Mathivating Kids to Get Excited About Math

Kim Thomas on episode 286 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Get Mathivated with Kim Thomas. She literally speaks math and has exciting things to do each day of the week for her students. (She also has quite an interesting way to handle difficult behavior including profanity.)

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Enhanced Transcript

Mathivating Kids to Get Excited About Math

Link to show:
Date: April 9, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Kim Thomas @padamspam , 2016 Illinois Teacher of the Year. She’s been teaching for 25 years, and currently, she’s in Peoria County Alternative School for kids who have been expelled, teaching at the middle school level.

So, Kim, you love math. What’s your philosophy behind helping kids get excited about math?

Kim: Well, I “math-ivate” them, and I try to be the best fraction of their day.

You know, math class… A lot of kids walk in my room with negative parabolas on their face, and I’m like, “No! Give me a sixtieth of a minute, and I will rotate that to a positive parabola.”

So by mathivating them, and making the class fun X fun + fun.

Like, you bring that fun and passion into the classroom, and kids are just gonna be like, “What did she say?”

And I’m like, “HEY! It’s time to get Mathlicious!”

They’re like, “What is that?”

If I would just say math, most of them would want to rotate 180 degrees and run.

So I came up with this Mathlicious way to do mathivate them, that really puts a positive parabola on everyone’s face.

I do… “Live + Laugh + Love = Learn” in my classroom.

Change the days of the week

So we LIVE it up every day. They know that they’re going to do something fun every day when they come in the room, so I name the days of the week. Now I change these names according to my kids and their interests.


So Monday is Math-oggle Monday and You Matter Monday. So we talk about things over the weekend and how much I missed them, and then we do a Math-oggle game I created. It’s like Boggle but it’s numbers, and so you have to pick adjacent numbers or diagonal ones that equal a certain number. And I let the kids pick the target numbers. So they have a lot of fun doing that. And it always works. It’s so Mathazing. No matter what number, no matter what is in that Math-oggle board, it works!


Now, TNGO Tuesday. I changed it this year to Tweakin’ TNGO Tuesday, because the kids have work called “tweaking” — not Twerking, I don’t Twerk on a Tuesday —

Vicki: (laughs)

Kim: But so, like, if you think today is Wednesday, “Mrs. Thomas, it’s Wednesday! You’re tweaking! It’s Monday!”

So I call it Tweakin’ Tuesday, and they just love it because, throughout the week, they’ll be like, “Mrs. Thomas, it’s not Tuesday, and you’re tweaking.”

So we all make mistakes as teachers, and I love it when the kids figure the mistake out, and they’ll be like, “Mrs. Thomas, you were tweaking.” So we call it Tweaking TNGO Tuesday.|

I use tangrams for the kids to create a picture. And they LOVE it. To just observe them problem-solving and listening to their Mathlicious dialog… it just gives me mathbumps to watch them go, “Hey, if we just put this piece here ,” and all of the problem-solving. But they love trying to figure out this puzzle. How excited they get when they figure it out. And then you can have kids create their own. Just putting the pieces together and you know, take a picture of it, and then the kids draw the outline, but then have them draw the solution. They love X love to pass out their own Tweaking TNGO puzzle on Tuesday.


Wednesday is Wuzzle Wednesday. So we do math puzzles. Kids are getting so good at these that they like to create their own. So we keep continuing to look up “fun puzzles to do” that really help us with our thinking skills, and also can be like a riddle or a joke.They love stuff like that as well. That’s Wuzzle Wednesday.


And then there’s Thirsty Thursday! And what are we thirsty for? Math! Best subject ever! (laughs)

Well, they’re all my favorite days. But Thirsty Thursday I created an activity called Equation-anza. So they come up to the board and they roll a dice. Now usually it’s a 10-sided dice. They love it. And they have to guess, so if they’re in groups, they get to guess what number they think their group is going to roll.

And it really helps with kids getting along. I teach at an alternative school where kids have been expelled, so we’re really working on not only Mathlicious and math, but also skills on getting along and what you’re going to need in the real world to get along with each other. And deciding who gets to pick which number what day.

So they pick a number. And if they get it right, you know, we have a gotcha box or a treat, and THEN…

We love this. We use the date as the target number every Thirsty Thursday. And then my kids — after we get the square of 25 numbers (so five numbers from the dice) — they have to use those.

On the first line they have to use two of them, if they can, to get the date, if it’s possible.

Then the next line, three. And then four, and then all five. They add, subtract, multiply or divide.

It is SO math-abulous! It works for every date! My kids have not come up with a date that has never worked!

Vicki: Wow.

Kim: So, you know, just telling them. I get all these mathbumps, and I tell them, “I didn’t know what you were going to roll!” And “We didn’t know what the date was going to be!” And it works every single day.

Vicki: Awesome.

Kim: So, that’s Thirsty Thursday.


Now, on Friday we have two things we do.

For Math-head Friday, we wear numbers like the headbands game, and they have to ask each other questions to see who gets it right first.

And THEN… We came up with Fri-Dab Friday! (laughs)

Vicki: (laughs)

Kim: It’s like… when you “dab”… You “dab” after something good.

Vicki: Yeah.

Kim: So I saw a lot of dabbing in my classroom, and I love to dab, and I dropped the smartboard marker, like the microphone? (laughs)

Vicki: Yeah.

Kim: They have to create a 2 X 2 line poem, we started with, on a math concept. And then we rap it out. I have kids who just LOVE to beat on the desk.

And so instead of telling them, “No, stop that.”

NO! I go ahead and let them beat on that desk. I just teach to the rhythm. And most of them get sick of listening to me trying to rap, so they stop. (laughs)

Vicki: (laughs) How funny.

Kim: I just love it. So I call it even, “Rap It Up” at the end of the class.

And we try to freestyle what we learned, and then somebody does the beat on the desk.

So every day coming up — I figured out that naming my days has really helped my kids be excited.

Now there’s so many other things we do with the Mathlicious projects that I have that I’m just so excited about. I finally got a book done of everything I’ve been doing for the past 10 x 2 + 5 years

There’s a book with all of these ideas in it!

Vicki: Wow.

Kim: … to share with others. That’s like a dream come true for me. But just taking interests of kids. My days do change. Like dabbing wasn’t around, how many years ago. So now it is, so I try to take their interests and turn it into my math class, so you know, they will be interested in what we’re doing.

Vicki: Now, we will put a link to the math book, and what you’re doing, because there’s a lot to dig into here.

Now, we’re almost finished with the show, but Kim, tell us a story about a kid. You know, you work with kids who struggle, and a lot of times teachers when they’re in schools like yours — where the kids struggle, the teachers struggle. But it’s like you’re thriving and surviving and so excited.

Tell us a story about what this excited approach to math can do with kids.

Kim: It is! And it’s just like every day they know… in fact, every hour. You know, kids have to start fresh. You have to give them that fresh start. I believe in these spirit of four chances. To me, it’s 70 x 7. And once I got my Teacher of the Year title, I knew it was like God saying, “Get that book done!”

A story about just one student

So the story. I had a girl come in, and she sat in the back of the room, and she put her head down. And I was like, “Oh no, we don’t put heads down in our room.”

So I never tell kids what NOT to do. I just go talk to them about why we shouldn’t. So I went back and said, “Hey, let’s talk about why shouldn’t we put our head down during class, and so we kind of talked about it, and she put her head up. And she yelled, “I hate math!”

And you know, I had my hands over my ears, ‘“Ahhhh!”

So I had her come up you know, off to the side, and I put my hands on her shoulders, and I said, “You know how moms love you, but they have to correct you, right? Well, I’m your math mom, and I’m going to have to correct you, but I love you, even though I correct you. And I would never put you down. For anything ever. Not your past test scores or grades. Nothing. I’m here to build you up. So please don’t hate on my math class. Give me that one-sixtieth of a minute to show you how Mathlicious math is.”

And she goes, “Well, I can’t even do my times tables.”

And I said, “So what? I will help you.”

She goes, “You mean, you don’t care about…”

And I go, “No. I care about what I can help you with.”

“Well I need to count on my fingers.”

“That’s OK. So do I!”


“I’d rather count on them and get it right, then try to think about it and get it wrong.”

She’s just looking at me.

And I go, “Honey, you don’t know what you can do, until you really give me that chance to help you. Because I’m here to help you.”

And she just looked at me like, “OK…” And she sat down, and she started working on her Math Muscles. That’s another thing we do in the beginning in the room. Math Muscles. And all of a sudden, as the weeks went by, she would be the one going, “Nobody blurt it out! Let me see if I can figure it out.”

So came our next testing, and it tests for growth, and she gained 11 x 2 points.

Vicki: Wow!

Kim: She was elated!

And was she at grade level yet? No, she wasn’t at grade level yet, but that’s OK.

She grew.

To me, the Mathlicious thing, and the Math-azing thing is, she’s not afraid of math class anymore.

She came up to me, and she goes, “You know, Mrs. Thomas, on my cab ride home the other day, the cab driver said, ‘What’s your favorite class?’ I said, ‘Math. Can you believe it? I never thought I’d say that. I’ve always hated math class!’”

And she goes, “Well, I just want to thank you for not giving up on me.”

And I said, “Well, how can you thank me?”

And she goes, “Stay in school and stay parallel to boys.”

Thank you! Because … popular… can get you into trouble.

Vicki: (laughs)

Kim: I keep it 10 squared, keep it 100 with my middle school kids.

But it was so cute. And you know, she wasn’t afraid. And that’s… you know, I could have taken her as being… You know, I always try to take their habits… Some of them come in my room and say curse words, so we turn it into math cursing. And we turn it into… you know, instead of telling kids to stop, I try to rotate it into something good.

This can help kids with cursing?

Vicki: How would you help them with cursing?

Kim: Oh my gosh, this is my favorite. So I did an article on… I call it “Math Cursing.” It’s from Curio Learning, “Teach Like a Rebel.”

And so, my kids… When they come in and I hear a curse word, I’m like, “OK, let’s talk about why we don’t cuss.” And so then I tell them how, “Well, I don’t use those words because the Bible says no filthy things should come from your mouth. So you guys, I know there’s somebody in your family that you cannot cuss in front of. So give me their names. So they all go around and they give me the name, and I say, “Put me on the list.”

I go, “We can math curse in here, because most people want to curse when they walk into a math class, anyway. So whatever they want to say, they have to replace it with a math word that starts with that letter.

Vicki: (laughs)

Kim: So, “Sit your fraction axis in the seat!” or “What the…? This shape is driving me nuts!”

Or one kid said, “Mrs. Thomas, what’s the “h” word?”

And I’m like, “height.”

And he’s like, “What the height are we gonna do today?”

Vicki: (laughs)

Kim: Seriously. When they start talking to each other, I just love it. They’re looking on the wall, they’re trying to think of other words, and eventually, the cursing just really dies down.

But every once in a while, my kids just have to let it out, and they can choose a math word instead.

But I take that habit, and instead of saying, “Don’t, don’t, don’t…” Let’s face it, my kids have been told that so many times before they come to me. So a true blessing in my life is to be able to say, “Yes,” so these students can feel that, what it feels like to be told, “Yes.” You know, to be included in things instead of excluded.

And I tell them, “This thing of being expelled is not an ending. It is a new beginning in your life. What are you going to do with it?”

Vicki: Oh, I love that.

Well, Kim, you’re somebody that I know that all of our remarkable teachers are going to want to learn more about. This is one of those that you definitely want to check the Shownotes to see what all Kim is doing.

Kim, I’m just proud of you and your attitude.

What a remarkable job you’re doing with these kids.

Here’s the thing. When you love children, they will just… they will more than go the extra mile. They’ll actually learn, which is what we want.

So, thank you, Kim. And I’m Math-ivated!

Kim: (laughs) Yay!

Well, thank you times thank you.

This has been a pleasure plus an honor to be on your show and meet you, and to speak to all those Math-abulous educators out there, those 3D superheros going the length, width, and height for our kids.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Kim is the 1000 x 2 + 4^2 Illinois Teacher of the Year. She is an inductee into the Illinois State University College of Education Hall Of Fame. Kim is currently in her 10 x 2 + 5 year teaching in Peoria, Illinois. She teaches middle school students mathlicious math at the Peoria County Alternative School for kids who have been expelled. Kim is the author of Mathivate, the mathlicious method that puts a positive parabola on everyone’s face!!!


Twitter: @kimthomasilstoy

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Mathivating Kids to Get Excited About Math appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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