In 7th grade we teach students about mean absolute deviation. When we first started teaching, it we kind of glossed over absolute value because it seemed so easy. What I found was my students in math lab simply did not get it, and they needed specific lessons and practice about absolute before mean absolute deviation. I know it seems simple and they should just get it and remember it, but it just doesn’t work out that way. So, whether you’re teaching absolute value before another topic, or introducing it for the first time, here are 11 absolute value activities that will help student understand and remember absolute value.
To really “get it”, students need to see absolute value a few different ways and they need to see it visually. Also, they need to talk about it and write about it. It has to be internalized in order for them to truly understand it. Included in this list are a variety of ways to present and practice basic absolute value. You’ll find games, videos, and activities that will spice up your lessons about absolute value.
The list of absolute value activities:
Bingo for Absolute Value
Let’s dive in
Whether you’re looking for review activities, homework, or bell ringers you’ll find something you can use right away in your class on this list. I’m also going to share my experience with these activities and give suggestions for how you could use them in your classroom as well.
I can’t really sing the praises of math mazes too much. Kids love them and they work great as a warm-up activity. We use them just about every day in my classroom. This set of mazes give students the opportunity to practice the basics of absolute value. This concept needs to be reviewed from time to time and it helps that it can be reviewed in a fun way.
These three mazes will help students practice the basics of absolute value. The last maze has absolute value with negatives on the outside. Overall, this will get students practicing absolute value, and they’ll forget that they’re actually doing work.
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One of my favorite ways to practice with the whole class is to play bingo. Usually, I have a little prize for the first few winners like a Jolly Rancher or a mechanical pencil. It’s amazing how hard students will work to win a Jolly Rancher. I like the low intensity competition.
This bingo game is very simple and basic. It only reviews absolute value and negative signs on the outside of absolute value. There’s no practice with expressions. This works well as a first activity after teaching this concept or as a review later in the year.
Knockout games get kids engaged and leaves them asking for more. I love these games because everyone gets to participate and they get so into them. Students choose a character from the game board that’s projected at the front of the room. A question appears and all students do their own work. I have students share their answers on whiteboards, so that I can see how they’re doing. If they get it right, students get the points assigned to the question. If they get it wrong, then they simply don’t get those points. Students keep track of their points and they love the bonuses they land on throughout the game instead of questions. Some of these bonus take points away. Surprisingly, the risk of losing points is a feature that kids love.
This knockout game has a variety of absolute value questions with and without expressions. Also, students definitely need to know how to add and subtract integers and the basics of absolute value. Playing this game, they’ll get a pretty concentrated opportunity to practice with absolute value in a fun way.
This War Card Game for Absolute Value uses face cards as a way to reinforce absolute value. You use the black as positive numbers and the red as negative numbers. Then, students engage in war. The player with the highest absolute value wins. You can download the instructions as a freebie by clicking here.
Don’t you love these giant cards? They work great when modelling for students how to play math card games, and they’re just so fun to have! I think they’re a great addition to any math classroom.
Students love playing games and this one has the potential for great math talk. What you want the students to realize on their own is that it doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative when it comes to absolute value. Remember, students have to make their own meaning of concepts, even with something as simple as absolute value.
Videos help students see concepts in a different way. But, you have to make sure that you don’t just push play and expect a whole bunch of learning to happen. It never quite works that way. I’ve learned that how you set-up the video will make it or break it. Plus, I like to have students reflect on what they’re seeing and talk about what the video presented. This video comes from PBS and has a detailed lesson plan that goes with it. They explain how to set it up and when to stop the video and discuss. Also, they have other activities to go with the video. If you’re looking for a complete lesson, definitely check this one out. Check this one out if you’re looking for a complete lesson.
My favorite way to introduce a topic is through a discovery activity. For so long I introduced topics by first giving notes and I struggled with the fact that students just followed along and copied the notes. They didn’t internalize the concept.
So, I tried something different. I had students do a hands-on exploration of a topic before we added notes to our interactive notebooks. And I’m pretty much in love with how it’s transformed my classroom.
With this discovery lab students look at examples of absolute value and they have to come up with the words to describe what it is. This type of learning yields better results, because they’re the ones looking for patterns and drawing conclusions. I still give notes as reference after they have finished the discovery lab, the difference is now they have their own experience to refer back to when I’m explaining the math topic. One cool thing that happens a lot after a discovery lab is that students already know how to fill out the notes. They can figure the notes out ahead of me because their background has been built on the topic.
Online Game: Number Balls
I like to use games like this one for anticipatory sets or for fast finishers. Sometimes I’ll make an assignment in Google Classroom with a list of 3 games that students can play to review the concept. The links to all three games will be right there in the assignment.
This game gives students the opportunity to put their absolute value skills to the test. They have to pop the balls in ascending order. Make sure to explain the rules before they start because the rules don’t appear on the screen while you play. As you go up a level there are more balls to pop and it gets harder to play. Kids love it and they love trying to get higher scores than each other.
Just like the Number Balls game, the Absolute Value Boxes Game is great for review and students can work on it independently. I love the hint feature because it shows students where the numbers fall on a number line. There’s a question at the top and students just have to choose between four choices. Nothing revolutionary here, but it’s fun and kids love games like this.
Also, when students play games like this I like to emphasize the growth mindset. Usually, it takes a few rounds before they do well and they start using the fixed mindset really fast. I make sure to model the growth mindset by reminding them that you don’t have to be perfect right away, we’re looking to grow by learning from our mistakes. Plus, it can take a few rounds to get good at it.
The Zero! Integers Operations and Absolute Value Game is played in a similar manner to BlackJack. Students try to get their cards to be the closest to zero. The red cards are negative and the black cards are positive. They’re dealt two cards and they can ask for up to two more. They add all of their cards together and then take the absolute value of their total. This sounds like a ton of fun and I can’t wait to try it with my students. You can get all of the rules and examples by clicking the link above and reading the whole blog post about it.
What I love about this video from PBS is that it shows absolute value in a real world context. Students get to look at how someone might actually use it. The support materials for this video work well for a whole class lesson and you don’t have to do a lot of prep. You’ll find an anticipatory set, an activity, and even partner discussion questions included.
Khan Academy has a whole list of things for students to do and videos to watch about absolute value. I like this video in particular because it showcases word problems. It would work great as a I Do, We Do, You Do activity with the whole class. You could pause the video and let student try the problems on their own and work through them together. Sometimes you just need some word problems to work on and this video does a good job of presenting them.
Try one thing
You don’t have to try all of these activities- that could be way too overwhelming. Instead, find the one or two that fit your teaching style and your students’ needs and try it in your class. Let us know how it went in the comments below. Also, remember that these activities are perfect for cyclical review of absolute value as well. Use one as a bell ringer or a homework assignment a few weeks after you teach this topic. Are your students going to enjoy learning this concept? Absolutely!
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