I Am NOT Doing Math Today: Math Fortune Tellers

I have a student that had many excuses for why math was not going to happen today. Here they were in this order:

“I’m tired.”

“I didn’t really sleep last night.” (Head down on the table, arms at the sides.)

“My hair hurts.”

“I ate lunch too fast. I can’t do math today.”

“I can’t function today. I just can’t function today. I am NOT doing math.”

Since I can relate to this Monday takeover of your rational brain, I decided to set aside my plans for the moment. I could have engaged in a power struggle, but instead I just started folding a paper fortune teller in front of her while the excuses continued.  I had no plan, and no idea if it would work…but I needed her to do some math today.


Pretty much immediately (but of course without showing it too overtly), she started to perk up and show interest. I am constantly reminding myself that our students are naturally curious and have everything in them to learn. It’s just a little harder to pull it out of some than others.

The next step was to write the questions on the inside. I tried to think of questions that might lead to a numerical answer.


After a while, she began coming up with the questions, and then she started to give all the answers.  When she told me 1,675 burgers, she asked, “How many burgers would that be in a year?!” So we had to divide it out and figure it out.


The height question led to us measuring her against the wall, so that she could get a sense of what a ridiculously short person would look like. The lottery question led to how to read a numbers in the millions, because of course she would win millions.

At the end of our 15 minutes together, she said, “We didn’t even do math!” What she ended up doing was much more difficult than anything that I had planned for her for the lesson!  I started to think about the open ended nature of this activity, and how our students bring it to a level that we don’t always expect.  This actually might be a great enrichment activity for your class to try out when you need to meet with a small group.

If you don’t want your students to do math next Monday, give it a try.


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