Building Enduring Mathematical Understanding, one lesson at a time.

msSunFun: Musical Math Partners

One of the “math games” we play in my classes that I would like to share for

is “Musical Math Partners.”

It is quite flexible, gets kids out of their seats, and gives students an opportunity to use mental math skills.


Each student receives some sort of “card” depending on the topic of the day.

Some sort of “path” is designed for students to travel around the room without too many “log jams.”
Here is a diagram of how I make it work in my room:

Students follow a path around a “row” of four pairs of desks, but at the end of the row they may choose to turn either left or right and continue around that “row.” (Even though there are two arrows in the diagram, students are single file when walking between the desks.)

As the teacher plays their choice of music, students “travel” around the path – usually only 10-15 seconds. Once the music stops, students take a seat in the nearest desk and become “partners” with the person in the adjacent seat. (If you have more desks than students, you might want to identify some of the desks as “out of the game.” As it is, you will often have students that must continue to “travel” after the music stops in order to find a partner. If you have an odd number of students, the “leftover” person becomes partners with the teacher.)

Students “do the math” (more details below) – usually trying to finish more quickly than the other person – followed by a short debriefing regarding how they solved the problem, and then they trade cards so that they have different experiences with each new partner.

Possibilities. . .
The possibilities are only limited by your imagination / ingenuity. πŸ™‚

Integer Operations
Each person holds a card with an integer. (A deck of playing cards work well for this: black = positive and red = negative.) When the music stops, the teacher randomly flips an operation card and students perform the operation from “left card” to “right card.” (I would only recommend division if you are interested in also focusing on fractions and mixed numbers.)

Fraction/Decimal Operations
Similar to the Integer Operations, only cards have fractions (or decimals.) I am fairly certain I would not include multiplication if decimals were involved, unless they were single digits. πŸ™‚ For subtraction, if students are not yet familiar with negative numbers, students can subtract the lesser value from the greater one.

Fraction/Decimal/Percent Comparisons
Each student has a card containing a number. (You could do all fractions, all decimals, or a mix.) When the music stops, students race to decide which value is greater.

Evaluating Algebraic Expressions
Each student has a card containing two pieces of information: an algebraic expression (as simple or complex as you wish) and a numerical value (also as simple or complex as you wish – including negatives, decimals, or fractions – but remember the goal is for students to evaluate fairly quickly.) When the music stops, students must evaluate the expression of the left card by the number on the right card and then vice versa.

Operations on Algebraic Expressions
Each student has a card with an algebraic expressions. When the music stops, teacher randomly selects add or subtract and students perform the operation from left to right. If the expressions are binomials, multiplication could also be included. (I am not sure I want students multiplying trinomials using mental math.)

Solving Linear Equations
Two options using cards throw the previous two “games” if the expressions are fairly simple.
Option 1: For the cards that have the expression and the number, students set the left expression equal to the number on the right card and solve, then switch to number on the left equal to expression on the right.
Option 2: For the cards that all have algebraic expressions, students set the two expressions equal and solve. (This would work best if the expressions were fairly simple, but again, it is up to the teacher depending on the level of students and the current unit of study.)

Measures of Center and Spread
Each student has a card containing a fairly small data set. When the music stops, the two data sets are combined, and students are to find median, mode, and range. Depending on the size of the sets and the values, you could also have students find mean or the quartiles and interquartile range.

Plotting Points
Each student has a card with an integer and each desk pair contains a coordinate grid. When the music stops, students point to the location on the coordinate grid (of course, the left card is x coordinate, and the right card is y coordinate.)

Pythagorean Theorem
Each student has a card with a value representing a side of a right triangle. When the music stops, the teacher either chooses “two legs” or “hypotenuse and leg.” Students find the remaining side. (Since relatively small values should be chosen in order for students to compute mentally, there would be some duplication. If students with equal values became partners, the second option could provide some interesting discussion!)

Distance on a Coordinate Plane
Each student has a card containing the coordinates of a point. When the music stops, student locate the two points and find the distance between them.

That’s about all for now. Feel free to add more ideas in the Comments. This is certainly an activity to use only after students have a fairly strong understanding of the concepts used in the tasks. Teachers need to be careful when choosing the values / expressions on the cards so that mental calculation is fairly accessible.


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4 thoughts on “msSunFun: Musical Math Partners

  1. Pingback: Favorite Math Class Games – MS Sunday Funday | I Speak Math

  2. I love the musical chairs aspect of this game! How fun and it’s great that they get a new “random” partner each time. Plus, I think that the music will be a great break and “pump them up” between problem sets. Also, thank you for including so many great ideas of different games at the end. Wonderful post! πŸ™‚

    • Thanks πŸ™‚ My sixth graders really enjoyed it. I haven’t yet tried it with eighth graders, but this year I do have some of the same students I had two years ago and I’m sure they will remember it πŸ™‚

      Sent from my iPad

  3. Pingback: Round Up of Week Four of the Math Blogging Initiation « Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere

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