Elementary & Middle School Math Club Ideas And Activities: From Set Up To Running It
If you have always wanted to set up a math club but aren’t quite sure how to do it or what kind of math club activities you could use, then this blog should set you on the right path.
Packed with math club ideas, tips and tricks from a teacher with over 20 years experience, after reading this post you will be in good shape to start your own club in no time at all.
I-spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘l’.
Least common multiple perhaps?
Line of symmetry maybe?
Length of sides on a square?
No, it’s ‘line’.
I normally hate lines, but there’s one type of line I don’t mind and that’s the line of children outside my classroom waiting to get into my math club.
Every Wednesday it’s the same. Eager faces peering in bright-eyed and bushy tailed, waiting for the door to open.
So with this as your end goal…let’s dive in.
- What is a math club?
- Why should your elementary or middle school have a math club?
- Types of math clubs
- Favorite easy-to-run math club activities
- Ideas for math club resources
12 Math Club Games and Activities (Grades 3-5)
Download this free collection of games and activities that are a great way to make math enjoyable in an elementary school math club!
What is a math club?
A math club is a chance for everybody (not just the highest or lowest attainers) to have fun with math in an entirely non-judgmental, and ideally relatively free flowing environment. It can happen at any time of day outside every day classroom lessons.
At elementary school, and to a lesser extent middle school, math is a popular after school club. But you could equally hold it as a lunchtime math club or even before school. It should feel noticeably distinct from a math lesson and the math club activities you offer, should, wherever possible, be fun, or at the very least, engaging and possibly even surprising for children.
Why should your elementary or middle school have a math club?
Math clubs come in all shapes and sizes and there is no “one model” that works for every school. However, every school should have one.
This is because they help raise the profile of math within the school, increase the engagement of children in math and help show that math is a playful and diverse subject full of surprises.
Other benefits of a math club
Math clubs will also
- develop children’s knowledge and understanding of math
- strengthen the cross curricular links with math and other subjects
- provide children with opportunities to try new things
- help children apply their math skills to other ‘real-life’ math investigations
- celebrate the achievement of children
- fuel a can-do approach to math
- show children that math is multidimensional
- develop children’s mathematical reasoning
- promote collaborative learning between different grades
- develop math resilience
- boost self-confidence
- cultivate creativity
- help to raise standards
- increase parental engagement with math
Math clubs allow you to take off your curriculum straitjacket and work flexibly and creatively.
What sort of math club activities can you do?
When starting up a math club you should aim for as wide an appeal as possible, ideally across the whole school. You’ll be amazed at how many ideas for math club activities there are to choose from: math games, puzzles, quizzes, codebreaking, math investigations, math trails, general problem solving, blogging, podcasting and videoconferencing.
Where should you hold a math club?
A math club offers opportunities for more flexible learning. In an ideal setting, a classroom can be arranged in different ways to reflect different ways of learning. Children might work on their own, in pairs or small groups.
A room is needed where tables and chairs can be moved around freely. A math club should take place in a classroom where children can exercise a degree of control over and contribute to their learning environment.
Don’t just think ‘indoors’ either, as every math club worth its salt should be connecting with Mother Earth and the immediate environment outside.
Which students should attend a math club?
Math clubs are extracurricular activities that can be held before school, at lunchtimes or after school hours. There are lots of types of clubs too, and careful thought needs to be given as to whether they ‘fit your context’ or not in terms of your school’s vision and values.
A word of caution: some math clubs can send out the wrong messages even if they are ‘well-meaning’.
Some are not my type and may, because they can, typecast who attends based on erroneous and faulty classroom labels or they push particular children to do well at the expense of others.
Some use their math clubs as a ‘training grounds’ for annual math competitions and challenges, but in reality these are more like specialized math clinics. These clubs do little else but prepare children for the types of questions that may come up. I like these math challenges and I think they do serve a valuable purpose but a math club devoted to preparing for one?
I don’t think so.
Children have enough pressure without another layer added on top, and math isn’t about preparing for tests. For many, the reward is a photograph in a local newspaper with the headline ‘Math genius top of the class’, and while this might be good window dressing for a school, I’m really not sure what some children get out of it other than being on a challenge treadmill.
There are some excellent competitions to enter and schools should enter them but devoting a math club to the ‘big day’ isn’t for me.
Math clubs should be accessible to everyone
There are math clubs devoted to the ‘most able’, but the first thing to remember here is that math talent is fluid. All children are ‘able’ to do math. But if we create clubs for particular children we have labeled as more able, then we are creating and perpetuating more exclusivity.
Elementary and middle school math clubs should never be the territory of a few bright children.
I’ve seen schools where certain children get ‘invited’ to join a math club which immediately rings alarm bells.
Math is not ‘by invitation only’.
Math is for everyone and therefore elite clubs for the chosen few (who no doubt do display some math talents) drive a wedge through the school. This explains why some children fall into the learning pit and never get out of it because they doubt their math abilities and never start the process of aiming for greater depth in math.
Math clubs should be inclusive places where everyone can make a contribution and develop their growth mindset.
Children of all ages and abilities should be encouraged to join a math club in order to experience learning in different ways alongside children from different year groups. This helps children share ideas and strategies and cultivates their mathematical development.
A math club should be of interest and open to children of different ages, take into account different ability levels, and reflect different motivations for attending.
Feedback to the other teachers in your school from your math club
The activities I chose are formative in nature and so feedback is a big thing – I give it not just to the children but to their teachers as well.
This may sound burdensome but it doesn’t have to be.
Feedback to different teachers doesn’t have to be formal – it might be as simple as a quick chat in the teacher’s lounge to say how a student is doing. Besides which, my experience tells me that if children have enjoyed their time in math club then they readily share what happened with their teacher.
Invite teachers to join the club!
It’s also important to invite classroom teachers to spend at least one session or part of a session to drop in and see what math is taking place. Children love to see that their own teachers are taking an interest even for just a few snatched minutes.
Math clubs are an opportunity to learn
Math clubs are like any other lesson – you’ve got to make every second count so they need some intelligent planning and careful thought.
They should provide opportunities for children to do work that:
- is high in challenge but low in anxiety
- allows children to control their own learning
- allows children to learn in different ways
- supports learning within and outside the school
Understanding is far too complex to be evaluated satisfactorily by any one type of activity, and this is why a range of techniques are needed to probe children’s understanding of math.
Narrow strategies will only provide a limited measure of understanding and so to promote high quality learning, miscellaneous activities are needed.
An emphasis on investigative, problem solving and exploratory approaches will allow students to demonstrate the depth of their knowledge, skills and understanding.
Successful math clubs will ultimately depend on the types of activity you select.
Types of math clubs
For me, math clubs aren’t frivolous or pretentious but valuable opportunities to do some real active math. I’ve created math clubs with a heavy emphasis on problem-solving and investigations but clubs that I’ve set up with a wider math curriculum, that adopt a more broad brush approach, tend to be more wide-ranging and creative.
I like to vary the input and use a range of ‘assessment for learning’ activities that enable me to work responsively and help children upgrade their knowledge and understanding.
Favorite easy-to-run math club activities
The variety of easy to run math club activities you could introduce is endless. Here are some easy to run ideas to get you started, and more specific ideas follow below.
- Math puzzles
- Math games
- Math magic
- Math art
- Math card games
- Math dice games
- Math board games
- Math tricks
- Video conferencing with a mathematician
- Making a math video or podcast
- Math songs (great for learning times tables)
- Math poems
- Math jokes
- Math trails or treasure hunts (see outdoor math)
- Math competitions
1. Games should be central to your math club
Math club games are an integral part of children’s practical math experience. They provide a motivating context for children to explore concepts, develop subject knowledge, improve problem-solving and enjoy math.
Games are also ideal talking frames for you to formatively assess children’s mental strategies and general math well-being. They provide children with opportunities to think creatively, interpret instructions, use math vocabulary, develop social skills and develop confidence and self-esteem.
2. Offline math games, only if possible!
It’s easy to find an exciting game online and let children sit and play with it for 30 minutes or more but this is lazy math that just fills the time. You should ensure that most of your math club ideas are offline!
This enables the children who come to the club to be active and roll up their sleeves – math in the form of computer games is sedentary math. There are of course some superb math activities to be found online and using these now and again is perfectly acceptable, but there are plenty of low-tech options available that can make learning more tangible.
My math motto is: “if it’s hands-on then it’s minds-on,” so I always aim for practical math club ideas where possible.
Many math clubs use novelty or recreational math as a way of exciting and capturing the interest of children. Informal ‘playful’ math activities are wealthy sources of enhancement and enrichment and provide excellent material for math clubs.
Looking for fun games to boost students’ learning? We’ve got several articles sharing teacher approved math activities and fun math games, including elementary school math games, 1st grade math games and 8th grade math games for all math topics and a set of 35 multiplication games you’ll want to bookmark whichever grade you teach!
3. Dazzling Maths Club Idea! A Head Full of Numbers
Challenges that promote the magic of numbers will encourage children to pursue math as a fun activity, and number tricks are always an excellent way of inspiring children.
This number trick is quite a winner and when practiced can be performed with real finesse and flair.
How to impress the children with your memory and mind reading skills
- Give children a copy of the grid above and tell them that you have memorized every single number in the table.
- Point out that there are 49 key numbers that are in bold and under each bold number is a seven digit number.
- Without looking at a copy of the table yourself, ask one of the children to choose a number in bold and confidently declare that you will be able to recall the number underneath.
- For example, if the number 41 was chosen, slowly reveal each of the numbers but remember to add plenty of performance and theatricals such as, ‘The first number is coming to me, I can see it now, it’s a prime number, it’s an even number, it’s the number 2!’
- Then go on to say and write down the other numbers, ‘My mental powers are weak but I think the next number is also a prime number. I think it’s the square root of 25…It’s the number five!’ A hearty measure of stagecraft will add more impact to your routine!
- Repeat this for several other circled numbers as children try to work out how you can recall all the numbers so readily. Then it is time to tell the children how it’s done and let them have a go with a partner after they have learnt the trick…
How this magic math works…
There is of course a way to work out that magic number.
- Add 11 to the chosen circled number.
- Reverse the result.
- Keep on adding the two previous numbers, leaving out the ‘tens’.
- Write down the number and say it aloud in true magician style!
For example, say the circled number 14 is selected, you want to make 5279651. To do that, follow the steps below:
- Add 11 to get 25.
- Reverse 25 to get 52.
- Add 5 and 2 to get 7,
- Add 2 and 7 to get 9,
- Add 7 and 9 to get 16 (ignore the 1 in 16 and just write down the 6 next),
- Add 9 and 6 to get 15 (again ignore the 1 in 15 and just write down the 5),
- Add 6 and 5 to get 11 (ignore one of the number 1s and write down the other 1)
- Say the number, 5279651
Teacher hack – you will find this easier if you write it down on a whiteboard as you do it!
When you have tried a few of the tricks together, give children time to explore each one and practice. They can then prepare demonstrations of the tricks to perform to you and the rest of the class.
4. Practical math club idea: get crafty!
Beyond games, ‘anything goes’ in a math club because you are not constrained by any specific curriculum. These are a few I like:
a) making a Mobius strip
b) trying the stepping through paper technique
c) Creating George Hart math-art sculptures
5. Inspirational math club idea: math heroes
One idea worth running with is using a session or two devoted to ‘Math Maestroes’ and learning more about trailblazing mathematicians from the past. This year is the perfect time to look at the role women have played in math and children can research female mathematicians such as Ada Lovelace, Emmy Noether and Sofia Kovalevskaya.
Finding out more about some of the finest math figures from around the world make superb personal learning projects for children to get their teeth into.
Math club ideas don’t always have to be based around the numbers. Worksheets and activities around popular celebrities are always going to be popular, so incorporate them in when you can!
Ideas for math club resources
Collecting and inventing your own resources is something that takes time and over the years there will be plenty you can feed into a math club. Keeping everything in one place is the biggest challenge!
If you don’t have many resources to hand or you don’t fancy reinventing the wheel, then there are other ready resources that you can sign up for or buy into.
One website that offers free math club materials is Education.com. It offers materials for K-8th grade, including lesson plans, math games, hands-on activities, song videos and more. There may be organizations in your state and area that offer free math club materials.
There are plenty of companies that offer paid-for after school math club activities. These clubs are certainly worth considering for short bursts of after-school math over a semester but for me, you cannot beat having a school staff member lead their own club through the year.
A math club is a fixture for the whole academic year and is best led by staff that know children who can chart their progress and development.
Fun fun fun, the most important part about a math club
It’s tempting to say math clubs are ‘fun’ (and they should be), but let children decide that for themselves. If they aren’t enjoying themselves then they aren’t having fun- and you need to change direction and ‘gamble’ with new activities.
Math clubs can be a fantastic way to help bring math to life for some of the students in your school, so if you are looking for that magic bullet that could make the difference in your school, it might just be a math club!
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The content in this article was originally written by a trained Ofsted inspector and a teacher John Dabell and has since been revised and adapted for US schools by elementary math teacher Christi Kulesza