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Cassandra Hayes is a math teacher at Fortuna Elementary School District in Fortuna, California.
My name is Cassandra Hayes, and I’m a math teacher in the Fortuna Elementary School District in Fortuna, California, and a teacher consultant for the Redwood Writing Project. I teach math to middle school students in grades six through eighth, and I’m really excited to share this engaging math lesson that I use to build students’ algebraic thinking. It’s simple to do, it doesn’t require tech and students love both solving and creating these puzzles. I’m talking about “Visual Emoji Math Puzzles”.
These visual math puzzles are fun and engaging for students from third grade all the way through high school. Because visual math puzzles replace the variable or letters such as X or Y in the algebraic equations with an image or an emoji, all students –especially multilingual learners– enjoy and thrive with this activity. This activity can be completed, like I said, with or without tech in the classroom.
To introduce this lesson to your students, you’ll need to have a couple of simple visual math puzzles to solve. To find a variety of puzzles, google “visual emoji math puzzles” and select images. On the search page, you will find a number of puzzles to choose from. You want to select a puzzle that is slightly below your students’ capabilities. Remember, we want this to be fun and engaging. If you don’t have access to google, you can easily create your own unique puzzles by combining shapes or flowers with operation symbols: addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division, and writing it on the board.
It is helpful if the first puzzles you display can be easily calculated using mental math. Again, we’re starting off simple so all students can access the puzzle. Some students may want a pencil and a piece of scratch paper to help them organize their thinking, and it’s a good practice to ensure there is scratch paper at each table.
If you happen to notice a student struggling, just walk over there and quietly let them know they’re welcome to use the scratch paper. When considering a puzzle and you’re in a classroom with third to sixth grade students, be sure to select a puzzle in which the final equation does not require students to consider the order of operations, such as this puzzle.
As you can see in this puzzle, diamond plus diamond plus diamond equals twelve. And diamond plus crescent plus crescent equals eight. So crescent minus heart equals one, and we have to calculate heart multiplied by crescent plus the diamond. Many of your students will be able to mentally calculate that one diamond equals four because they know that twelve divided by three equals four, or three times four equals twelve.
Now that students know the value of the diamond, they can solve for the value of the crescent, which is two. Once the value of the Crescent is. Students can find the value of the heart, which is one. The final equation can now be solved. And before we solve it, I want you to notice in this final equation, multiplication comes first in the calculation, meaning that students solve from left to right.
For students in seventh grade and above, feel free to choose or create a puzzle in which students need to use the order of operations. In this puzzle, the first three equations are similar to the previous slide, however it’s important to note here, in the final equation, students must calculate the multiplication part of blue heart multiplied by orange heart first, and then add the green heart.
Reminding the class to use the order of operations when calculating the final answer is a really good idea. And while this puzzle may seem too simple for a high school student, it is a great place to start.
Now, if your students are more advanced mathematicians, or you would like them to solve a puzzle that is more complex, you can add more emojis, exponents, and increase the number of operations in an equation. Here is an example of a more challenging problem. Notice there are five different emojis, and to even begin to unravel this puzzle, students must start with the fifth equation. Since this puzzle requires students to make multiple substitutions and calculate multiple values, I would ensure they have access to scratch paper.
Now that your students are really excited about these types of puzzles, it’s their turn to create their own. If students have access to technology, the website emojipedia.org has useful emojis, but be sure to remind students to choose school-appropriate emojis. If students can’t access the website but do have access to Google Slides or Google Docs, they can find emojis under the “insert” tab on the tool bar.
If students are not using technology, they can draw their own symbols or shapes for their puzzles. I’ve included a Google Slide deck for your students in the accompanying materials and resources section. This resource can be shared through Google Classroom or printed.
As students are creating their puzzles, it’s important to walk around to check their math, paying close attention to their order of operations. When students have completed their puzzles, have them trade with another student and solve each other’s puzzles. Don’t be surprised if many of your students want to create more than one puzzle.
Visual emoji math puzzles are a fun and engaging way to introduce algebraic concepts into classrooms from third grade through high school, and multi-language learners thrive with a visual component of this activity.
I’m Cassandra Hayes. Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you enjoy this video and math lesson with your students.
Accompanying Materials & Resources
- Quick Guide: Fun Visual Math Puzzles (PDF – 1 Page)
- Fun Visual Math Puzzles with Cassandra Hayes, Presentation (PDF)
- Fun Visual Math Puzzles with Cassandra Hayes, Activity Template (Powerpoint)
- Fun Visual Math Puzzles with Cassandra Hayes, Activity Template (PDF)