictures, animation, games, songs, and stories. Using a clear, articulated voice, the app identifies each letter by name, sounds, and words. Children interact with each letter by taping, sliding, sorting, and dragging as each letter takes them through five or more screens of engaging phonics learning.

Read KinderTown’s full review here.

Gappy Learns Reading App Review

Gappy Learns Reading supports young learners building words letter by letter and sound by sound. Poor Gappy gets lost from his home, and your child needs to build 10 words to get him to his house. After building 10 words, your child earns a prize to customize the house in uniquely creative ways. There are four levels in the app, so young learners who are just working on letter identification can build words, and early readers can work on spelling lists of their own. This is a well-designed app for learning about letters and sounds while building words.

Read KinderTown’s full review here.

Engaging in literacy activities sets the stage for your preschooler to get excited about spelling. Remember that the goal of these activities is to give your child in a variety of literacy-based activities and to feel more relaxed about learning how to spell. Keep in mind that, while these types of activities are fun ways to practice individual letters or words, you should not depend on them alone to teach spelling. As your child gets older, your regular spelling program should present words in context to help him develop a visual memory of the words through writing.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

Download free addition facts songs, coloring pages, and activities.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!


4 Fun Spring Math Activities


Spring math activities for the whole family to enjoy! Going outdoors allows you and your preschooler to conduct active explorations of early math concepts.

It’s spring – time to get outdoors! Together the fresh air, sunshine, and change of scenery bring endless possibilities for exploration. In the excitement of a new season of growth the outdoor environment can be just what your young child needs to get excited about playing, practicing, and investigating math concepts. So sneak some math-related learning in some unlikely places such as your own backyard or the park.

Spring Math Activities

Counting Designs and Pictures

With your child, gather a specified number of small objects, such as small sticks, pebbles, dandelions, blades of grass, or leaves (at least 10 to 20). Challenge your child to make a picture, pattern, or design on a flat surface using all the objects. Together count the total number of objects as well as and the number of each type of object. (Counting, Problem-Solving) Extensions:

• Compare two or more groups of objects. Which has the greater number of items? The least?
• Compare two groups of objects. How many more would need to be added or subtracted so they were equal amounts?
• How many different ways can the objects be arranged to make a completely new design?

Size Seeking Activities

1) Collect a variety of items such as sticks, flowers, pebbles, or blades of grass. Have your child arrange them in order from longest to shortest or largest to smallest (or vice versa).

2) Introduce early measurement concepts and put your child’s comparison and problem solving skills to work by completing the activities on the Size Quest activity sheet together. [PRINTABLE] (Measurement, Comparing)

Introduce early measurement concepts and put your child’s comparison and problem solving skills to work with these activities.

Estimation Discussions at Home or on the Go

Discuss any (or as many) of the questions below. Ask your child to estimate first and then find the actual measurement, weight, or time. For young learners you can give the unit of measure when one is not indicated. Have older students determine the best unit of measure to use when one is not given. (Estimation)

• How long do you think it will take you to run 100 meters?
• How far you think you can jump?
• How far do you think you can throw a ball?
• How long do you think you can stand (or hop) on one foot?
• How many shots will it take you to make a basket? To make 3 baskets in a row?
• How tall do you think our front door is?
• How long do you think it will take you to fill up a watering can with water? (show them a specific size) How many plants do you think you can water with it?
• How long do you think it takes to drive to the grocery store?
• How much do you think (name of family member) weighs?

What’s My Value?

Collect a variety of small objects outside. Let your child assign a value to each to create math equations. Perhaps an acorn = 5 and a twig = 2. Next, he can choose an operation and write and solve an equation with sidewalk chalk, such as acorn – twig = 3. By doing this you are introducing your child to the algebraic concept that a symbol can represent a numeric value. (Algebraic Reasoning)

Spring Math Apps

Can’t go outside? KinderTown recommends the following apps for early learners who are practicing math skills on a rainy day or on the go.

Park Math App Review

Your child will have fun with Blue Bear and his friends as they play throughout the park and learn to count, add, subtract, compare and sort numbers and objects as well as create and investigate patterns together. This app includes two levels of play: Level 1 includes counting up to 20 and addition/subtraction with numbers up to 5. Level 2 includes counting up to 50 and addition/subtraction with numbers up to 10. Children enjoy completing the activities while listening to classic tunes such as The Muffin Man and Five Little Ducks.

Read KinderTown’s full review here.

Bugs and Numbers App Review

Young learners from preschool through early elementary school can learn their numbers, count money, tell time, and develop an understanding of fractions. Preschoolers will be most successful if they start at the beginning levels and work through the progression of the games. The realistic graphics help to make this app engaging. Parents have the option to set up separate accounts for multiple children.

Actively involving your child in conversations and observations and encouraging manipulation of concrete materials all invite your child to experience mathematics through play and explore the outdoor world!

Read KinderTown’s full review here.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!


4 Outdoor Math Activities for Kids


These outdoor math activities may inspire your student to use his mathematical thinking skills while spending quality time together.

Teaching math can be much more than working problems from a textbook. You can turn outdoor activities and trips into opportunities to sharpen and teach math. Take advantage of backyard playtime, a walk in the woods, or a visit to a city or beach to talk about math.

The key ingredient to teaching math skills outdoors is to make the experience a positive one. In these instances, take the time for conversation, exploration, and extension of math concepts. Help your student develop awareness that math is everywhere. Encourage him to recognize shapes, patterns, and symmetry in his environment.

The following outdoor math activities may inspire your student to use his mathematical thinking skills while spending quality time together.

Outdoor Math Activities to Do Together

The Spectacular Spider Web

Geometry is the study of shapes and their properties. Spiders are born knowing how to design and spin a web. Each species of spider spins a unique design. Have your student research the geometrical parts of a spider web design and learn to identify components such as the bridge thread, radius threads, auxiliary spiral, and signal line. If your student is so inclined, he can try to draw or “spin” his own web using a wire coat hanger stretched into a circle and some yarn.

Seasons of Symmetry

When one half of an object is the mirror image of the other half, the object is said to have symmetry. Teach your student to look for different types of symmetry in nature to extend her knowledge and understanding of shapes and patterns. These may include wallpaper symmetry, fractal symmetry, and radial symmetry. During outdoor activities you can challenge her to search for examples of items in nature that have these types of symmetry. This activity can be continued throughout the year. Keep a running list of items she finds in the places you visit and as the seasons change. The list may include butterfly wings, sunflowers, tree leaves, honey comb, spider webs, snowflakes, nautilus shells, sea stars, peacocks, people, and even foods such as romanesco broccoli, pineapple, and the inside of a kiwi when sliced in half. Just be warned that, once your student is aware of it, she may begin to point out symmetry in everything she sees!

BONUS DOWNLOAD: Download free addition facts songs, coloring pages, and activities.

A Sphere of Activity

A sphere is a perfectly round, three-dimensional object. Have fun outside with a beach ball, blowing bubbles, playing kickball or playing with marbles. Ask your student to name examples of spheres in the natural world around him. His list may include a water drop, orange, or a sea urchin. Extend your student’s thinking by asking him to compare spheres that occur naturally and those that are manmade: what is different about them? For older and more mathematically-mature students, you may choose to introduce the term spheroid as a figure that is approximately spherical in shape. If your student wishes, he can research the mathematical definition and its relation to 3D geometry and applications in calculus.

Geometry around Town

The architecture of buildings and other manmade objects provide a wonderful setting for your student to look for shapes and geometric properties. Point out architectural features, such as windows, in the shapes of squares, rectangles, or parallelograms. Your student can probably find roofs made up of triangles, rectangles, and trapezoids, but can she find a roof that is shaped like a cone? Patios and walls often display a variety of brick and stone patterns that may tessellate (completely fill the plane with no spaces in between). Stop to admire the fountain in the center of town and notice that arching water may form the shape of a parabola. Encourage your student to look all around. Where does she see triangles, pentagons, hexagons, octagons, and other polygons? Can she identify three-dimensional solids such as triangular prisms, rectangular prisms, and cylinders? Challenge her to discover that different shapes put together can form a new object. For example, what different shapes make up a bridge, water tower, or lamp post? By looking around from different angles and perspectives (standing, sitting, or lying on the ground) you will be amazed what she can discover!

Remember that just because you want your student to learn math doesn’t mean he always needs to be inside following a structured math lesson. Outdoor math activities are a great way to have fun learning math together. Your child will appreciate the opportunity to experiment, investigate, and talk with you about the wonders of mathematics.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!


3 Ways to Make Student Mistakes Valuable


How can we help change the negative perceptions associated with mistakes so our children can more easily bounce back?

Our children are growing up in a world that emphasizes high standards for academic success. As parents, we want our students to put forth their absolutely best effort each and every time they attempt a task. In doing this, to some degree, we create academic learning conditions that discourage mistakes. Watching our children make mistakes is not easy.

Whether it’s misspelling a word or doing poorly on a math test, children learn important lessons from making mistakes and gain confidence when they spring back from them. An important part of the learning process is knowing what to do after a mistake has been made. The challenge is that mistakes are naturally associated with negative emotions such as feeling unintelligent, ashamed, or embarrassed. Alternately, when mistakes are perceived as being valuable assets in the learning process, students can learn to how use them constructively to guide their learning.

How can we help change the negative perceptions associated with mistakes so our children can more easily bounce back?

Communicate the Value of Mistakes

One way to encourage this attitude is to analyze mistakes together and be specific about the feedback. Knowing that the answer to problem #5 is wrong doesn’t suggest how he can improve. Pointing out to him that he substituted an incorrect value in a math formula gives him guidance for solving the problem the next time.

When you review work with your student, he will discover that a mistake that makes him feel inadequate is usually a simple error in computation or a single concept applied incorrectly to several questions. In either scenario, the “fix” is usually easier than how big the problem feels to him. The more accepting you are about the mistakes he has made and how they happened, the less significance your student will place on future errors. He will begin to understand that mistakes are opportunities from which he can learn and which will help him become more resilient.

Identify the Reason Why a Mistake Happened

Did the mistake happen because your student needs more practice with basic facts? Were the steps of a process properly executed? Did she misread the directions? A problem marked wrong simply shows that the actions he took to solve it did not work, but this can easily be adjusted for the next round of practice.

Sharing specific ways she can improve is an effective way to coach her in purposeful practice. Purposeful practice involves isolating what’s not working and then mastering the skill causing difficulty before moving on to the next concept or lesson. For example, a singer learning a new song does not sing the piece start to finish, rushing through tricky sections and trying to sing it “good enough” just to finish. The vocalist will pause in trouble spots, figure out how to make it sound better, and then continue to sing the section again, only moving on when it has been mastered. This same principle can be applied to mistakes in a school assignments by focusing on the specific type of practice that is needed, instead of how much.

Acknowledge What Your Student Has Done Well

Then give him a chance to correct his mistakes and redo his work. This helps him learn that you value his effort and accept imperfection. It also conveys that sometimes learning involves trying again or learning a new strategy. When improvement becomes a significant factor in the evaluation process, a student is more likely to show progress and develop confidence.

We know our children will make mistakes on their assignments, projects, and tests– some simple and some more complex. It is important to show them that their mistakes contain seeds of learning. It is not an easy task, but, over time, you can help shift your student’s mindset, even slightly, so she views mistakes not as incidents to be feared and avoided but as inevitable, and often valuable, opportunities for new learning.

We have the opportunity to minimize opportunities for student anxiety and make confidence and resilience a habit in the lives of our children.


4 Creative Activities for Reinforcing Place Value


Try supplementing and reinforcing the concept of place value with these creative activities.

Place value is a key mathematics concept for students to learn. The concept that numbers can be broken apart and put back together gives students a more solid understanding of how different operations work. Knowing when to exchange groups of units (ones) for tens, how to handle a zero in the hundreds place when subtracting, or correctly recording numerals in a quotient, for example, can be confusing for many students. The Math-U-See presentation of place value using Decimal Street and our color-coded pieces for units, tens, and hundreds helps students develop an authentic understanding of place value by helping them construct meaning through visual representations and hands-on practice.

Try supplementing and reinforcing the concept of place value with your Math-U-See curriculum with the following activities:

Place Value Activities

Build a Number

Materials:
Integer Blocks
• Decimal Street™ poster
• Paper and pencil

Set up:
Your student needs to have access to 9 unit blocks, 9 ten-blocks, and 9 hundred-blocks.

Note: Depending on your student’s understanding of place value you may choose to have your student work on single, double, or three-digit numbers at separate times or review them all in one activity session.

• Ask your student to place a mystery amount of unit blocks (0-9), ten-blocks (0-9), and hundred-blocks (0-9) on the Decimal Street™ poster.
• Once the number is built, have your student write the number on the paper and then say it.
• Verify the answer is correct and record the number on a sheet of paper.
• After five numbers have been built, review the record of the numbers that were built and discuss the following:

• Did your student create more single-, double-, or triple-digit numbers?
• Which number is the greatest number or the least number?
• Underline a digit in one of the numbers and then ask your student to tell you the value it represents. (ex., in the number 65 the six represents 60 or six tens.)

Digit Swap

Materials:
Integer Blocks
• 0-9 cards (green, blue, and red)

Set up:
Shuffle each set of cards and place them in three separate stacks facing down.

• Have your student select one card from the blue stack and the green stack to create a number. For example, he may draw a green 4 and a blue 5 to create the number 54.
• Have your student build the number with the Integer Blocks and say the number.
• Next, you select a card from any of the three stacks.
• If you select a blue or green card, replace the current digit of the same place value with the new card.
• If you choose a card from the red stack (for example, 7), place that card to the left of the 5 to create the number 754.
• Have your student build the new number with the Integer Blocks and say the number.
• Play continues with you and your student exchanging digits to create new numbers to build and say.

Listen for the Number

Materials:
Integer Blocks
• Decimal Street™ poster
• Dry erase board, marker, and eraser

Set up:
Sit with your student back-to back, so that you can see the dry erase board and your student cannot. Your student needs to have access to the Integer Blocks and the Decimal Street™ poster.

• Write a number on the dry erase board that contains up to 3 digits.
• Read the number aloud to your student.
• Your student builds the number that he has heard with the Integer Blocks.
• Next, compare his model with the number on the board and verify it is correct.
• Switch roles periodically so that your student has the opportunity to be the reader and builder.

Remodel the Number

Materials:
Integer blocks
• Decimal Street™ poster
• Dry erase board, marker, and eraser
• Paper and pencil

Note: This activity reinforces the concept of zero place holders.

• Write a two-digit number on the dry erase board (for example, 63). Ask your student to build, write, and say the number on the Decimal Street™ poster.
• Next, tell your student she is going to remodel the number. The new number will always have a zero in it. For example, you might ask her to remodel the number to become 603.
• Have your student build, write, and say the new number (603).
• Discuss how the number changed and how it remained the same. For the given example, the digit 6 moved to the hundreds place, and the 3 remained in the units place and the zero shows that there are no tens. The number still contains the numerals 6 and 3.
• This activity can be adapted to begin with a 3-digit number. For example, begin with 287 and ask your student to remodel it so it is 280.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!


Math Journal Examples & Ideas


Having your student record his math activities through writing and sketching in a math journal can help reinforce his mathematical understanding.

What is a Math Journal?

Whether you call it a notebook or journal, having your student record his math activities through writing and sketching can help reinforce his mathematical understanding.

Writing about math processes and creating diagrams and pictures stimulates different pathways of the brain, more than computation in isolation will do. A math journal provides students of all abilities and ages with the flexibility to examine and express their mathematical reasoning. This is especially useful when math concepts are too complex or abstract to keep track of mentally.

A math journal also benefits you, the instructor, by providing a glimpse into your student’s mind so you can address any misconceptions and applaud his successes. Also, along the way, you will have a record of your student’s math studies that can be used for a portfolio.

How you choose to use a math journal will depend on your purposes, preferences, and the particular age and needs of your student. Let’s review some frequently asked questions to help you decide how you can best implement a math journal in your current program.

What Should My Student Use for a Math Journal?

Consider your objective when choosing the materials to create a math journal.

Do you want your student to be able to categorize his work and materials? A binder or three-prong folder with labeled dividers that separate the different types of entries by chapter, skill, or concept may be appropriate.

Do you want him to use it to document his work throughout the school year? In this case, a spiral or composition notebook where he can keep track of all his entries might be more efficient. In this format, worksheets can be taped in and folded, if necessary.

If your goal is to add journal entries from time to time, you can staple plain paper together to make small booklets to showcase particular concepts, problems, or a math theme, such a problem solving.

BONUS DOWNLOAD: Download free addition facts songs, coloring pages, and activities.

How Should My Student Use a Math Journal?

There is not one right way to do math journaling, so feel free to pick a format or a combination of ideas that works best for your student and math program. Keep in mind that the math journal can be filled with a variety of math-related concepts, ideas, and experiences.

Some possibilities to get your started might include:

• Drawings, diagrams, or models to illustrate math problems or math concepts.
• Written explanations of mental calculations.
• Lists of math vocabulary or symbols.
• Math-inspired art (such as tangrams, tessellations, fractals, or symmetry).
An interview with an adult who uses math in a profession.
• Newspaper or magazine clippings of math-related current events.
• Photographs of your student doing a hands-on math-related project.
• Creative writing that features math within the story.
• An explanation of how a problem was solved.
• Biographical sketches of mathematicians.
• Personal reflections about how your student feels about math.

How Often Should My Student Write in a Math Journal?

The frequency that you use a math journal can be as routine or flexible as you would like it to be. Begin with an attainable goal.

For example, you might choose to have your student reflect on a topic before he begins a unit of study and then again after a few days of instruction.

Because of the variety of ways math journals can be used, entries can be generated as often as 1-2 days a week or as occasionally as 2-3 times per math unit. The time it takes your student to create an entry will vary depending on his writing skills, the topic, and guidelines you establish regarding the depth and quality of an entry.

Ten minutes is typically is sufficient for most students, but you will want to allow extra time for more complex topics or problems. Be sure to build in time every so often for your student to share and celebrate his work. Doing this will help keep him accountable and provide authentic practice expressing his thoughts and ideas verbally.

How Much Should My Student Write?

Writing about math may be difficult and strange to your student in the beginning. Be positive and encouraging with his efforts, even if he just writes a sentence or two. As the weeks pass he will become more comfortable with math journaling, and you will see improvement in both the content and amount of writing he can produce.

What Are Some Good Prompts for a Math Journal?

Open-ended questions create greater potential to stimulate mathematical thinking and reasoning than closed questions.

For example, “Round 36.67 to the nearest tenth” is a closed question because it requires your student to provide a single “right” answer.

This question can be modified to be an open-ended question, encouraging your student to “stretch” his thinking, by considering multiple strategies or solutions, as in, “Give three different numbers that when rounded to the nearest tenth results in 36.7.”

By incorporating open-ended questions into math journaling your student, will attain a healthy balance between trying to find the “right” answer and discovering how problem solving works.

Should I Review Math Journal Entries?

Math journals best serve as a record of a student’s progress and mathematical thinking. Whether or not you choose to grade it formally is up to you.

Routinely reading and talking about your student’s entries is probably the most meaningful and effective feedback he can receive. Talk to your student if he gets stuck and comment on what he has written to encourage his efforts.

Ask your student to read his response and describe any diagrams or pictures; then give verbal feedback or ask him questions to help guide or extend his mathematical thinking.

Some questions you might think about while reading or listening to your student’s journal entries might be: Is the answer correct? Does he include mathematical reasoning that supports the solution? If computation is involved, did he use an efficient method or mental math? If relevant, does his solution indicate the use of estimation or determine if the answer is reasonable? Is there other information you would still like to know about your student’s thinking after he has shared his entry?

If you are looking for a flexible component to complement or enhance your current math program, try incorporating a math journal. By reading and listening to your student’s entries, you can evaluate progress and recognize his strengths and needs. Overall, a math journal is a great tool for your student to process his understanding of mathematical concepts and a fun way for students of all ages and abilities to enjoy math beyond just working with numbers.

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!