Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Musical Math Challenge

Sharla Shults
Bay District Schools


Prerequisite activity to Poetic Math Challenge - Set mathematical problem solving to music and play like musical chairs. Use classical music to set a thought-provoking atmosphere. This is also an excellent method of reinforcement or review.


Describes, analyzes and generalizes relationships, patterns, and functions using words, symbols, variables, tables and graphs.


-Copies of documents found in associated file (See Teacher Preparation Steps #4 and #5)
-3 x 5 cards Ė one per student desk or seat (See Teacher Preparation Step #1.)
-Clear cellophane or masking tape
-CD player or tape deck
-Classical music (CD or cassette tape)
-Pencils and paper
-No calculator!


1. Prepare 3 x 5 cards. Number cards according to the number of student seats you have in the classroom. Write an algebraic translation problem on the back of each card. If you make your own, be sure to take the bottom of the card and flip it up to write on the back. The cards will be secured to the desk with a strip of tape across the top. Students will flip up the card to reveal the problem written on the back.*
2. You may wish to use the cards already prepared in the Associated File. Duplicate cards from Associated File by using the templates provided. Be sure to notice that the numbers are upside down to result in flip cards when copied from one-sided to two-sided. These can be laminated for future use in other classes or to be shared with other teachers.
3. Tape cards to student desks, or tables. Cover each card with one sheet of scratch paper to be used for the warm-up exercises.
4. Prepare Speed Drill Warm-up Activity of vocabulary words as transparencies.
5. Duplicate General Approach to Problem Solving handout. This looks great duplicated on colored or designer paper.
6. Select music.
7. Prepare CD or tape player.

*An alternative to teacher-made equations is to allow students to prepare the cards on the day before the activity. Each student is given a number that is put on the front of the card. Each student must make up an equation or expression, either in words or algebraically, and write it on the back of the card. Then, the problem and solution key must be written on a sheet of paper and turned in with the studentís name on the paper.


1. Have classical music playing as students enter the room. This sets the tone for a calm, relaxing, thought-provoking atmosphere. Stop the music and have a warm-up activity planned using overhead transparencies. (see Associated File for Speed Drill Warm-Up Activity.) Designate this activity as a speed drill and provide a sheet of plain paper on each desk. Place the transparency on the overhead and move down a list of vocabulary words very quickly allowing students only enough time to write the operation indicated using symbols (+, -, x, ų). Go over terms and symbols to check for accuracy.

2. Alert students to the importance of reading and correct interpretation when engaging in mathematical problem solving. This begins with the understanding of vocabulary and the translation from numeric to algebraic and algebraic to numeric. Distribute copies of the handout General Approach to Problem Solving to students. (see Associated File)

3. One of the most difficult areas of mathematics is that of problem-solving. Relate to several real-life examples of where mathematics is used everyday. Then have students discuss with each other and share their own mathematical experiences that required knowledge of mathematical skills.

4. Go over expectations with students. The student must be able to:
1) Generalize concepts using symbols
2) Describe logical reasoning demonstrating proper algebra logic (Show all work!)
3) Analyze reasoning by yielding the correct solution and checking by inspection
Inform students they need to be prepared to explain their translation and logic.

5. On each desk, or studentís station, have a 3 x 5 card taped to the top. On the topside is a number and on the underside is a translation problem using math vocabulary being studied. (See Associated File for templates that could be used instead of 3 x 5 cards.) Secure the card with the tape across the top so that the card can be lifted up to reveal the problem underneath without removing it from the desk, or table.

6. If you have a small class, seat students in every other desk, or seat. This prevents too much lost time waiting for students to complete their work. Students start to work when you begin the music. First, they translate the problem into an equation. Then they solve the problem. When they finish a problem, they move to the next empty seat. If a student beside them is still working, they must wait until that student moves. They may use this time going over their work. Let students work at their own pace. If you plan the problems about the same in length and difficulty, you will find that this runs rather smoothly. Each student continues working and moving until they return to the seat where they started.

7. When students have worked all problems, allow about 5 to 10 minutes for them to check over their work. Call on students one at a time to come to the overhead to explain the translation and algebra logic as time permits. Provide corrective and effective feedback during this process formatively assessing students' explanations and use of algebra logic. Collect the studentsí papers. If class time ends before all problems have been checked, continue the next day.


Use the collected papers and the students' oral explanations to formatively assess each studentís proficiency using a 4-point scale. The student must be able to: 1) Generalize: translate the problem correctly, 2) Describe: show proper algebra logic, 3) Analyze: yield the correct solution, and 4) Analyze: check the solution. As feedback, supplementary materials (work sheets on translating and equation solving) for extra practice need to be made available to students who are having difficulty.


This is a good prerequisite activity to the Poetic Math Challenge lesson located on the Beacon Learning Center Website. (see Weblinks)

Modification: Use much faster music and time the students for 45 seconds per problem. Write one- or two-step equations instead of translations. Start and stop the music allowing students 3 seconds to change seats. This works well in a large classroom setting and keeps the momentum going.

Web Links

Web supplement for Musical Math Challenge
Poetic Math Challenge

Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.