When using any of the math mystery resources from my range as a class activity, I recommend pacing the case clue by clue rather than giving your students all of the five clue worksheets in one go. By pacing the clues, it will stop some students from racing too far ahead of the rest, while others are left behind. Turning a math mystery into a competition has its benefits, and certainly is still a fine approach to using these if you prefer to give all five clues in a booklet format for students to work on at their own pace. However, in this post, I aim to outline five tips with suggestions that will help set up ALL of your students for math mystery success!
1. Skill Refreshers!
Whether it is a skill-focused math mystery or a holiday seasonal spiral review math mystery, carrying out a demonstration refresher around a single clue as a class, sets up every student with a chance for success.
Suggestion: I like to do this by carrying out several examples on the board as a class. By doing the demonstration, students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, show understanding, and also ask any questions they need to gain clarification in regards to the concept/skill. After the whole-class ' skill refresher', they are prepped to tackle the math presented on the targeted clue page independently.
2. Use Skill-Focused Math Mysteries at the end of a unit.
After finishing a unit, use the associated skill-focused math mystery to wrap it up before continuing onto your next topic.
For example, at the end of your place value unit, use the Place Value Math Mystery straight away to give students the opportunity to show their place value skills while it is still fresh in their minds. This option works well as a form of assessment too, since you will be able to quickly see what students retained and what areas may need revisiting.
3. Before attempting the next clue, we must learn something new.
Use this option if there is a skill/concept in a math mystery packet that is a goal for your class, but not yet done.
Sometimes there might be a clue in a math mystery packet not yet done but is something that you plan on doing with your class soon. If this is the scenario, put the mystery activity on hold and begin a lesson or lessons on the skill/concept.
For example, in the 4th Grade Christmas Math Mystery, the 'Case of the Selfish Elf' if students have not yet learned how to Convert Mixed Number Fractions to Improper Fractions for clue 3, I would pause the mystery for everyone and announce that we must learn something new before continuing with the next clue. Then, set up a lesson or lessons focusing on how to convert mixed number fractions to improper fractions. After the lesson/s, instruct students to show if they understand the concept by attempting clue 3. You will be able to assess from that clue page which students get it and which don't yet. Continue with lessons on the topic if necessary.
4. Clue Swap with a Lower grade edition
Use this option if there is a clue in a math mystery packet covering content that is not in your curriculum or is too advanced for your students.
The math mystery packets try to target skills that will suit grade levels; However, one size does not fit all. That's why the math mysteries in my range are available in different grade level editions but with the same clues. When a mystery title is the same and just the grade different, (1st-grade editions excluded), you can clue swap the same clue numbers between the 2nd-8th-grade editions to adjust the math in the mystery for your students. ‘Clue Swapping’ is a great option for customizing the math mysteries and differentiating too. By clue swapping to differentiate you increase the chances of math mystery success for every single student.
For example, in the 4th Grade Edition of the Multiplication Math Mystery, the 'Case of the Monster Mix-Up' Clue 4 requires students to complete multiplication word problems with a mix of single, double, and triple-digit numbers. If this math skill is too difficult or something not yet expected of your student/s in 4th grade, you can swap this clue page with the clue 4 page from the 3rd Grade 'Case of the Monster Mix-Up' Multiplication math mystery edition. Now when using the substituted clue, 4 page from a grade lower, students will be completing multiplication word problems involving multiplication facts 1-12 instead. Doing a ‘clue swap’ like this won't change the mystery outcome either, so you can keep the tough page for your advanced students if you want to as well.
Clue swapping enables differentiation of the same mystery. As you can see from the sample images below, it's hard to tell that the math difficulty is harder in one than the other between the two editions; so it's easy to be discreet about it too.
5. Stop and Learn As a Class or in a Tutorial Group
There are times when students may struggle with the math on a particular clue page. If this is the case, you may need to stop the activity and learn the skill again as a class.
Suggestion: I like to instruct everyone to stop, pencils down, and eyes to the board to demonstrate and teach the skill. It helps to model doing some of the math problems from the clue page first. Then either continue the rest of the page by guiding students along the way as a class or let them return to completing the remaining questions independently.
Suggestion: If only a few kids are struggling with the math in a clue, you could ask them to join a small group in a section of the room and work on the page together. In this small group, conduct a tutorial lesson on the math to help teach the skill, then proceed to work on the problems by guiding and working together.
Math mysteries are a fun way to practice and review math tasks in your classroom. If you haven't tried one before and would like to, there is a FREE one available to download HERE - the 'Case of the Super Bad Superhero.' The only prep required is to download, print, (photocopy as needed), and go! Set up the (optional) video hook to set the stage to engage and let the mystery begin. It's your choice whether you want to allow your students to complete the whole thing at their own pace, or keep it at a controlled pace by only handing out one clue at a time. Use the tips and suggestions outlined in this post to help set up all of your students for math mystery success!
You will also be able to experiment with clue swapping in the free download since it provides grade editions for K - 6th.
What is a math mystery? How to use them in your classroom?
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Thanks for reading!
A 21st century School Teacher, Mother, and Wife.
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