If you have seen math mysteries around, been interested, but are unsure how to implement them in your classroom, then this post is for you! There's a FREE math mystery for you to use at the end too!
What are Math Mysteries?
Math Mysteries are an exciting and easy way to get lots of math practice and review in within the classroom. Ideal for consolidation, early-finishers, enrichment, test prep, review before a holiday season, or the sub-tub.
Because it is important that students get the answers right, it is also a useful tool to assess how well your students understand the math content prepared in the mystery. If they are not able to crack the codes or discover the clues, then you can easily begin to see which content areas may need to be addressed again.
I've designed these to be a simple NO PREP activity. So all you have to do is print, copy, and solve. Then choose one of the ways outlined below to use in your classroom if you wish.
1. Independent activity
Here are a few ways to implement math mysteries as an independent task:
- Pace the activity by only giving each clue out as one is completed, or
- give the entire mystery as a booklet or in a case file and allow students to work through it at their own pace (e.g. continue working on it when finished other work early).
It is IMPORTANT to note that the clues must always be completed in the order I have put them in (1-5). Otherwise, if you want to do the clues in a different order, do not give the suspect list out until all five clues are completed.
Doing these independently, is a great choice for review sessions, test prep, early-finishers or as an assessment.
2. Group Work
This is a great option to get students working as teams and to save paper on photocopying. I recommend group sizes between 2-6. In this situation, students could work together and be responsible for a clue or two within their group; helping each other get through the math problems. A couple of notes and recommendations on grouping:
- Mixed ability groups work best if you choose to have everyone working on the same math mystery grade level,
- otherwise you can purchase different grade levels of the same mystery and use to tailor the mysteries for same group levels. I don't grade level mark the actual worksheets, so you can keep levels a secret still. For example for a fourth grade class, you may wish to give a grade 5 version for your advanced students, grade 4 version for your in the middle students and the grade 3 version for your students who need it a bit easier. You can also tailor it better by clue swapping across the grade 2 - 6 versions because the clues are interchangeable (as long as the clue number is the same). In the free mystery download, you will be able to get a variety of levels to test try doing this. Please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want any further help with how to do this.
Again, this is as easy as print and go, with the added part of organizing the groups.
Add an extra element of fun by making it a competition on which group can solve the mystery correctly first!
3. Math Centers
You could use math mysteries as part of your math centers. Here are two implementation suggestions:
1. Set up one clue per math center, you could base the whole lesson around all five clues; or
2. Set up one of your centers with a single math clue, do a new clue for each day of the week as a center activity.
Students complete the clue at the center, and then make sure to keep the clue they have discovered with them. Do not give the list for elimination until all five clues have been completed for students to solve the mystery.
This is a great option if you would like to:
- pace out the activity
- add any hands on materials to help students through the math
- have students working together
- review a single skill that you would like to target for that lesson
(Optional) Add a bit more fun by adding some magnifying glasses, crime scene tape and detective hats to the table!
4. Whole Class Activity
If you are short on time or would like to save on photocopying, then this option may be for you. It can be done in one of two ways:
- Split the class into five teams. You could make the teams based on their math strength, then get each team to work on solving just one clue. Then, get the class to share their clues at the end to do the solve the mystery together.
- Work on one clue a lesson, and base the whole lesson around the math in it. For this choice, model and teach the math skill required to complete the clue. To save on copies, put the clue page up on the board and instruct students to copy the boxes with the numbers down, and then work through the questions in their workbooks. As they solve each answer, instruct them to place the paired letter with it so that they can complete the crack the code in their workbooks. I've included an image below showing an example. With this option, depending on the students ability and understanding, you may wish to work through the questions as a class, in pairs or independently and come together at the end to check and reflect.
For more ways to save paper with math mysteries >> read here <<
5. Homework Assignment
You could send these math mysteries home as an assignment at the end of a unit or for spiral review over the holidays. There are a mix of content focused and holiday-themed math mysteries. The holiday and season-themed mysteries contain a mix of skills and are a great option for spiral review with a fun theme. The content focused mysteries are a better choice for an end of unit assignment, OR you could go a grade level down and use it as a pre-assessment task for students to review skills from the previous year before beginning the unit in class. This can help with finding out how well your students remember the content and get an idea of what may need to be revisited before beginning the unit. It will also serve as a great mental preparation activity for students to begin learning the new content within that skill area.
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Grab a FREE Math Mystery to try with your students.
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