Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tips to Challenge High Achievers in Math

Hi everyone!  It’s Susan Morrow from the Keep ‘em Thinking blog. As a gifted coordinator, one of my responsibilities is to help general education teachers differentiate for high achievers in their classroom, so today I’m going to share with you some tried and true activities to help you meet the needs of high achievers in math. 
 Our role is to prepare our students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.  Too many times we’re too focused on the content at the expense of the thinking.  For example, many teachers think that students in second grade who already know their addition and subtraction facts are ready to move on to multiplication.  While I feel subject acceleration is appropriate for some students, I believe it is more important to increase the depth and complexity of the grade level content rather than teach above grade level content. 
By depth and complexity, I mean to increase the intellectual demand.   Provide opportunities for your students to apply what they have learned in situations that require them to analyze, evaluate, and create.  

Okay, enough of the soapbox.  What does increasing intellectual demand actually look like in a classroom?  Let’s say you have a group of students who have already mastered their addition and subtraction facts.  What can you do?  Let’s have them use some algebraic reasoning! Give them addition problems with missing addends, minuends, and/or subtrahends and have them figure out their value.  Once they have mastered that, have them create their own problems.  Here is an example of some task cards I created that are great for second graders at the beginning of the year:
These cards really require the kiddos to think and analyze.  You don't have to use cards like these.  You can make your own and substitute geometric shapes for the clip art.
If you’re teaching money, how about having the students complete some logic puzzles using money?  This is an example of a money logic puzzle I created for second graders.  These logic puzzles require the kiddos to analyze and use deductive reasoning to figure out the solution.  You can download a free set of money logic puzzles by clicking on the picture OR here:  MONEY LOGIC PUZZLES

Another activity I created for second graders was mystery money puzzlers.  Students are given clues to the amount of money in a pocket, and they have to figure out the amount.  They are a great activity to place in a math center.  My kiddoes LOVED this activity so much that they took them home for their parents to do.  I knew this activity was a hit when some of the kiddos started creating their own puzzles. 

Kids love math riddles.  You don't have to use them just for money.  Here is an example of some math riddles I have used successfully with my students:

1.   I am a 2-digit number.  You say my name when you count by 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s.  The sum of my numbers is 12.  What number am I?  48
2.  I am a 2- digit number.  You say my name when you count by 2’s and 4’s.  The difference of my numbers is 1.  What number am I?  32
Give your high achievers word problems and multiple step problems.  They are learning the same content and skills, but you just increased the intellectual demand.  I also love to have my kiddos write mathematical fairy tales.   It is a wonderful opportunity to integrate writing into the math curriculum.  Here is an example of a fairy tale using money which was written by one of my second graders. 

Lastly,  I want to share with you a fun activity you can use with your kiddos. Have the student select a beginning number and an ending number.  They then use ten steps with addition and subtraction to get to the target number.  Here is an example of the challenge:

Here is how one student completed the challenge. 
What I love about this activity is that there is no one right answer!  There are so many different way to complete the task.  I think that is especially good with math because most of our kiddos think there should be one right answer to any problem.

Our high achievers often make straight A’s with little or no effort.  If we want to teach them the relationship between effort and achievement, we must provide them with challenging learning experiences.  High achievers get excited with challenge, but if the work is too easy or something they can master quickly, they become bored, develop poor study habits, and can be discipline problems. 

I hope you find these activities beneficial and incorporate a few into your math curriculum this year.  Next month I plan to give you some great ideas to differentiate for high achievers in language arts.  Until next time, remember to always Keep ‘em Thinking!


  1. Thanks for sharing - all of these are great ideas and easy to implement in!

  2. I love these challenging activities. Do you sell these products?

  3. Love, love, love your ideas! Totally agree- acceleration isn't for everyone. Students do need to be challenged by increasing the depth and complexity of the grade level curriculum. I am looking forward to your next newsletter.