Math Games: Five Steps to Zero

I recently got a copy of Success from the Start: Your First Years Teaching Secondary Mathematics. It’s an expensive book, but as first- and second-year teachres, a very valuable one.

One of my favorite sections is actually an appendix in the back, filled with math games. They’re all great ways to fill small bits of time in your classes, simultaneously building in your students a sense of mathematical agency, a feeling of urgency, a deeper number sense, and the idea that math can be fun. Without stepping on any copyright laws, I want to share some of those games with you. If you want more details, I recommend you buy the book!

Five Steps to Zero, as the name indicates, is a game in which, with five steps or less, students take a given number and try to get it to zero. To make this fun, there are restrictions, of course:

  • Students can use the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
  • Students can use any whole number, 1 through 9. They MAY NOT use zero, numbers larger than 9, or negatives.

For example, given 213, students might:

  1. Add 2:                       213 + 2 = 215
  2. Divide by 5:             215 ÷ 5 = 43
  3. Add 2:                      43 + 2 = 45
  4. Divide by 9:             45 ÷ 9 = 5
  5. Subtract 5:               5 – 5 = 0

Once students have played for a while, they might realize there are some tricks to it. As you play, you might think of good variations, as well!

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