Math Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunts Are Fun!

Last week we kicked off our Friday program by meeting for a math scavenger hunt outside. Scavenger hunts are a great way to review content, make math problems more fun, and integrate reading/literacy skills with other subjects. In this case, I made the scavenger hunt clues independent of the math solutions so that kids could get to the next problem even if they couldn’t answer the math problem they were given. The math problems given were aligned to Virginia SOL standards. A list of the standards and the math worksheets are given below. This hunt could be used as an end of year review, as it covers many different standards. You could create a hunt for just one unit of study, or even just one math standard. The best part is, the kids are moving around, which gives energy to their brain and makes the activity more exciting. Older students could create clues (rhyming or descriptive) and hide the math problems with the clues for their friends.

Before the scavenger hunt, we introduced ourselves to the group then exercised our brains and reviewed numbers by reading a great book called Numbers on the Move. It’s always good to review basic skills and get kids interacting with one another before starting an activity. I reviewed the alphabet code (a=1, b=2, c=3, etc.) and the concept of even and odd numbers. Then, we broke out into grade level groups to start the hunt.

Literacy was integrated because some answers required writing out a word, there was a code to solve using letters from the answers, and the clues were riddles. The clues are not attached here as they were site specific. Most of them relied on a rhyme to figure out where to go next.

I did make one mistake, which a parent caught for me. It has been fixed in the document below.

Math Scavenger Hunt April 24 2017

Virginia Math standards hit (not comprehensively covered):

  • K.1
  • K.4a
  • K.4c
  • K.6
  • K.9
  • K.10
  • K.11b
  • K.12
  • K.15
  • K.16
  • 2.1c
  • 2.21
  • 2.4a
  • 2.4c
  • 2.8
  • 2.12
  • 2.20
  • 2.21
  • 3.1a
  • 3.3a
  • 3.5

Conceptual learning for mathematics

Adding movement into math exercises makes the whole experience more fun and builds intuitive number sense. Jumping jacks or clapping or taking turns around a circle to say the next number are great exercises to do while reviewing counting, multiples, patterns, etc. Making math problem-solving more about learning how numbers (and shapes) work and less about finding the right answer can help take the pressure off. That’s why it is best to focus on teaching concepts and vocabulary not procedures or steps. Learning when to apply which procedure to what exact situation is much harder than learning how numbers work and how you can manipulate them across situations. A deep conceptual understanding is the foundation for sound problem-solving; it’s about knowing WHY you are doing what you are doing.

Rainy day science

Watching “rain” fall

Yesterday was a wet, gloomy day. As we were reading our Highlights Magazine, we found the perfect indoor activity about rain! It took less than 2 minutes to set up and only 5 minutes of our time total, but it gave me a chance to show how evaporation, condensation, and precipitation are related. After we finished, we went for a walk in the drizzle and talked about the water cycle a bit more. The activity didn’t have a huge wow factor, but it was so relevant to the situation and was super simple to set up. 

Rain Demonstration

Step 1: heat water

Step 2: fill a clear cup 1/3 full with warm water

Step 3: cover the cup with plastic wrap and tie it or put a rubber band around it to keep water vapor from escaping

Step 4: put a few ice cubes on top of the plastic wrap

Step 5: watch the “rain” drops form under the plastic wrap and then fall like rain while you talk about evaporation, condensation and precipitation

At the end, when I took the plastic off, all the water that had been condensing on the side of the cup suddenly fell. It looked like rainfall!

What they learned

  • When water gets warm, it starts to evaporate.
  • When small particles of water vapor meet cooler air, they start to gather and form condensation.
  • When enough condensation collects in the “atmosphere” of the cup, it becomes heavy enough to fall as precipitation.
  • Temperature affects the water cycle. 
  • Water has three forms (states): solid ice, gas/vapor and liquid
Water droplets condensing on the side of the cup
Water droplets forming at the top of the cup (our sky or atmosphere)

Mathematics of every day life

We’re already teaching our kids math at home!!

I found this helpful graphic on the everyday mathematics website of University of Chicago. What I learned from the graphic is that children develop their understanding of abstract ideas (such as a math sentence) through concrete, verbal and pictorial representations. What this means in practice is that teaching math through every day normal experiences with your children is a very good idea and may even be the best way to learn math! Let me give you an example.


My daughter is 5 years old. She doesn’t even realize we do math, but was very excited when I explained the graphic and talked her through our math experience of tonight.

Joelle wanted cookies after dinner. I told her to go ahead and bake three for herself and three for her brother. I asked her, how many total cookies are you going to bake? She counted it up and got to six.

She measured out the dough. We baked cookies. We distracted ourselves with something else while we waited. Beep beep! Cookies were ready. We let them cool. Then, Joelle ate her cookies… and her brother’s cookies too, because he didn’t want them.

At bedtime, I showed her this graphic and explained it to her, giving the cookies as an example.

You see, Joelle had a concrete connection to the cookies. She physically counted them out. She made two rows of three so she would remember whose cookies were whose. Good job grouping, Joelle! (3 for you, 3 for me)

She also had a verbal experience with the cookies, both when I asked her how many total she would make, and then later when I asked her how many she had made for each of them and how many total she ate. She thought she ate all of them, but I had one. I didn’t correct her.

In the morning, we will review the math sentence by creating a pictorial representation of the now famous six cookies.

Tonight, I already helped her write out the math sentence with number symbols, but we can do it again in the morning with our portrait of six delicious cookies.

If she were ready for it, I could have given her a multiplication problem by telling her to make three cookies two times, and then a division problem by asking her to divide her cookies by two people… or maybe a surprise third person who wanted cookies. (Daddy! We forgot him!)

Even if I hadn’t guided her to make the math sentence in symbols, she would have still been developing her understanding of how numbers are connected, how they work, what they represent, and how to manipulate them to figure out what you want to know. Mathematics of the real world, everyday* experience for the win!


*We do not eat cookies every day. I’m pretty sure.

Toothpick Engineering

Happy Spring Break!

The kids and I had a fun time with toothpick engineering today using modeling clay, toothpicks and this hilariously old school video as inspiration. I showed my 5 and 4 year old the video before we started, but you could pose the challenge to older kids without showing the video first. After we tried building tall, the kids just played around creatively with the toothpicks and clay and we talked about what their products looked like (a sea urchin and a spiky caterpillar). Interested in joining us on a regular basis next fall? Contact us at

What are they learning?

-Counting objects
-Creating or reproducing 3-D shapes
-Naming shapes
-Identifying which shapes make structures strong
-Using comparison/analogy to identify shared features of two objects

Challenge: build a tower that stands four toothpicks tall using only six toothpicks.

Building four toothpicks tall with just six toothpicks wasn’t very sturdy.
We used more toothpicks to create a more sturdy base.
Snack time and we kept on building.