Building Enduring Mathematical Understanding, one lesson at a time.

Made 4 Math Monday: Student Magnets

I use magnets (about 3/4″ diameter, 1/4″ thick) for a variety of activities in class. Originally, I had one set labeled with colored/numbered sticky dots (each student is assigned a color and number to determine seating assignments) but last year I had students design their own. They really seemed to claim ownership and enjoy activities more, so I will repeat that this year, even though I will have to purchase more magnets to do so 🙂 (I believe I found them at Michael’s before, and I have a 40% off coupon!) One of the First Day/First Week activities involves decorating and “claiming” a magnet.

I store each class set on a magnetic mini-whiteboard and pull it out for the students to “find” their own each time we use them. Many of the activities are related to a “Math Greeting” I have as students enter the room. I only have pictures of a few that happen to still exist on my iPad. I hope you understand the others based on my descriptions.

Data Gathering
Data collection is a common use, whether it is regards to the students themselves:


These would be followed up by questions on slides relating to the data. I will often take a snapshot of each set of class data and the next day follow it up by having students compare and contrast the various classes. When data is gathered from an experiment, I will usually complete a few more trials to make the total a “nice” number for analyzing. (See the plain black magnets on the second image.)

Class Poll
Towards the end of a Unit, I will often make a list of the concepts we have studied and have students place their magnets on the concept they found most challenging. (Some students are adamant that there should be a “none” option, but I remind them that it doesn’t have to mean that they find it challenging anymore.) This gives me some feedback regarding where I should focus my review activities.
I have also used this idea by choosing a current concept and having students rate their understanding on a scale of 1-5. I am not thrilled with the outcome for a few reasons. Students tend to inflate their level of understanding due to the presence of other students (and other magnets,) and “level of understanding” often implies “I can do it” rather than “I understand.”

Number Line Plots
I have draw a very long number line on the board, often with values marked only at the ends and equal intervals between the endpoints. Students “draw a card from a bucket,” pick up their magnet, plot the point with their magnet, and attach the card “label” by sticking the corner under the magnet with the value still showing. The values on the cards can vary, depending on what we are studying: decimals, fractions, mathematical expressions, square roots to estimate. . .
As a class we analyze the number locations. Students have the opportunity to move their own magnet if/when they recognize errors in their thinking, and also recommend changing the placement of other magnets they feel are inaccurate.

Coordinate Plane Plots
One option is similar the the activity described above, but the cards contain ordered pairs for students to plot. This is just for practicing accuracy with plotting. Class discussion follows.

Another option involves drawing 2-4 sets of axes (different colors) on the board with a different rule written above each one. The card drawn will indicate the color and the x value. Students will plot “their” point and record the value in a table. After a class discussion for accuracy, follow-up question on a slide will provide opportunities for more analysis and comparison.

A third option arises when looking at bivariate data. Class scatter plots can be created based on students data or based on student opinions (on a scale of -10 to 10, chocolate on the x-axis and vanilla on the y-axis – or whatever “variables” you want to investigate.) Again, follow-up questions provide opportunity for analysis.

Magnet Relays

The class is divided into 3-4 teams, lined up behind an imaginary “exchange zone” line. Each player has their own magnet (with an extra magnet for someone to go twice, in case the teams aren’t even.) Each team is assigned an area on the board that may include a number line or a coordinate plane. A stack of cards (one per relay “leg”) is on the tray at the whiteboard. On “go” the first person goes to the board, picks up the top card and plots the point (similar to the activities described above.) When they are done, they tag the next player, who takes the next card. .. etc. Only “you” can move your own magnet. If you see a teammate make an error, you can help them change their location, but only verbally. Only ONE person at the board for your team at a time, so if you plan to move your magnet, it must be “between” two of your teammates. There is a 30 second penalty for each incorrect location, so you are better off helping fix the error before the end of the race. Once your team is done, ALL hands are raised to signal your “finish.”

The Enduring Mathematical Understanding comes not as much from the participation in the activities, but in the follow-up discussion and analysis.


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6 thoughts on “Made 4 Math Monday: Student Magnets

  1. I’m digging the magnet idea, but as a male, needing more help. From your post, I learned I can find them at Michael’s, but what exactly are they called? How much will they cost? Exactly how did they decorate them? Feel free to laugh at me cause I don’t know. –not the craftiest guy in the world..aka a high school math teacher

    My idea for my Algebra 2 classes. As they walk in, each student gets a number on laminated stock card. This is their x value / independendent variable / input / domain value. On the board will be written a “function”. I say “function” because I will have to start with a verbal representation…double your number, then add 3. Eventually turning into y = 2x + 3…..then f(x) = 2x + 3 as the year goes on. I also envision this ramping up from linear to absolute value to quadratics to rational functions and possibly even cubics. An x and y axis will be on the whiteboard for them to graph their (x , y ) ordered pairs…..along with a table for them to fill in. This will probably be the trick to having all 20 involved. 10 plot points, 1o write in the table….which also allows them a partner to check themselves with. I also will have a recorder…someone who gets this in paper in detailed form, and doesn’t have to plot, or put a point in the table.

    At first I see this being simple, and abstract, without a ton of vocabulary…but eventually discussing domain, range, function families, tables, intercepts/roots/solutions/zeros, and window.

    In three years teaching this class, I find that my students struggle so much with the mental math computation, even though it’s something they can do. So yes, I am asking this to be done without the calculator.

    • Awesome ideas for the magnets! I’m glad it started your brain churning. I am just teaching Algebra and Math 8, but the point plotting idea still holds! It’s good when you can repeat it/modify it/build on it throughout the year 🙂 You can also have three different function rules/graphs if you want them all to plot. (30 points on one graph would be overkill!)

      The magnets are 3/4″ diameter and come in a pack of 50 for $6.99 at Michael’s – or $1.99 for 8, hmmmm, you do the math 🙂 (They might be available at other crafty stores as well? ) Michael’s ALWAYS has coupons going on, but you can get a discount for being a teacher every day. The “magnet section” is not very large or noticeable, so you might need to ask. I went in last week and they were out, but willing to “special order” for me – and they will show up in less than a week.

      I had a package of 3/4″ (how convenient!) white stickers. (I think those were from the Dollar Store – 510 lasts as loooong time.) They used the thin markers to “decorate” with either their initials or a design that they know is “theirs.” In my first year of doing this I just used a “generic class set” labeled with colors and numbers (a whole ‘nother post) or you can just leave them black if you want.

      Mental Math – yes! I would rather they put it in the wrong place (great fodder for class discussion) than use a calculator for this. (I am not anti-calculator, but pro-mental math when appropriate.)

      Thanks for the comment. Hope this helps!

      Sent from my iPad

      • Thanks for the quick response. In my two years at my current school, I’m yet to have a class bigger than 20….(you can hate me now)…and we actually have more Algebra 2 sections this year, so they may even be smaller. I’m still figuring out the best way to have all “20” actively processing the information and checking for correct-ness. I did go pick up some magnets as well.

      • No hate here – just a bit of jealousy. Actually, I taught at an alternative high school for 5 years and never had over 20 in a class – but I did have three (or four) preps and only taught three periods!

        Have fun with the magnets 🙂

        Sent from my iPad

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