10 Ideas for Setting Up a Middle-School Math Classroom

No longer a little boy or girl, but not quite a teen. Tween – a dreaded word in the dictionary of many a teacher.

If you’re a math teacher, you begin to notice that many of the strategies you used before don’t seem to work anymore. Your tween students don’t find them ‘cool’! Other strategies may be too advanced. With the wrong techniques and strategies, boredom, discontent and disruptiveness can set in. So what can you do to change this?

An often overlooked but important aspect to consider is the classroom itself. In fact, studies indicate that the classroom environment can enhance the motivation and performance of students, sometimes by as much as 16%. This is why in this article, we’ll share 8 useful math classroom ideas that can help you.

Middle-School Math Classroom Ideas

1. Hang Posters

Putting up colorful posters on the walls is one of the simplest and yet most budget-friendly math classroom ideas to brighten up an otherwise dull classroom setting. What’s more, research indicates that vision and visual memory occupy around two-thirds of our brains, and that goes for tweens too.

Bearing this in mind, your classroom should be rich with math visuals!

Types of posters that you could use in your classroom include:

Funny & Educational

If your students associate the classroom with fun, they might start associating mathematics with fun. Therefore, using funny posters can be beneficial.

For instance, you can have a math poster with the number π and the number 4 (π’s wife). 4 is complaining to the therapist (a division symbol) about π, “he is irrational and he goes on and on”. This is a playful way to help kids memorize that when expressed as decimals, π, and irrational numbers in general, go on forever after the decimal.

Or, a different idea is a poster with two rectangles, one of them representing an area and the other one a perimeter. The area rectangle argues with the perimeter and says: “I’m trying to talk to you, but it feels like you’re just going around my problem”, reminding students that a perimeter is calculated by adding up the lengths of all sides.

There are plenty of resources online for funny math posters that you can simply print out. Alternatively, you can even decide to create these posters with your students.

However, keep in mind that while posters are a great tool, tweens no longer want to be seen as small children, so find ways to balance color and fun with the real world. On that note, with math becoming more abstract, it’s important to link back mathematical concepts to the real world and show their practical applications.

Motivational

Motivational posters can range from inspiring quotes to images of famous mathematicians. Just make sure not to forget about mainstreaming diversity in the posters. Why is this important?

Studies have long established that representation matters. In 2010, one study showed that textbooks that included pictures of female scientists contributed to better performance in female students compared to the performance of female students that viewed textbooks without such images.

Thus, hanging posters of prominent female mathematicians in your classroom can increase the interest of girls in math and subsequently, their performance.

2. Make an Assignment Board

For children in the 10-13 age range, stress and anxiety can intensify with the increased peer pressure and workload in middle school. One way to reduce their stress levels is to create a math assignment board.

This board should typically contain the timetable of the given day with all planned activities. For example, if today’s lesson is applying and subtracting directed numbers, you will write down how long this lesson will take and when should a break be expected.

If you intend to have group activities with worksheets or manipulatives following the lesson, make sure to write that as well.

You can also divide the assignment board in two, and use the second section for upcoming homework assignments. Make sure to also write the date when the homework assignment is due.

Providing the schedule in advance will give your students a sense of predictability, and help them feel safer in the classroom.

3. Create a Math Problem of The Week

The problem of the week is a fun challenge that stimulates students. It’s often included in many middle school math classrooms. The way it works is pretty simple: each week, assign a new math problem on a board and give your students one week to solve it.

This should, of course, be an optional activity. To further motivate the students, consider rewarding the ones that manage to solve the problem – perhaps cut them some slack in the homework department or give them a symbolic gift.

4. Design a “Math in the Real World” Board

Arguably one of the best math classroom ideas. Any serious teacher would want their students to understand the learned concepts on a practical level and understand how to apply them in the real world. Unfortunately, when it comes to math, this is where things can get a bit bumpy.

Oftentimes, children will question why they’re learning math at all – When will I ever use this stuff anyway?

One reason for this attitude is that math contains many abstract notions and younger children may find conceptual thinking a bit of a struggle. In fact, it’s only around the start of middle school that children begin grasping abstract ideas.

One helpful strategy to connect abstract notions to concrete things in the real world is to make a so-called “Math in the Real World” board. Children add examples of why they think math is important in the world outside the classroom, where they could use it, etc.

To make it more appealing to them, give them the option to submit drawings instead of written descriptions. For instance, a student may decide to present a drawing of exchanging money at an exchange office while traveling abroad.

This is how they can present the importance of understanding decimals well so that you’re not tricked when traveling. After all, everyone likes traveling and this will give kids a feeling that math is truly needed in the real world.

5. Create an Interactive Bulletin Board

Another one of those great math classroom ideas, bulletin boards are another awesome idea for your middle school math classroom. Good bulletin boards engage the student and make learning interactive. You can create different types of interactive bulletin boards, such as:

Burning Questions Bulletin Board

Oftentimes, there may not be enough time during a lesson to cover all questions. One way to address this is to transform your bulletin board into a space where students get to ask you questions. Then you can review questions and answer them at the next class.

It could also be empowering for students if you provide an opportunity for them to answer the questions that another student asks.

Math Boggle Board

To create a math boggle board, start by creating a boggle. Use 20 squares and instead of letters, simply put positive and negative numbers on the squares. Then, students should look for the numbers that are touching on the board (in adjacent squares) and try to create number sentences that make sense. This is a fun game that could help you get them practicing multiplication of negative and positive numbers.

You’ll find plenty of great ideas online for an interactive math bulletin board, such as this article, which you can easily adapt to your own classroom.

6. Prepare Hands-on Materials

As explained above, children will benefit greatly if you provide ways for them to understand the abstract notions they learn on a more concrete level. This is why hands-on materials are a must for any middle school math classroom setup.

Feel free to include flashcards, graphs, and the multitude of manipulatives out there, such as algebra tiles, fraction bars, pattern blocks etc. They will have your students engaged in no time.

7. Make Space for a Teacher Corner

It’s advisable to have a space in the classroom for your resources. This can be something as simple as arranging your math worksheets and resources on a few bookshelves.

If you’re using your math classroom to teach several middle school classes, you are no stranger to the bundle of sheets and documents that can get mixed up. To prevent this, you could consider arranging them in separate containers. This will keep your work organized and save you precious time.

8. Prepare Math Supplies

A successful middle school math classroom setup requires an adequate provision of math supplies for your student. In addition to the usual items such as pens, pencils and notebooks, here are some things to keep in mind.

Mini whiteboards

These are severely underused in many middle school math classrooms but are very helpful for learning. They are known to increase the weekly academic performance for an incredible number of 8 out of 10 students.

So, consider giving a small whiteboard to each student. If you’re on a budget and have decided to make your own whiteboards, make sure they’re for long division tasks of drawing geometric shapes. This article contains simple guidelines on do-it-yourself whiteboards.

Dry-erase markers

Of course, if you have whiteboards, you must also have dry-erase markers. Just make sure to stock up on these, as they tend to quickly run dry and you don’t want to have your student left with no marker to finish that equation!

Interactive whiteboards

Interactive whiteboards are yet another cool idea for your middle school math classroom setup. These can of course be pricey and many teachers aren’t able to afford them, but if you can, you should definitely go for it as they’re extremely beneficial when it comes to keeping your students engaged.

Students enjoy the colorful representation of complex math problems: they can add diagrams, manipulate objects, use the highlight function, add and move arrows around, and much more. There’s just something about a large touch screen that brings excitement to students of all ages!

What’s more, you’ll easily discover that interactive whiteboards tend to foster cooperation among students, which is ideal if you have a lot of group work during your math classes. Students can easily connect their Android and iOS smart devices to the interactive white boards.

You can check out this article for a comparison of the best interactive whiteboards for your classroom.

Tablets

These can be used as a personalized interactive whiteboard for each student. Research shows that as much as 87% of students reported that tablets facilitated their learning and 69% of students claimed an increase of motivation in learning.

Furthermore, tablets are an especially good option for more introverted students that may shy away from walking up to the large interactive whiteboard to solve an equation. They also allow students to have information at their fingertips and are easier to incorporate in a math classroom as they don’t take up that much space, compared to computers.

Finally, having personalized interactive whiteboards comes in handy for making customized math lessons. Your students are of different abilities, so you should be able to customize the lesson to their specific needs.

9. Provide Flexible Furniture

If you don’t want to simply feed your students with math theorems that they then regurgitate without understanding them, you’ll want to spice up the traditional desk in rows type of classroom setting.

To keep your students’ creative juices flowing, make sure to include a flexible layout. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d have to get bean bag chairs or fancy giant floor cushions. Even if you’re on a budget, you can easily keep your furniture flexible by simply mixing up what you already have.

Below are some examples that you could take into consideration:

Horseshoe

To implement a horseshoe in your classroom, simply rearrange the chairs in the form of a horseshoe, that is, a semi-circle. This will create a more relaxed vibe in the classroom compared to the traditional rows and provide a more inviting space for discussion among students since they can easily see each other face to face.

What’s more, it will allow you to better observe the level of engagement of all students while you’re teaching and give one-on-one support when needed.

A modification of the horseshoe is the double horseshoe, where seats are arranged in two semi-circles, with one smaller placed inside the bigger semi-circle. However, children in the outer semi-circle could end up feeling a bit left out.

Banquet

In this seating arrangement, chairs are divided into two separate rectangles and facing each other. This arrangement is great if your students are doing group work. It can also be used for discussing a specific math issue, as students can easily engage with the classmate that is facing them.

Since the learning styles of your students will vary, with some being extroverted and others introverted, the latter may find it more challenging to express themselves in a more traditional row setting. You’d probably want to avoid a scenario where the extroverted students are the ones solving all math equations and dominating the space.

The banquet provides a good alternative, as introverted students will feel more comfortable if they don’t have to discuss their equations in front of the entire class.

Pairs

As the name suggests, students are divided into pairs. You can arrange the chairs and tables in pairs of two and have them work together on a math problem.

This is a great arrangement for encouraging collaboration among your students, and especially useful if you have students with special needs in your class, as it allows them to socialize more and get support with their math exercise.

Finally, the best math classroom ideas could come from none other but your students. If you want a classroom that helps them feel empowered, allow them to take more ownership. How do you like the classroom? What would you like to change in it? Would you like to bring in or perhaps remove some items? Do you like the math boggle board? Etc.

These are questions that you should be asking your students at least once a month. This will show them you don’t just view them as kids, but value their opinion. This approach can also work wonders on increasing their confidence. And a more confident student is one that stands better chances of correctly calculating all those perimeters!

Wrapping Things Up

Ultimately, the goal of any teacher is to provide the best learning experience for their students. This doesn’t simply include adapting your teaching style or changing the curriculum, but also, providing a learning environment that feels enjoyable and inviting for students.

The above math classroom ideas will help you create a middle school math classroom setup that achieves this.

With a bit of effort, any middle-school classroom can be turned into a space where students thrive and blossom into high-achieving individuals.