Fun with geometry? Who thinks teaching geometry is fun? I have a secret. It’s pretty embarrassing really. In school, my least favorite subject every year was math. GASP. Why, you might ask? Well, when I was in elementary school, math was all about memorizing and recalling facts (yuck) and filling out worksheets with 50 questions on them (ugh). Then, in middle school and high school, I was overwhelmed and confused by algebra. Geometry was the bright spot in my very dark journey as a math student. I credit my love for geometry (and my success in my geometry class) to my teacher. One hundred percent. I took geometry in 9th grade (which, for me, was in the late 70s) so I honestly can’t remember what my teacher did, but she did it well and I loved her for it. I know that we used TOOLS (protractors and compasses) and graph paper, and colored pencils. I loved that. I remember that part of the experience fondly to this day. As I have developed and grown as a teacher, math has become my favorite subject to teach because I know how much I enjoyed really working with materials, exploring, and developing an understanding for concepts. Nothing beats hands on learning. That’s somewhat of a mantra for me. My primary goal as a teacher is to inspire my students to love math (yes, 10th grade me, I actually said this) and to help YOU help your students love math.
Number Talks and More
Number talks are awesome, aren’t they? I love the open-endedness and variety of answers I get when I flash a WODB image up on the screen. Which One Doesn’t Belong? (WODB) conversations are just perfect for number talks and there are several options for comparing the attributes of 2D shapes, 3D shapes, line segments, and more.
If you use number talks with your students, you should absolutely visit Steve Wyborney’s blog and check out the CUBE CONVERSATIONS during your geometry unit, as well as during your measurement unit.
Printable and Digital Task Cards
Listen. I know what you’re thinking. Task cards are hardly the hottest new thing, but they definitely beat worksheets, in my opinion. Why? They’re more versatile. I use printable task cards for small group instruction. I encourage my students to write and draw RIGHT ON THE KIDNEY TABLE as they solve problems. With geometry, this looks different than it does in a unit where the focus is mostly on operations, but it still works. Students can have fun with 3D shapes and nets as well as transformations by manipulating paper cut outs of nets to match actual 3D shapes. They can manipulate L-shaped blocks (or cardboard cut outs) to demonstrate reflections, rotations, and translations. Another way I use printable task cards is by displaying them in the hallway and sending my scholars out with clipboards and pencils to engage in a gallery walk. Let me tell you, if I had EVER had a single teacher who let us do a math gallery walk with task cards, I would have been OVER THE MOON.
As for digital task cards, if you haven’t tried them, they are SO FUN. Students solve problems and progressively reveal a maze (that turns red if the answer is incorrect) or a puzzle. Digital task cards are perfect for centers. They’re self-grading and easy to assign.
Scavenger hunts provide students with opportunities to get up and move, collaborate, and get immediate feedback. They know when they finish if they have messed up because they will have cycled through fewer than 12 stations. They will need to retrace their steps and perform some error analysis to figure out what went wrong. My students also enjoy it when I tape the cards on the insides of cabinets, under tables or desks, or in other obscure places so they really have to hunt for the answers and the next card!
I can’t emphasize this enough. If ANY math teacher of mine had sent me on a math scavenger hunt of any kind rather than throwing a worksheet with 50 problems on it at me, I would have done back handsprings in the school parking lot and fallen head-over-heels in love with math!
Oh my goodness! I have recently ventured into the world of creating ESCAPE ROOMS and I cannot get enough. I absolutely love all of the ins and outs of solving problems and then decoding messages or revealing secret words. That was my jam as a child and it still is. I also love the flexibility of allowing students to pair up or work on teams and the option of adding a timer to raise the stakes. I realize that escape rooms can get expensive if you decide to go ALL OUT and buy lockboxes and locks, but you don’t have to go completely overboard to inspire fun and collaboration. I think putting the materials for each “room” in large, manila envelopes is perfectly adequate. The fun comes from solving the challenges – adding real locks and boxes is optional.
If you’re joining my friends and me for March Mathness, you’re getting a Geometry Review Escape Room, Escape Geometry City, for free. It includes printable (black and white AND full color) and digital (Google slides AND forms) versions as well as answer keys.
If you want to step gingerly into the world of escape rooms, you should check out my Google sheets rooms that are completely digital. They’re engaging and fun, but you don’t run the risk of having students running around all over the place trying to solve the problems, decode the messages, and beat the clock.
Mazes, Puzzles, and More
I give my students mazes and puzzles during nearly every math unit. What I love about the puzzles is that I can cut the page in half and hand my students the half with the problems to solve (or in the case of geometry, the term to define or shape to identify) and hand them the left side of the page with the solutions to the problems, definitions, or shapes AFTER they show me their work.
As for mazes, they’re such a great alternative to run-of-the-mill worksheets because they include incorrect answers that get students thinking, “Wait. Is this the correct answer, or is this?” Again, I sometimes give students the problem page first and have them solve all of the problems (even the ones that are not included in the maze) before handing them the maze to complete.
Finally, I love a creative activity to get students thinking outside the box (or, in this case, thinking ABOUT boxes and other 3D shapes). Creating “Wanted” posters for 3D shapes fits the bill. Students have grid paper and are challenged to draw a 3D shape of their choice and think about how that 3D shape could disguise itself as an every day object in order to evade capture! I have done this activity with 2D shapes, as well. My young, aspiring artists always love this one.
I hope you and your students enjoy these alternatives to worksheets for teaching geometry. If you’re interested in making your own, I recommend joining Math Resource Academy or Hot Teacher Summer. Let me know which resource or site was your favorite in the comments!