Eight Tips for Running an Active Math Environment

I didn’t always have an active room, actually when I first began teaching, I taught like I was taught.
Students entered, I gave notes, then they began on their homework assignment for the night. They returned and we repeated the same routine. I had awful classroom behavior/management and I was thinking about leaving the profession, wondering why I didn’t become an actuary.
Then, I did a scavenger hunt in class where I hid problems under student desks, they deciphered clues to find them and we had a great day. I didn’t have any behavior issues to manage. For once, I had a very smooth class. I began incorporating games into my daily lessons and now have an activity every day.

With the increase in movement, I’ve seen an increase in

  • Student Engagement
  • Test Scores (I had the highest Algebra 1 exams in the district this year).
  • Decrease in Behavior Referrals (I don’t have to write them up and trust me my students last year were written up in most of their other classes).
  • Increase in Positive Parent Interaction (at conferences I’m thanked for making math fun).
  • Less Stress and More Fun in My Daily Job – I look forward to topping my last activity and keeping them guessing on what we are going to be doing in class.
  • Students in my Algebra Block passed my AP Statistics Class – I attribute much of their success to my movement strategies!

Join now for step by step directions for running a math murder mystery:


Tips for this type of learning: 

  • Tip 1 (Grouping): How you group students can make a difference with some activities. Sometimes I let students choose their groups, sometimes I choose them, and sometimes they are random. I had a particularly rough group of Algebra 1 Block students last year (15 boys, 3 girls for 105 minutes daily). I often let them choose their groups as an incentive which motivated them to work harder!
  • Tip 2 Advertise the Activity: For big activities, such as the treasure hunt this year at St. Patrick’s Day, I advertised our fun activity all week. The excitement helped it run smoother. I often dress up during these big days to match the theme.
  • Tip 3 Work Completion or No Activity: To help motivate some of my non-workers, I tied ability to participate in activities to watching videos before hand or having homework completed. If they didn’t have their work done, they had to finish it before they could join in the fun. They always had their work completed after that. I made sure I did this with one of my best activities and I never had an issue again.
  • Tip 4 Motivating the Unmotivated: The first strategy I use is allowing them to choose their groups. I always tell them if their groups don’t work, I choose them next time. Second, I place my lowest producers with my most competitive students. It’s amazing what a little peer pressure can do!
  • Tip 5 Learn to be okay with a louder classroom: I wasn’t used to a loud learning environment. My high school classes were silent. I am now okay with the noise and movement. We spend time at the beginning of the year discussing appropriate versus inappropriate noise. They shouldn’t be talking to students in other groups (if that isn’t part of the activity, use inside voices, quiet between rounds, etc.).
  • Tip 6 Everyone always does all of the work:  If we are playing a game in groups. Each group member has to do each problem. Nobody ever just sits in my room. We always actively participate.
  • Tip 7 Group Work: If we are working as a group then each member has a role. If I can’t think of roles, then it probably isn’t a group activity. We don’t work together unless the activity warrants it.
  • Tip 8 Keep Them Guessing: I always have a beginning but otherwise no two days in my room are the same. The constant change helps with bad behaviors as they are never bored.
    I hope these tips helped! Please feel free to share feedback any time.


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How to play are you feeling LUCKY?

Are you feeling lucky?

Teacher Directions:

  • Place students into groups from 2-4 (I used four).
    • Note the smaller your group size, the more numbers you will need.
  • Create a Google spreadsheet with numbers 1-100 (for groups of 4), add more numbers for smaller groups. Share the spreadsheet to your class LMS (Google Classroom, Haiku, Edmodo, etc).

Here is a link to my spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-Il4PYaPyxudVm3gE9X8aZ04SEHlbUaplrbo3trXLu4/edit?usp=sharing

Note, this was created in Google sheets, you will only be able to view if you have a Gmail account. Otherwise, I’ve attached a pdf if you don’t have a Google Mail account.

  • If you don’t have devices, you could print out the spreadsheet and have them hand write in their group name or one name from their group. Only one entry per group.
  • Problem Set – I stopped with 1 minute left in class to pick a winner. You will need enough problems to fill all but one minute of your class period.
    • To draw a random number, I projected this on my smartboard and drew in front of the class.

Link to random number generator: https://www.google.com/#q=random+number+generator&*


Student Directions:

  • Solve a problem and have it checked with your teacher.
  • Choose one number and type a group name or one of your names in column B of the spreadsheet. Only one entry per problem solved.
  • Keep repeating steps one and 2 until you have solved all problems.
    • If there is already a name in column B for a number you want to choose, you have to choose a different number.

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How to play Monomial!

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I love card games, really all games. I grew up playing Euchre and now enjoy playing crazy 8’s, Uno and Go Fish with my kids. I modified the game Uno to play with polynomial vocabulary.

Here are the rules to the game:

  • Put students into groups of 2-4.

Deal 5 cards to each player – if using groups of 3 or 4. Deal 7 cards to each player     if using groups of 2.
Give each group a different colored deck (if possible).

Materials Needed:
Monomial Deck – Available in our classroom games https://themathmentors.mykajabi.com/p/favorite-classroom-games

Ways to use the Game:

  • Warm-up – Students enter class and play a hand of monomial madness
  • Exit – Before they can leave class, they play one hand of monomial madness
  • Monomial Madness – In honor of March Madness, we had a tournament in class. I had a winner’s bracket and loser’s bracket. We played monomial in groups of two. The winner stayed in the winners bracket, the loser of the first game went to the loser’s bracket. We used double elimination. I had prizes for the top three finishers for each class. Once students were eliminated, they played against other students who had been eliminated.

How to run a math murder mystery!


It began with a scream, the lights went off and I hit the ground…

In came the teacher next door dressed as Sherlock Holmes to investigate the heinous crime. I remained on the ground until students received their first clue.


Copy and laminate the little people – students will wear these as suspects.

Give each group their first set of problems. Students will solve them then come to you for a decipher sheet.

Once they decipher the clue, they will share it with you, to receive their next problem set.

Then the steps repeat until they figure out who amongst them committed the crime.


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