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.


Click here for access to our active math resource library!

Posted in Active Learning, Active Math, Algebra, Algebra Activities, Math Activity, Math Games, Math Teaching Idea, Maths, Middle School Math, Secondary Math.


  1. Did you use games everyday? Do you give notes/homework? I am trying to improve my engagement and just trying to see how you implement the games.
    Thank you in advance for any help you can give me!

    • Hi Malisa,
      I do play games every day or some type of activity. I give notes using my ipad using the app Explain Everything. When I had regular Algebra and my students wouldn’t watch notes, then I would play games every other day. One day would be notes/reciprocal teaching followed by a day of games. This week we are doing head’s up vocabulary and the four quadrant game. What grade/level of math do you teach?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *