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Story Problems:

M&M Mathtivities


Today's Snack: Take a guess what to have for snack after you do today's activity. Eat the M&M's! Once in a while, candy is dandy. Today, after you play with your food, you can - for once - eat it. Have those M&M's, and wash them down with a nice glass of cold milk!




M&M's | Paper plate | Several paper napkins

Zip-lock bag | Paper and markers to make a chart

Math-related read-aloud book, or any read-aloud book or recorded story



Everybody loves M&M's. You can use them as a great teaching tool with kids - and afterwards, they get to eat their "math homework."


Even though these aren't technically "story problems," these five activities require the students to listen, think and respond. That helps to build mathematical thinking.


Make sure that everybody washes and dries hands thoroughly, and sanitize the desk, table or counter surface before you do this activity.


With a larger group of students, you can make these into "stations" and rotate kids through with about 5 minutes at each station. For one or two kids, they can sit at the kitchen table and do these activities one after another.


1.      Estimate


In advance, count out and pour M&M's into a zip-lock bag. Keep the total secret. Show them the bag. Ask them to estimate how many M&M's are in the bag. This is not a guess - this is a calculated judgment using some form of math. Have them write down their estimates. Whoever comes closest can explain what math skills he or she used, to the other students. Or you can explain strategies such as counting by rows and multiplying by height and depth.


2.      Sorting


Pour out all the M&M's into a paper plate in front of each child. Try to make the count even, but don't worry if they vary a bit. Have the students sort the M&M's by color. If there's a group, add the totals for each color. But keep each student's M&M's on their separate plate - you don't want to spread germs. Then use the paper and markers to make a bar chart, either for each student, or for the group as a whole. On the vertical grid, put numbers, perhaps marking by 5's if you have a lot of M&M's. On the horizontal grid, write the colors, such as brown, green, red, yellow, etc. Then draw a bar that shows how many of each color the students counted. Use a marker for each bar that matches the color of the candy.


3.      Math Facts


Have the students push all their M&M's to one side. On the empty side, they are to pick up M&M's to complete the math tasks that you give them. The first one to complete the task and yell out the answer gets a point. For example:


3 brown + 2 yellow (the answer is 5)

8 red - 4 orange (the answer is 4)

If students have had multiplication or division in school, you can make simple problems for those math skills as well


This helps the students concentrate and listen so that they can accomplish the math task. The whole point of "manipulatives," like M&M's, is to help students transfer from real-world, concrete objects such as candies, into the mental, abstract world of thinking, preparing them for the more complex and totally symbolic math coming up in later grade school and middle school.


4.      Number Recognition


With a marker, write a number under 10, or a simple math problem that is age-appropriate (1 + 1 . . . or 4 x 6) on each of several napkins. Lay the napkins out in front of the students. They are to look at the number or the math problem on each napkin, and put the correct number of M&M's on the napkin. For groups, do this on a round-robin basis. When everybody has done one napkin, empty the M&M's back onto their plate, and pass the napkin to the next student.


5.      Patterns and Shapes


Challenge the students to make a mathematical pattern on their paper plate, using their M&M's. For example, you could have three browns, two reds, one orange, one yellow, two blues and three greens. They can use all or just part of their M&M's to make a pattern, and then start over and make a new pattern. They also could move their M&M's on the plate into shapes - either math shapes such as squares, rectangles and triangles, or they could make a dog, a person, a beach scene, or whatever they would like.


When you're done with these Mathtivities, it's fun to give each student a glass of cold milk and let them eat their M&M's while listening to a math-related read-aloud book, a story on tape, or any other story you'd like to read.


By Susan Darst Williams Math 2012

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