Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers


November 23, 2022

There are countless ways (no pun intended) to help students experience math as something interesting and useful instead of boring and irrelevant. And it doesn’t always require elaborate planning. You can use what you already know to create Mathbuster Moments “on the fly” to bust through students’ dislike or fear of math. How? By watching for ways to bring fun math experiences into whatever’s happening in your program right now. Here are some ideas:

  • Student Interest Survey: Students are interested in music. Let them pick a favorite song, have them search for the score (musical notation) online, and teach the relationship between the song’s rhythm and quarter notes, half notes, and so on.
  • Student Choice: If you present a “problem of the day” or a math project, provide options and let students choose.
  • Movement: Have student teams use various units of measure (e.g., feet, yards, meters, steps, pencils) to describe the length of a wall or fence line. Challenge them to invent a new measure and explain its pros and cons.

Here’s an example that involves number lines, a concept that students learn and apply to different situations in math classes (and everyday life), beginning as early as third grade.

Crash course on number lines: A “real number” is any number that can be plotted on a number line. It can be a whole number or a fraction, and either positive or negative (or zero). Every real number can be associated with its own point on the number line. Here’s what a number line looks like:


What you already know: You use number lines every day, but you might not call them that. Examples are rulers, tape measures, some bathroom scales, thermometers, barometers, and measuring cups. Many measuring tools use the “number line” concept, especially if they don’t have a digital display. Number lines don’t have to be horizontal. For example, the number line on a measuring cup is vertical — and the measurement marks show only the positive numbers, not the negative numbers. The bottom of the cup is the “zero” on this number line.

What you can do: Explain the concept of “number lines” the next time you use a measuring device during an activity, like:

  • A measuring cup when you’re cooking
  • A ruler during an art project
  • A thermometer to see if it’s warm enough to sprout seeds in your classroom window
    Note: The negative numbers are visible on a thermometer (to indicate “below zero”), but not on a measuring cup.

Make it relevant: If a student says, “Our family’s going on a road trip,” blow their minds with this travel trivia:

  • Watch for the green mile markers the next time you travel an interstate. They show the number of miles from where the interstate route enters the state you’re traveling in.
  • The counting always starts at the state line in the south (for north-south routes like I‑95) and in the west (for east-west routes like I-90). So if you cross a state line, the point where you enter a new state is like the zero on a number line. The mile marker numbers get larger as you travel east or north.
  • Each interstate exit is numbered according to the nearest mile marker.
  • The interstates that run east and west are even numbers, and most end in zero, from I‑10 in the south to I-90 in the north. The interstates that run north to south are odd numbers, and most end in 5, from I-5 in the west to I-95 in the east.

You can probably think of other math skills and concepts you know about and can share with students, like comparison shopping, estimating how far you’ll go if you take 10 big steps, measuring the dimensions of a room, and recognizing patterns in art and nature. Download the Y4Y Mathbusters Handbook for more ideas. Then challenge yourself to create a Mathbuster Moment this week. You might just surprise yourself!