With the growing trend for children to use tablets, PCS and other types of computers for entertainment, it is no wonder that the common math lesson or worksheet may not exactly excite them, let alone grab their attention. Whether we love or hate the fact that computer type games are a large part of our student's lives, we can’t change the reality that it exists and is almost always available at their fingertips outside of school hours. As teachers, we are faced with the challenge to constantly come up with innovative and fun ways to engage our students. Some days we might nail it and others we don’t. Then there are some students who are continuously reluctant to get on board with their work; we may not always have the right technology at hand to use for that type of lesson; so what’s a tired teacher to do? You’ve tried many tricks, felt like you’ve encouraged and praised lots, yet, still no luck? In this post, I will share with you an activity that will engage even some of your most reluctant learners. I’ll also explain why you should try it, before dismissing it as another ‘gimmick.’
What Sort of activity engages learners?
So, back to the wonderful world of gaming that plays a part in many of our students every day lives. Why is it so addictive? Leveling up, gaining experience, earning ‘brag titles’ or special items. These games that our students play frequently give them a sense of purpose, and achievement. Whether it is passing a difficult level, conquering a challenging boss or solving a mind-boggling puzzle, most games have one thing in common, and that is a purpose and a reward. As a gamer myself, I could see how games easily hook kids into this world and can also be addictive. I’m totally guilty of falling into a Candy Crush craze to only realize that I was actually upset my lives were over, and I had to wait before I could attempt a level again. This was when I thought to myself if only I could get my students to be this addicted to math or reading in class. How awesome would it be to have them feel sad that math was over just like when lives were over on a game like Candy Crush?
Well, yes we can play games. I'm sure we all do that at some point in our classrooms. But, what about the pencil and paper activities? Is it possible to make the good old math worksheet as fun as a game?
YES, it can be done!
“My class loved this activity! They enjoyed math and wanted to know if there were other activities like this to finish! Will continue to use in the future!” Wendy Y. July 29, 2017 (Case of The Super Bad Superhero)
“This was AWESOME. My 3rd graders were HOOKED with the video and worked quietly and diligently for an hour trying to rescue the groundhog. The best compliment to you from one of my sweet kids..."can we do another one for Valentine's Day" Yes, yes we can!” Melissa H. February 4, 2018 (Case of The Kidnapped Groundhog)
“Students are HIGHLY engaged when working on this task. The hardest thing is getting them to stop! Thanks” Basic Ideas February 4, 2018 (Case of The Selfish Elf)
The Math Mysteries in my range follow a similar concept as a game, there’s a purpose in every story along with the exciting opportunity for discovery and reward. Students don’t even realize how much math they are doing in some of the clues because they are so focused on discovering important information to crack the case. The process of eliminating possibilities adds to the excitement as students keep trying to guess who the culprit is, or where they must go, or what they need to solve each mystery.
WORK HARD, PERSEVERE & CONQUER!
Believe it or not, what appears to look like regular math worksheets to a teacher, the game purpose feel to these pages changes the kids’ perspective to what would normally be a drill sheet. I’ve found kids keen to learn or do an extra lesson to master a skill they need to conquer a challenging clue. So if you ever come across a clue that is particularly difficult, take the time to ‘stop and learn’ as a class to get through the page together. When a clue gets too tough, I find it important to teach students perseverance and compare it to a hard level in a popular game they are all familiar with. Keep trying, learn the skills needed to pass, and aim for success!
OTHER EXTRA MOTIVATORS
To give these math mysteries an extra game-like feel, we’ve added extra motivators so that you can engage even some of your most reluctant learners:
Whether it’s a break from your usual routine, or you might need something easy and fun to leave for a sub. These math mysteries will keep your kids learning and practicing important skills.
Try a complete Math Mystery for FREE! All you will need to do is print, photocopy and go! Have the video hook (optional) below ready for student viewing to set the stage to engage. Then challenge your kids to the task! See who can solve the mystery!
I would love to hear how this goes with your class. Enjoy!
First, SET THE STAGE TO ENGAGE!
Each Math Mystery begins with an opening one-page story (as in the image below). The story sets up the mystery and has been designed to engage students. We are now also creating VIDEO HOOKS for the math mysteries, which are an optional extra that can be used to introduce your class to the activity and ‘hook’ them into the math work. (View an example Video Hook below too).
CHOOSE to use either the written story or video hook to introduce the activity to your students. You could choose to use both if you wish.
AN EXTENSIVE LIST OF POSSIBILITIES!
Each Math mystery for 2nd grade and up comes with a long list of possible solutions to the mystery component of the activity (see image A). The 1st-grade math mysteries come with fewer options and visual pictures instead (see image B). These are designed to make the guessing factor fun and large for the older grades. For the table list of suspects, you could assign a suspect to each student to make it extra exciting.
FIVE CLUE SHEETS WITH MATH QUESTIONS
Every math mystery in my range is consistent with having five clues to solve. Each clue sheet will require students to carry out math work. If the answers are correct, an important clue reveals in a message! If the clue doesn’t make sense, then students will know there are errors in their answers. The fact that these are practically self-checking also reduces teacher marking time...YAY!!!
To quickly and easily find out the math skill covered in each clue, check the product description of the math mystery grade version you would like.
The clue sheets (as long as it is the same clue number) are interchangeable between the 2nd to 8th-grade math mysteries (as long as the story title is the same); so you can swap pages around to tailor the mystery to suit your learners and differentiate within your classroom. For example, in the image below.
You can try this out with the free mystery at the end.
On top of all the math questions embedded into the mystery, critical thinking is an additional must to solve the mystery component of the activity. Upon discovery of a clue, students must read, comprehend and think about what the clue means for them to do with the LIST given. It doesn’t always tell you who or what to cross off; sometimes it is giving you a clue as to who to keep instead! Some clues can be quite tricky (but make for great discussions). The clues are sometimes straightforward and easy to interpret with what to do, others can be in a riddle form (like the one below), that will require an extra step in thinking about the elimination step.
"A LADY WAS ABLE TO SCARE OFF THE ANTIHERO WITH COOKIES'
If a lady was able to scare the antihero away with cookies, then the Super Bad Superhero MUST HAVE a weakness to cookies. Some students may accidentally cross off all suspects with a weakness to cookies. However, it SHOULD be to cross off all suspects that have a weakness to something else and KEEP only suspects with a weakness to cookies.
By the end of the five clues, if done correctly, only one row will remain. That row provides the answer to the mystery!
Once students declare the correct mystery answer, you have the optional award provided within the download that you can give to them.
If the student gets the correct mystery answer, only a glance over the completed clue sheets is all the marking you will need to do.
MULTIPLE USES FOR THE CLASSROOM OR AT HOME
There are multiple uses for math mysteries. These included, but are not limited to,
DOWNLOAD A FREE MULTIPLE GRADE LEVEL MATH MYSTERY TO TRY!
Download directly above or find it in my TPT store HERE to download for free. Video hook included!
If you have used one of my math mystery packets, you are probably aware that most of the stories come in different grade levels. If you haven’t used one yet, I will show you where to get a free copy later in this post. Because I designed the grade levels in a way to enable use for differentiation purposes, the mystery solutions are the same in all. What I didn’t plan for was the fact that so many of you wonderful teachers are using these math mysteries in your classrooms and the possibility of running into a class (or some students) who have done a particular math mystery story before are beginning to happen. Also, some feedback has suggested that other grade levels want to use these activities, but don’t want to do so in case one class spills the solution beans to another class who hasn’t done it yet. So, I’ve taken all of this on board and have added ‘Editable suspect/location/cure/scenario lists’ to all of the mystery packets. With the editable file, I have also added two bonus pre-made alternative lists. In this post, I will explain this new update, including how to make yourself a new list.
THE CLUES WILL STILL BE THE SAME SO KEEP ‘COMBOS’ THE SAME
Although the final solution is changeable, the clues will need to remain the same. For this reason, the combinations in the columns (except for column 1) should stay as they are.
*A ‘combo’ is the information given in columns 2- 6,
An example from 'Case of The Super Bad Superhero' is circled below:
You can change the row position of a combo; in fact, I recommend shuffling the rows as well as changing names in column 1. But altering these too much can collide with the clues. So, if you do make some minor adjustments to the details, please check that the elimination process still works with the clues of the mystery.
EDITABLE LISTS ONLY AVAILABLE FOR MATH MYSTERY PACKETS GRADES 2 and up
The Kindergarten and first-grade math mysteries do not have this update due to the different set up of this section for those versions. However, this shouldn’t be a problem because the Kindergarten ones are completely different in process and solution anyway, and the first graders will be the first to do a story of its kind.
NAME CHANGING IN THE FIRST COLUMN
Change the names of suspects, locations, cures or even scenarios to your liking. Add your students’ names, familiar location names or throw in some new made-up names. If you have time, a fun idea may be to invite your students to come up with some ideas for the list. The only thing that you may need to be careful of is labeling something in column 1 with a combo row that obviously doesn’t add up and may confuse students.
For example, if you put in column 1 “The Forbidden Forest,” but location type is marked as ‘beach’ in that row, your students will probably raise an eyebrow.
SHUFFLE TO KEEP STUDENTS GUESSING
I recommend shuffling rows and mixing column 1 labels with the combos. Doing so, is particularly important if you know that your students have already done the math mystery story you are about to attempt. Shuffle the rows, and either alter the names/titles in column 1 or shuffle the column 1 names around to match up with a new combo.
An easy way to do a ‘SHUFFLE’ is to use the blank list template provided on page 4 in the editable file.
8 EASY STEPS TO SHUFFLE IT UP!
2 Duplicate the original list on page 2 above the copy of the blank template you made in step 1. The original list from 'Case of The Super Bad Superhero' is below.
3. Note the mystery answer of the original list on page 3.
4. Cut the combo of the mystery answer from your Page 2 copy and paste in a new row position on your blank page.
5. Either choose a different name in column 1 from the original list to pair with the ‘answer combo’ or write new ideas into column 1. I put 'Exampletron' in the image example above. Now, this is your new Mystery Solution Answer and must be the final row remaining after the revealing of all five clues.
6. Continue to cut and paste combos from the original list into different rows of the new blank page.
Tip: It's best to 'cut' and paste, rather than 'copy' and paste, so that you know which combos you have done already. This is the reason for the duplicating suggestion made in Steps 1 and 2 (so you have the original templates still in tact for next time).
7. After all combos have been transferred to the new page, you can either cut and paste column 1 names and pair them up with a new combo row on your list, or make up new names for column 1.
Below is an example of a new one I made, which is included in the 'Case of The Super Bad Superhero' packet to use as a ready-made alternative list.
8. Finally, check by reading the clues in the answer section of the math mystery and trying out the elimination process yourself to make sure only one row remains at the end.
USING THE PRE-MADE ALTERNATIVE LISTS
Within the editable PPT document for every packet download, pages 5 and 6 contain two NEW lists that automatically are set to give a different mystery solution. I made these so that if you do discover that you need a different mystery solution, but do not have the time to carry out the steps above, you can quickly just print one of those off and swap out with the original. On page 1 within the editable file, there is a section that briefs you on the mystery answer solution for each pre-made list. I've circled where to look for it in the Case of The Super Bad Superhero example . . . this is set up the same way as editable files in all of the other math mysteries.
Unless your students have brilliant memories and remember all of the clues to make the exact answer combo of a specific mystery, this mix-up of final solutions should keep them guessing until the end. A lot of combos are similar, so it would be tough to remember the exact combination (but, certainly not putting it past any photographic memories out there).
All new math mysteries I make will now also contain the editable list to carry out these changes.
GRAB the multi-grade bundle of the math mystery 'Case of The Super Bad Superhero' completely FREE to try out! It also comes with the editable list and two pre-made alternative lists!
A 21st century School Teacher, Mother, and Wife.