I'm very excited to bring you this guest post from Mandy at Math Dyal. I so admire Mandy for her creativity, her work ethic and her ability to reach students who are afraid of math. Here is a photo I stole from Mandy's Facebook page:

Her students love her! She's one of those teachers who just knows how to get through to kids because she listens to them and allows herself to learn from them. So without any more gushing, here is Mandy's guest post on self-checking middle school math activities:

A few years ago, I had a student named Cara (care-a). She was one of those dream students who did all her work and loved to participate in class, so I would call on her a lot.

*“Cara, what would the next step in this problem be?”*

*“Cara, can you find the error in this students’ work?”*

And then in April, she told me, “It’s actually Cara (car-a).” She said that she felt bad correcting me, so she didn’t. But I had been pronouncing her name wrong for nine months, so almost every time I called on her during the last two months of school, I still got it wrong. I had practiced it incorrectly so many times, that it was ingrained in my brain as “Care-a.”

I think about Cara a lot when I plan instruction because it’s so hard to make a change after you have practiced something wrong. If students are given a work sheet with 20 equations to solve, and they solve them all wrong, it’s much harder for me to correct than if they only do a few wrong. Of course, there is still value in making mistake and correcting those mistakes, but I don’t want students taking off like a runaway train, practicing incorrectly too many times. I love to use self-checking activities so that students know right away if they are making a mistake and when to ask for help.

One of the easiest ways to make anything self-checking is to make an answer bank on the board. I will always throw in a few extra numbers so that students aren’t just guessing. Sometimes I make a PowerPoint slide to display while they work and somethings I will just write them on the board.

I absolutely love puzzles, and my students are always asking for more of them when it’s time to practice. Not only do I love the collaborative nature of this activity, but the fact that they have to find their answer on a puzzle piece before moving forward. Of course, with any self-checking activity, they may find what they think is the right answer but is actually an answer to a different problem, but they can even self-correct this with a puzzle because the pieces will not fit together correctly to form the right shape. Plus I love the conversations students have when they are working with peers on these puzzles. If you teach Pythagorean Theorem, try out this free puzzle.

My coloring activities have a build-in answer bank that ties in some coloring fun. My idea for these came from the answer banks I used to write on the board, and I just found a prettier way to display them, and give students a chance to be creative too. Students get to choose their own colors, so each final product is unique, and they make great displays.

Scavenger Hunts are another go-to resource when I want something self checking with some movement too. These are easy to hand-write on the fly and post around the room, with answers at the top and the new problem at the board. Again, students know they are making an error when they don’t find their answer, and either re-check their work or ask for help.

My newest favorite activity are these dominoes. I have found such a difference between giving my class practice problems from a workbook and giving them an activity like this. They solve the problem and then find the answer, match it, and it leads them to the next problem. They continue around until they find the end. These are just the right size for writing on if you print one-per-page and fit perfectly around a page of an interactive notebook if you print two-per-page. These fun dominoes are also a freebie in my store!

One of our biggest challenges as math teachers is building the confidence students need to be successful. A lot of students just carry a cloud of doubt over their heads when they are working out math problems, but when I use self-checking activities, I see their confidence grow as they celebrate each answer they get correct. They are also gaining independence because I’m not the only gatekeeper of the right answers, they have access to them. It frees up my time to help with the students who really need my attention and allows my students to move forward with confidence that they are getting the answers right.

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