Some students are below grade level, some are gifted and talented. Sound familiar? As a teacher, your strive to bring all students to their full potential. You’ll need some engaging math strategies for upper elementary students. Have you heard of Project Based Learning activities? Obviously you hate implementing the same old worksheets. And worksheets aren’t always the best option for your students. If you are bored with the lesson, your students are as well. Math can be a difficult subject to keep students engaged during, especially in upper elementary. Now as an educational consultant and curriculum writer, I am able to take the time to work with teachers to create unique lessons that fit their classroom needs. Here is my guide to math strategies to support upper elementary students.

1. Math Games

Are you looking for math strategies to bring up your students’ engagement in elementary school? Math games are 100% the way to go! There is a direct correlation between achievement and student engagement levels. Math games don’t just have to be for substitute teachers or Fun Friday’s anymore. You know the student with high frustration who gives up during math worksheets? Next thing you know, that same student may surprise you with natural growth mindset during a playing card based math game. There are multiple strategies you can use to ensure the greatest success when implementing game based learning for your students.

  • Use assessment sheets during math games – you still get the written work demonstrating your students’ understanding.
  • Have students work in partner groups – leveling off students strategically with partners of different levels. Teach students how to directly work with one another, and model what collaboration looks like prior to playing.
  • Have students moving out of their seats! Using Total Physical Response helps students to retain new information.

2. Project Based Learning Activities

If you have not taught PBL (Project Based Learning), start now! After reading articles about implementation, I noticed many of them suggest PBL replaces your daily math instruction. If you’re not lucky enough to have a school that lets you stray from district-approved curriculum for the majority of the year, don’t worry. I implemented PBL after completing chapters and end of the school year. After I taught the GATE cluster, I discovered my new teaching philosophy…ALL STUDENTS SHOULD HAVE ACCESS TO ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES. Obviously, written in all caps to emphasize how strongly I feel about this! PBL is NOT just for gifted students. PBL is one of my favorite math engagement strategies for elementary school students of all levels. Check out ideas for end of the year project based learning activities here.

  • Find a project you know your students will be engaged in. Importantly, this should be a FUN project for them to complete, especially if they will be working on it for a lengthy period of time.
  • Find a project that can be easily differentiated amongst multiple groups of students.
  • Talk about the project whole class to keep engagement high. While you are starting a PBL activity about planning a fundraiser, ask the students questions prior to beginning the project. What do they think it would take to plan their own fundraiser? How do they think math could be involved? What types of fundraisers would they host? What charity would they like to donate to?

3. Real World Math Applications

This is the distant cousin of Project Based Learning. If you don’t have the time to have your students complete an entire project, you still can have them make real world connections to math. By upper elementary, your students may start asking the tough questions: “Will I ever need to know this?” Without a doubt, yourjob as a teacher is to show your students WHY learning is important and how it relates to the real world.

  • Have the students write their own math problems using real examples.
  • Look around the room and have students identify fractions. What fraction represents how many students have a red shirt on? What is the difference between how many students have a red shirt on and the students whose name’s start with the letter D?
  • Give the students a fake $100. Bring advertisements to school and let them go on a shopping spree for them and a friend.