This morning…

   …I woke up and it was windy and cold outside. Even though I live in Charleston, SC, the weather has been pretty bad for the last few weeks and it’s been challenging to get outside. I teach all afternoon and truthfully I’m just not into it today! All I want to do is stay in pajamas, read a book, drink hot cocoa and get through the doldrums. (ok who’s kidding herself, I usually stay in pajamas. I teach from home!! Why get dressed every day!?!)
Feeling this way makes me realize, though, that the students must be feeling something very similar. They just want to sit around comfortable, cozy, and talk to their friends. Sludging through math problems is like walking through cold mud. Focusing on a new lesson takes feats of brainpower their bodies don’t have enough sunshine to muster.
In times like this, or especially at the end of a very long week, I give my students a serious break and ramp up the game time. I know we have a precious few days with them each year; giving one up can cause panic in the way of staying on track. But, sacrificing just an hour can turn a sea of black video screens into a group of giggling, wildly engaged, alive students. The boost to your energy alone is worth it, but hearing their happy voices the following Monday is priceless to me.
Here are some of the math games we play:


Seems like a complete waste of time, right? Wrong! I literally played this one week because I was so tired I could not even handle coming up with a great math game and explaining the rules, lol. I mean seriously, I was totally phoning it in. And, to my surprise, it is the number one requested game from students AND they remember the definitions! Over time, I’ve turned it from a slacker of a game into a pretty decent math activity with some packed-in vocabulary work.
This game is done entirely in Zoom Whiteboard. In fact, all my direct lessons are in Zoom Whiteboard too. If you want to read how I use technology to run my class, you can read my article here.
First, you have to ramp them up to challenge each other. You start with a word that you know is relevant to what they are learning but they usually don’t remember as a term. Create your typical hangman on Zoom Whiteboard, seen here. Yes, it’s that simple–just regular hangman. And the worse your drawing is, the funnier the game gets.
Then, have them guess letters in the alphabet. If the letter belongs in the word, write it in. If it doesn’t, write it on the side and place a body part on the hangman. Now here’s where you can get creative. You can require that they only use quadrilaterals to draw the hanged man.
Or, you can have them create only obtuse angles or acute angles, and still try to make it look like a person! Or, if you’re not feeling it mathematically, you can take requests and draw ridiculous combinations of things. One student asked me to draw an Ant-Man and instead of the superhero, I drew a half ant, half-man. Again I say…the worse your drawings are, the better and funnier the class gets. The person who guesses correctly gets to go next!


This one is fun to play as an ice breaker the first week of class; when I do this, I do two truths and a lie about themselves which is the typical way of playing. Students create three sentences that have information about themselves. Two of them are true sentences and one of them is a lie. Other students in the class have to figure out which one is the lie. The person who figures it out gets to go next.
For math, I simply say that the sentences have to be about mathematics. I give them my own two truths and a lie as an example. Here are some that I use. You can see that I’m sneaking in vocabulary work again:
  • All parallelograms are quadrilaterals.
  • All polygons are quadrilaterals.
  • All trapezoids are quadrilaterals.
  • Cubes have 6 faces.
  • Cubes have 12 vertices.
  • Cubes have 12 edges.


Dots and Boxes has a steady core set of rules and then lots of “house rule” variations. The steady foundation rules are very well explained on this Wikipedia page. They have examples and pictures.
To make it a bit more challenging, I add the house rule that multiple spaces can be captured simultaneously. This is sort of merging the game “Go” with Dots and Boxes.
In this version, students start the same way they usually do. The page is filled with dots and they each pick a color on the Zoom Whiteboard. Just like normal, they connect dots with one line at a time, taking turns. If a single square becomes available to capture, the person who captures doesn’t put their initials inside. Instead, they place the number “1”, for one box.
However, if long chains of single lines travel across the board, this version allows players to take advantage of different strategies to capture the entire chain, rather than figure out who should capture the first box. In this version, if you see that your opponent has started a chain of boxes, you can instead close the entire loop. You place the number of boxes you captured all in one go.
When the board is filled, students add up their captured points.
So, how do you get through a math class when you’re too exhausted to think?