Math = Love: Spelling Bee

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Spelling Bee

I've always loved spelling bees.  I won the school-wide spelling bee in the fourth grade.  To win, I had to spell, "macaroni."  Winning my school spelling bee gained me entrance to the regional spelling bee.  Winners from that regional bee would go on to the state bee, and the winner of the state bee would go to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.  Alas, I never made it past the regional spelling bee.  I misspelled "martian."  I've always avoided anything to do with science fiction, and it proved to be my downfall that day.

So, why am I telling you this?  Well, for the last two years, I've had this idea of having a spelling bee in my math class.  I guess I would need to call it a math bee since it actually won't involve any spelling.  

Here's how it would work.  Display an algebraic expression, equation, or inequality on the board.  Have a few students stand in a row, spelling bee style.  Ask the first student in the row to read what is written on the board.  If they read it correctly, they get to remain standing.  If they read it incorrectly, they must sit down.  

Why?  Well, I've found that my students haven't really ever been taught to read mathematics.  Mathematics is a language of precision.  3(2) + 5 is not the same as 3(2 + 5).  I tell myself every year that this is going to be the year that I am super picky about how we speak math in my classroom.  And, every year, I am super picky about a few things.  But, I even find myself sometimes slipping up and reading a problem aloud in a less than precise manner.  I justify it in my mind by saying, "Well, students know I actually meant 'times the quantity of' instead of just 'times' because there are clearly parentheses in the problem as it is shown on the SMARTBoard."  It's really just me being sloppy, though.

Would this work?  Or am I just having crazy thoughts?

This really is just a half-formed idea.  Hoping someone in the #MTBoS can make it better.  


  1. I've been thinking about something similar for some time with regards to arithmetic. Spelling bees somehow have more prestige than numeracy. A school-wide competition might be just the ticket to get the students practicing their multiplication tables.

  2. Order of execution is extremely important in my field (computer programming) and a good habit to form. I agree you should emphasize it.

  3. This is a great idea! I am always trying to break them of the habit of saying things like "x with a little 2" instead of "x sub 2" or "x two" instead of "x squared"! I hate to get on them too much, because I don't want to discourage them from sharing an answer or asking a question so I think that this would be great to do every few weeks for practice! :) Thanks for the idea!

    1. Totally can relate with not wanting to discourage them from giving answers! I tell my students often that I have to be "math teacher picky" about how they say and write their answers.

  4. I can say that I love the idea! Since I teach in an international school in Vietnam, with mostly Vietnamese students, I have found there are subtle differences in how things are taught in traditional Vietnamese schools vs. international schools (students are just taught "minus" is the operation, and do not know the word subtraction, for example). THis may be a great way to reinforce the idea of HOW something is read correctly.....I may try this next week with my 8th grade class!

  5. Great idea! I really had a tough time teaching my kid to read exponential equations. This is such a nice theme :)