Spring Fever: When Doing Problems Gets Boring

Earlier last week, I started to feel incredibly bored with my teaching. Especially in Algebra I. We are working on systems of equations by elimination so one day we did problems where you just add or subtract. Next where you have to multiply one equation. Then where you have to multiply both equations. Even though I disguise it by playing games or whatever, basically day after day is just doing problems all hour long.

On one hand, this could be considered a good thing because at least it means I'm not lecturing the entire hour. It could also mean that I am the only one actually bored because I'm just walking around and checking their work.

I'm also at that point in my curriculum where I feel like I have pretty solid lessons that I can reuse. So maybe I'm bored because I'm not creating anything. Which means...maybe my students are bored because they aren't creating anything.

Of course I realized this at the last second so I thought of a simple idea that's just a little bit different than working problems. I cut a worksheet into strips and asked each student to work the problem incorrectly. I asked them to be sneaky and not do something obvious. Then I would tape the strips down, make a copy, and give that as a quiz. Each student has to write a sentence explaining why the problem is wrong.

As I started class, the students asked me if they could finish the game from the day before. We were playing ZAP! with all kinds of elimination problems. They all really wanted to finish? I figured they were bored with that and so I came up with the error analysis idea. I'm sure they were more interested in playing the game than doing the problems but if my whole point in playing games is motivation for doing math then...I guess...it kind of...worked.


I guess my whole point is that I can't go by my feelings but by the student reactions (and data of course) to decide if something is successful or not.

My other point is that I need to provide more opportunities for the students to create and be creative.

Let's make a list!

Error Analysis/Mistake Game - Have students or groups work a problem incorrectly or look at an incorrect problem and find/fix the error.

Story Time- Give students a math problem and ask them to create a word problem/scenario that goes with it. Could even include pictures, skit, etc.

Sorting- Give students problems of different types on index cards or small strips of paper. Have the students sort them into piles based on what they think to create problem 'families'. Have them draw/decorate/label a 'house' for that problem family to live in that explains what they have in common.

Relay- Sit students in rows with different color markers/pencils/crayons. The first person works the first step of the problem and passes it back. The next student works the next line, etc. First row with the correct work and solution wins. (Rotate who starts the problem each time so that they aren't constantly do the same step in every problem.)

Strip Search- Work the problem out on construction paper or card stock and cut into strips. Put in a ziplock baggie. Have students put the strips in the correct order and take a picture. Mess the strips up and rotate desks so that they have a new problem and take a new picture. Make a collage of the pictures and turn in for an 'alternative' assessment or make a poster.

Fill in the Blank- Work problems out and then white out or delete parts of it so that students have to fill in the blank without doing the entire problem.

Line Up- Give each student a card/strip with part of a worked out problem on it. Students have to line themselves up in the correct order of how to solve the problem but without talking.

I just made a bunch of those up but now I'm out of ideas...

Hope that helps cool someone's spring fever too. =)


  1. I like the error analysis idea - I may steal that one for my classroom. My students tend to want me just to give them formulas to write down, but I want to make them think about why math works the way it does instead of just feeding them formulas. This could be perfect for making them think!

    1. Be prepared for frustration and complaining when you try to make them think- they aren't used to it. Just keep finding activities that make them think and they'll start to get used to it. Don't give up on it- and you'll need to model how you want them to write the error. If you want a sentence, if you want them to correct it, if you want them to say what went wrong or what they should have done, etc. They aren't used to writing in math either!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I love the story-time idea - it would be awesome if the students could come up with their own stories afterwards, and swap so that they create questions for each others stories.