Thursday, August 16, 2012

Math House Mystery

I have been going through all of my old files since I found out I would be teaching 5th and 6th grade math again this year.  I have only been teaching 7th and 8th for the last few years.  In the process, I found some activities I haven't used for quite a while because, honestly, they got buried, and I forgot about them!

Math House Mysteries were something I learned about at a NCTM regional conference YEARS ago.  The kids used to love them so I decided to update them a bit and use them again!  I thought I would post the information in case anyone else wanted to try it.

Math House Mysteries are similar to whole class logic puzzles.  You can create one to review any topics you want.  I currently have about five different ones.  Here is a link to one of them.

To play, each student is given a card (or more if necessary so that they are all used).  I put the blank chart on an overhead sheet and project it to the class.  I explain that these are four "houses" on a street and that as a class we have to fill in all the missing information about the families.  Each student has a piece of scrap paper, a pencil, and (maybe) a calculator.

I time them to see how long it takes to fill in the puzzle, and then I have them "compete" against other classes or even against themselves the next time we play.

There are "information" clues that need to be shared early and four "starter" clues that give a specific piece of information on the board.  The rest build on those four.  We talk about needing to get that information first.  The kids must raise their hands when they have a clue the class needs.  Someone else MUST use the information in their clue to fill in a box/boxes on the board.  They have to tell me exactly where the information goes on the board.  For example, "The family in house number 2 has a pet tarantula named Cylinder."

  • The students may not talk during the game (when not sharing their clues).  The only exception is to say "repeat".  I stress this rule because otherwise they tend to get very angry/loud with each other when there is a longer pause because someone doesn't immediately realize their clue is needed.  The class is given a 1 minute penalty for talking out of turn.
  • The student may not give an answer for the board obtained from their own clue.  Someone else must use their information. (2 minute penalty)
  • No guessing is allowed.  Clues must have been read aloud to support all answers given. (1 minute penalty)
If I have a class where one or two students tend to dominate the game, I add a rule that each student can only give 2/3 answers during the game.  I might give them two pieces of candy, and each time they give an answer, they can eat one.  When they are out of candy, they can't answer any more.  That sometimes leads to good strategy discussions afterwards when some of the stronger kids realize they should save their answers for some tougher parts.  I do allow those students to help if we get stuck.  For example they can't tell us that a family has a table 9 foot table, but they can tell the class "I know that 3 yards equals 9 feet."

We always have a discussion at the end about strategy.  They get better and better as the year goes on at working together.

It was difficult to put the directions into words so please let me know if you have any questions!  I hope someone is able to use this!


  1. Math House sounds great! Did you make up your own or get them from the conference? The one you've linked to doesn't quite match up with what I'd need for 6th grade, but I'd love to see other examples.

    Lately I've been teaching math to gifted 6th graders, and this year I'll have 4th graders as well. It has been many years since I've taught kids that young, so I'm in for an adjustment.

    You should put your Twitter name on your blog so that people can follow you there. I looked but couldn't find it! :-)

  2. Alisan, I did make up my own. The sample I received at the conference was geared for a lower grade, but it's not hard to put one together. I will try to get my other ones typed up when I get a little extra time =)

    Like you, I will have younger students this year. Now I will be teaching 5th-8th so I am going back through all my old stuff!

    My Twitter name is @lstolaski. I have not quite figured out how to add that button! LOL I am new to all of this. Thanks for reading and commenting!