Creative Teaching Ideas

Gisele Glosser

There are lots of creative ways to make math fun for your class. In fact, humor can serve as a mnemonic that leads to retention of material. Here are some creative ideas that I have used with my students.

The Decimal Dance

When teaching students to multiply decimals, I often find that they forget to account for decimal place value. To help them remember to mark the decimal point, I use the decimal dance. At the chalkboard, I work out the product of the numbers. Then I simply exaggerate the motion of counting decimal places. I make a large white arc under each digit until I have accounted for the correct number of decimal places. By calling this The Decimal Dance, students remember to account for decimal place value after multiplying decimals. It may sound silly, but it works. Try my Decimal Dance Game.

Front Loading

Most teachers start the school year by reviewing previously learned concepts. However, this is a time when students are most motivated to learn. Why not introduce a new topic they've never seen before? This technique, known as Front Loading, shows students that you intend to challenge them, and sets the tone for the year. I front load by introducing Integers in September. You can also try my Integer Football Game.

Fractions and Chocolate Bars

When introducing the concept of multiplying fractions, I use 8 brown-colored Unifix cubes to represent one chocolate bar. I offer 1/2 of the bar to a student. I ask that student to offer 1/4 of his/her piece to another student. Then I ask the class "What fraction of the original chocolate bar did the second student get?" Students quickly learn that a part of a part is a smaller part. Next, I distribute Unifix cubes to each group and have students complete multiplication exercises using both the cubes and arithmetic. They soon discover that the commutative law applies to multiplication of fractions. Try my Percent Goodies Game for converting fractions to decimals and percentages.

Geometry and Gumby

Materials Required: shoebox, chalkboard, scissors

Activity Time: 40 minutes

Concepts Taught: side length, angles, properties of polygons

Preparation: Cut out the bottom of a shoe box, to get
a cardboard box that bends at all corners.

I introduce the square, rectangle, parallelogram, rhombus, and trapezoid at the chalkboard, noting the properties of each. To summarize the lesson, I hold the shoebox in front of the class and say: "If you bend a rectangle like Gumby, what quadrilateral do you get?" (parallelogram). Bending the shoe box demonstrates the change in angles, and the fact the length of the sides has not changed. I then ask: "If you bend a square like Gumby, what quadrilateral do you get?" (rhombus). The whole thing sounds silly -and that is exactly why my students remember it so well! Try my in-depth lessons on Geometry and Measurement.

The Homework Wave

Every once in a while, I motivate students to do their homework with the Homework Wave. If every student has completed their assignment, they take out their assignment sheets and wave them. This is just like the wave in the bleachers at a game, except that they are waving their homework instead of their arms. Students enjoy this activity tremendously. See my article entitled Establishing a Homework Policy.

Median and the Middle Child

When I introduce students to range, mean, median and mode, they sometimes have trouble remembering which is which.  I teach them to think of the median as the age of the middle child in a family. If there is an even number of children, then the median is the mean of the two middlemost ages. Try my unit on Mean, Median and Mode.

Probability and The Three Stooges

I usually teach Probability late in the school year when students get restless. I use silly mnemonics to help students remember Probability definitions. For certain events, I tell them to think of Curly Howard saying "Coitanly". Thus, certain events are renamed "coitan events". I even say "nyuk, nyuk, nyuk" for some laughs. Try my unit on Probability.

Repeating Decimals and The Monster That Wouldn’t Die

Some students have trouble grasping the fact that a repeating decimal goes on forever. I start with a simple fraction like one-third. At the chalkboard, I divide the numerator by the denominator several times until a pattern becomes apparent. I then ask the class what they think will happen if I continue to bring down a zero from the dividend and divide. Most of them say that I will keep getting the same digit in the quotient. To emphasize the concept of repeating decimals, I make an analogy to a monster movie where the monster is relentless -it just keeps coming back and never dies, no matter how many times you try to kill it! Try my lesson on Dividing Decimals by Whole Numbers.

Find more creative teaching ideas on the Math Goodies CD.

This article is by Gisele Glosser. You can find me on Google.