Dear Barbara ...
I've created the Dear Barbara column as a way for subs to get answers to questions about any subbing topic or suggestions that may help you solve a specific problem in substitute teaching.

If you'd like to submit a question, please click here and be sure to include your name and home town. Answers to the best questions will be published here.

How Can I Make Math Class Fun?

Dear Barbara,

I just finished your book and LOVED it, particularly the specific dialogue examples from yourself and other teachers. I am a new substitute with no previous teaching experience. So far I have subbed for a High School History class and an English class, and five days in a 6th grade Math class. The five days in 6th grade were very difficult. The teacher left VERY basic things to do: bellwork, check homework, copy notes on the board, give new homework. The topic was adding and subtracting mixed numbers. I made a worksheet. I tried to make the example problems in the teacher's notes more realistic by turning the numbers into word problems using bars of chocolate. I even made a Bingo card using equations.

Any time I tried to make it fun and have the students solve to get to the answer, they didn't get it and started talking amongst themselves. By the third day, I learned the trick you mentioned in your book of writing a word on the board and reserving the last ten minutes of class for a game if there were still letters by the end of class. That seemed to work pretty well. I found that the students were still not interested in doing work. Upon handing out a worksheet, one girl said, "You mean we have to think?" For every worksheet I handed out, multiple kids said, "Do we have to do this?" I said yes, but didn't push them to do it. How does a sub make a math class fun and draw students in when they seem to have no interest in learning at all?

Thank you for sharing your experiences and being willing to give advice! You don't know how much of a God-send you are.

Chino Valley, AZ

Dear Stacy,

I want to welcome you into the Substitute Teaching community. Thank you for your kind words. I enjoyed your letter and I thought you showed some excellent insights into the problems that we face as Subs.

You showed initiative by making a worksheet, bingo game, and chocolate word problems. You may feel as if you weren't effective, but I'm sure you reached a few students. Sometimes we have to look for small victories! I'm glad you used the idea of writing a word on the board and erasing letters, then a reward if any letters are left. I use the word RECESS or FREE TIME. This little trick is usually very effective because some students police the others for you!

Other ideas:
1. When you give an assignment and students say, "Do we have to do this?" The answer is, "Yes, your teacher said this counts for a grade."
2. Start the Math class with a quick warm up activity that is appropriate for the grade level. This will get the group focused. An example: "Choose a number. Double it. Multiply the sum by 5. Remove the 0. The answer will be your original number."
3. Start doing the work together as a group. Ask one student to work out the problem on the board as a demonstration. Do one or two problems like this, and then go to independent work.
4. Give a reward to students who are working quietly. Find some inexpensive items at the Dollar Store (pencils, pads, erasers) to give out. If the school allows candy or cookies, pass them out to well- behaved students.

Good luck and keep on subbing!

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