And so it begins.

The first week is done.

I am fairly certain that I know the names of all of my new students. I incorporated puzzles and thinking challenges, and we had fun. All in all, it was a good week.

This year I am teaching one grade 6 math class, two grade 7 science classes, and two grade 8 math classes. It was a short week because of labour day, and I don’t teach science every day. My focus for the first 2-3 lessons in each class was games, cooperative strategies, and relationship building with my students. As usual, I took a lot of inspiration from the wonderful #MTBoS crew. Here is an overview of my opening week activities.

In science we played Science Buzz, a form of the game Taboo. One student is challenged with getting his or her team members to guess the word on the card, however there are five “taboo” words that the player cannot use in the clues. I found a free version of this game a few years ago from The Learned Teacher, and I modified the template for my purposes. At that point I taught grades 6, 7, and 8 science, and so I made a version for each grade that focused on the topics from the Ontario Science Curriculum. You can find my versions here.

I also did a cup stacking challenge. Each group of 3 or 4 students was given six cups, an elastic band, and a piece of string for each person. The strings got tied on the elastic band and the students had to pull on the string so that they could manipulate the elastic to move the plastic cups. There were six different challenges for the groups, with each challenge requiring the students to place the six cups in a different configuration. In the first three challenges the students were allowed to talk with each other, but no verbal communication was allowed in the last three challenges. Last year I got this task from the Middle School Science Blog, and you can find the link here.

On Friday I played Science Scattergories with one of the classes. For those who have not played Scattergories, a letter die is rolled and the object is to write a word that begins with that letter for each of the twelve categories on the list. You can read a full set of the game play instructions here. I found this version on the TES site for free. However I wanted all of the categories to be more science-based, so I adapted it and used some of the categories from the original document and added some of my own. I created two science based lists. First I looked for a random letter generator online and thought I had made a good choice. However when we began to play in class the generator kept pulling q’s, x’s, j’s, and other such letters that would have been quite a challenge for my students. I gave up on the digital generator and just wrote a letter on the board for each round. We played each list twice, with different letters each time. The students loved it and I would definitely play again. Perhaps next time I will adapt it for math. You can find my adaptations here.

In my grade 6 math class we played Set. Some of the students already knew how to play and they helped to teach the others. We played the digital version which offers a Set puzzle per day, and you can find that link here. I do have two copies of the card game, but I think I will need to purchase a few more so that each group can play together. In grade 6 I also used Robert Kaplinksy’s Open Middle problem for multiplying a two digit number by a one digit number. You can access that problem here.

In grade 8 we began with Sara Van Der Werf’s 100 Numbers task. The students were so engaged! We also tackled @mathequalslove‘s 2019 Challenge. I couldn’t find a digital copy of Sarah Carter’s 2019 Challenge, and so I had to tweak it from her 2018 Challenge. You can read about and access Sarah’s Challenges here. I also made 6 sets of her Perfect Squares Puzzle and had each group work on it. Again, all hands were on deck as they tried to figure out how to place the numbers. I used another Open Middle problem with my grade 8 students, this time a fractions problem written by Denise White. I wanted to give them some time to work on the answer, and so I left it with them over the weekend and we will revisit it tomorrow. You can access that here.

Finally, in grade 8 we played a little Nim. This was inspired by chapter 10 of Tracy Johnston Zager’s book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. In this chapter she talks about Nim and Nim Train. In the game of Nim each pair of students starts with ten counters. Students take turns removing 1 or 2 counters until the last counter is taken. The person who removes the last counter from the pile wins. I had my students play several rounds until they could begin to determine the strategy. We discussed the strategy and whether it was better to play first or second. I then had my students add one counter to the pile to see if the strategy changed or stayed the same. We tried with 10, 11, and 12 counters, and then discussed what we learned. After that we switched to Nim Train. In this version of Nim the students need to add counters to form a train of ten counters, either adding 1, 2, or 3 counters at each turn. The player to add the tenth counter to the train wins. The students quickly caught on to the strategy for this version of the game.

And that was only week 1.

It will be a great year.

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Thinkfun, the company behind the famous Rush Hour game, has a section on their website for educators. Head over to the Downloadable Games section for a selection of strategy games, brainteasers, and dice games in both colour and black and white versions. They also provide some resources to supplement the Rush Hour game as well as to allow students to play with a paper version of the game. Check out the Group Games and Activities section and look through the Big Games downloads for some larger group activities.

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tekhnologic Game and Activity Templates

My challenge continues … it is always hard to find time to write during the school year. Today I am sitting in a ski lodge while our students are on the slopes, and so I have found myself with a few extra minutes.

About a month ago I came across a PowerPoint resource that had a spinner wheel on one of the pages. I had never seen this before and I wanted to know how it was created. In my search for that information I came across the tekhnologic website, developed by a teacher in Japan. The downloads page has a series of game and activity templates for PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. You can also find some of these on the collections page, where PowerPoint game templates and ideas are highlighted.

And if you are interested in the spinner wheel PowerPoint template, you can find it here.

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Top Trumps in the Classroom

A few years ago I bought my son his first pack of Top Trumps. Neither of us had ever played before, but I saw the game in a store and was intrigued. Since then he has been hooked. We play at home and he plays with his friends at camp.

For those who don’t know, Top Trumps is a competitive card game with attributes similar to war. The main goal is to get all of the cards from your opponents. There are many versions of the game, and each game deck has its own theme. One of the decks we have is volcano themed, and each card is a different volcano from somewhere around the world. Here are a few card samples:


As you can see, the cards have various categories on them and each category has an associated numeric value. The cards are evenly distributed to all players and then players keep their cards in front them in a face down pile. At the beginning of a round each player looks at the top card and the first player calls a category and reads its numeric value. The rest of the players then read the numeric values for that category on their own cards, and the player with the highest value takes all cards from that round. If the numeric values on the cards are the same then those cards are placed in the centre, all players draw a new card from the top of the their piles, and the same player calls out a new category. The player with the highest numeric value on the new category takes all cards, including those in the centre.

I figured that somewhere there were teachers that must have adapted this game for the classroom, and I began to search. I found a few resources, but nothing too extensive. This summer I decided to look again and I found a few new resources to add to the mix.

You can find blank templates here and here. The second site is TES and requires a login to download, but the registration is free. Some documents on TES cost money, but there are many that are free. I have found some amazing resources on TES.

If you search online using key words, there are many resources that pop up. Here are just a few:


JustMaths has a few versions of Top Trumps, a few of which you can see below:

Mean, Median, Mode, and Range Top Trumps

Simultaneous Equations and Equation of the Line Top Trumps

Standard Form/Scientific Notation Top Trumps

Solving Equations Top Trumps


Other Top Trumps from TES (mostly from Laura Rees Hughes)

Integer Review Top Trumps

Order of Operations Top Trumps

Standard From/Scientific Notation Top Trumps

Substituting into Expressions Top Trumps

Solving Equations Top Trumps

Missing Angles Top Trumps

Averages Top Trumps

Fraction of an Amount Top Trumps

Fraction, Decimal, Percent Top Trumps


The Great Math Teaching Ideas blog by William Emeny also has a few versions of the game.

Substitution Top Trumps

Polygon Shape Properties


And of course, if you don’t want to download, print, and cut up your own, someone has made actual decks of cards to sell and changed the name to Math Trumps. You can visit that site here.

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Tic Tac Toe Time

Earlier this summer someone shared a link describing Ultimate Tic Tac Toe (I apologize but I cannot remember who shared the link). The post was on the Math with Bad Drawings blog which you can access here. I had never seen it before (I am obviously living under a rock…) but I immediately loved it. I filed it away on my computer. Somewhere. I went looking for it last night and couldn’t remember how I saved it and so I went searching online. I found the original post, and I found two other sites that I like.

The first is a digital version of the game. I would definitely have my students play their own games, but I love the idea of opening it up with a class game. You can access the digital version here. The second is a game on the Spin Master website called Tic Tac Two. In this version the tic tac toe grid is constantly changing placement. I have already made a few classroom purchases this summer, but I may have to add this to the repertoire!

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If You Build It…

Today I would like to share two online games that I love.

The first game is called Fantastic Contraption. It is an online physics building game with 47 levels. The aim is to build a contraption that will move a pink wheel into a goal area. In order to achieve your goal you can use various wheels, sticks, and water rods to build a contraption that will maneuver around the obstacles given.

The second game is called Launchball. This is another physics game with the aim of getting a ball to the goal zone. However, in this game you use fans, heat, water, and electromagnetic forces to move the ball around the obstacles.

Have fun playing!

Posted by Ilana Cyna in General Science, 0 comments

Iota …Small Tin, Big Fun

One of my favourite games is Iota. I bought it for my daughter to take to camp a few years ago. She never played it at camp and I don’t think that anyone opened it until last summer. I was going to a cottage for the weekend and I grabbed it on a whim. At the cottage someone else opened it to play, and I have been hooked ever since.

The premise of the game is to lay out cards, almost in a Scrabble like fashion. Each card has a number from 1 to 4, a colour of either red, green, blue, or yellow, and a shape of either a plus sign, square, triangle, or circle. Each player gets four cards at the beginning, and just like in Scrabble, replenishes the cards based on the number used during the turn.

Let’s say this is Player 1’s hand:

A possible move would be to lay out the following cards:

This turn would be worth 8 points for player 1, the value of the numbers on the cards. Player 2 has the following hand:

Player 2 now has to decide what cards to add to the board. Cards can be added in such a way to make sets of 4 where all cards either share all properties with each other, share some properties with each other, or share no properties with each other. Player 2 decides to add the green 3 triangle and the blue 3 square like this:

Player 2 has earned 13 points for this move. Just like in Scrabble, all connections matter. The green 3 triangle and the green 4 square are on their way to making a set of 4 and are worth 7 points. Two more green cards would be needed to finish this set, either a green 1 circle and green 2 plus or a green 1 plus and a green 2 circle. The green 3 triangle and the blue 3 square are on their way to making a different set and are worth 6 points. To finish this set one would need two more cards with 3’s, and those cards would each need to be different colours and different shapes than each other and than the ones already showing.

It is now Player 1’s turn again. Since Player 1 used two cards last turn, Player 1 needs to pick up two more cards to ensure that there are four cards available to play. This is the new hand for Player 1:

The red 2 triangle and the green 3 square were left over from the previous hand and the new cards are the blue 2 plus and the red 3 square. Player 1 decides to make the following move:

This move is worth 9 points. Player 1 is now creating a set where none of the attributes match. The final card in this set would be a blue 1 circle. Player 2 now picks two new cards and this is the new hand:

The blue 3 circle and blue 1 triangle are the new cards. Player 2 makes the following move:

Player 2 has only added one card, the 3 blue triangle.This move is only worth 5 points. To finish this set one could add a yellow 1 triangle and a green 4 triangle or a yellow 4 triangle and a green 1 triangle.

Player 1 now picks two cards to fill the playable hand, and the hand now looks like this:

The new cards are the yellow 1 circle and the red 1 square. Player 1 decides to make the following move:

Player 1 had added the blue 2 plus and the yellow 1 circle, for a total of 11 points. Play continues in this manner until all the cards are gone. When a player completes a set of 4 the points for that turn are doubled. If a player manages to use all four cards in one turn then the points for that turn are also doubled. If a player manages to use all four cards and create a set of four in one turn, then the points are quadrupled. There are also two wildcards that can be used as any card, and they look like this:

I had read so much about the card game Set and how so many people love it, and I finally tried it this summer at a games cafe. I must admit that I did not find it that exciting…maybe we played it wrong? I think that there is more strategy involved with Iota and I enjoy it much more. Next step…buying it for the classroom.

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The Game of War….Math Style

I came across the MashUp Math activity below for reviewing finding mean, median, mode, and range while using a deck of cards, including an accompanying worksheet.

After watching the video, I thought that this might be interesting as a Game of War card game. It you don’t know how to play standard war, then you can read the instructions here.

Here is how I envision this activity can be modified into a game.

  • Use two decks of cards and the additional card set that I created
  • Playing cards get distributed similar to the original War card game
  • Players draw a card from the new card set, cards may be action or reaction cards:
    1. An Action Card may say to use 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 cards and then find the mean, median, mode, or range. For these cards, all players put out the designated amount of cards from their individual pile and determine the respective value. The player with the highest value wins all cards. With two players, if players have the same value then the action is repeated and the new highest value wins all cards. With three players, if the highest value is the same for two of the players then those two players repeat the action and the player with the highest value wins all cards for that action round. With three players, if the highest value is the same for all three of the players then all players repeat the action and the player with the highest value wins all cards for that action round. The action card is then placed in the discard pile.
    2. An Action Card may say to give 1, 2, or 3 cards to all other players or to receive 1, 2, or 3 cards from all other players. For these cards, the player who drew the card either gives cards to other players or receives cards from other players. The action card is then placed in the discard pile.
    3. A Reaction Card may say “No Thank You”. The player may hold on to this card and use it to counter action cards from step 2 at any point in the game. Once used, this card should go in the discard pile.
    4. A Reaction Card may say “Double Up”. The player may hold on to this card and use it to double the required number of cards in step 2 to be given to or received from other players at any point in the game. Once used, this card should go in the discard pile.
  • If at any point a player disagrees with the calculation of another player then a Challenge Card may be used. All players should check the disputed calculation. If the challenger is correct then the challenger wins all cards from that action round. If the challenger is incorrect then the player challenged wins all cards from that action round.
  • Play continues until one player has all of the cards or for a set amount of time

If you have suggestions that would make this better, please send them along. Access the instructions and card set here.


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Sara Van Der Werf’s 5×5 Game

In looking for fun games to engage my students, I came across Sara Van Der Werf‘s 5×5 Game. She has explained the game very well in her blog post, and so I suggest you read about it there. Please make sure to follow her sharing request for this game. I have made a Smartboard Notebook file to use with this game, and you can access it here. In my Notebook file, I have added light blue squares to write the sums, and I have added thinking questions for the students to consider in between the rounds. I will still use her student handout template which can be accessed in her blog post.

Thank you for sharing, Sara!

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Hot Seat!

I like to play review games in the classroom, and one of these is called Hot Seat. In this game, the class is divided into teams of 3 or 4 students. The desks are arranged so that the students can sit with their group members, and then there are also desks separated and lined up side-by-side, either at the front or at the back of the classroom. These are the “hot seats”. The number of hot seats should match the number of student teams. I usually separate the hot seats with dividers, but you can also physically separate them to prevent students from seeing the answers of those next to them. Once the teams are made (I usually arrange the teams), I let the students determine a team name. Once this organization is completed, the game begins.

Each round of the game requires the students to answer a math question. One student from the team is selected to be in the hot seat, and the other students in the team remain at the team desks. The first question is revealed and all students work on the answer. The team member in the hot seat works alone, and the other team members work together. I actually require these team members to each try the question on their own sheet of paper, and then compare answers with the group and come to consensus. I give a designated amount of time for the students to answer the question, dependent on the complexity of the question. At the end of the time period I circulate around the room to determine who has the correct answer. I keep a sheet on a clipboard to record results as I walk around. If the student in the hot seat answered correctly, then 2 points are earned for the team. If the rest of the team answered correctly, then 1 point is earned for the team. In any round, a team can earn up to 3 points. I usually walk around as the students are still working and before the time has run out to see their progress. If there are early finishers then I can check their work. However, I don’t reveal if their answers are correct until the time is up. This prevents students from trying to copy the answers of others, as they do not know which answers were correct or incorrect. When the time is up I first take up the question with the whole class, and then we assign the scores for that round on the whiteboard. For each subsequent round, the students take turns sitting in the hot seat. I like this model because I find that it requires all students to be active participants, while adding an element of competition.

I work at an IB school, and our rubrics are leveled 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8. Sometimes I organize the Hot Seat game into these levels, which they see on their tests, and other times I have been less formal and just given random questions. I have shared two of my Notebook Hot Seat files – one for Grade 7 proportional relationships and one for Grade 8 numeracy. You can access them here.

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