Learn more about the unique Esti-Mystery math challenges and how these engaging prompts can build confidence and number sense in your students. Plus, grab the free set of esti-mystery recording pages to help students as they solve them!
What does your daily math routine look like? Maybe it includes a “number of the day” challenge, or calendar time. Maybe it includes number talks or fun math game time. Of all the math tasks you give your students, how many are providing meaningful opportunities for practicing estimation and developing number sense?
Unfortunately, estimation is a math skill that is woefully disregarded in a lot of math classrooms. And yet, this is one of the most important math skills, as students will undoubtedly be more prepared for “real life math” if they can make reasonable and appropriate estimates.
Often estimation challenges include nothing more than a large “estimation jar” set up in the corner of the room. Students write their guess on a slip of paper and the actual total is revealed at the end of the week. Perhaps some students use a meaningful method of estimations, but most probably just guess a random number, given they’ve had no prior instruction or exposure to such a task.
So what can you do to provide more meaningful estimation practice? Well, if you’re not familiar, allow me to introduce you to the “Esti-Mystery.”
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What is an Esti-Mystery?
An esti-mystery allows kids the chance to practice and hone their estimation skills, which builds number sense. But it also weaves in other math skills and math vocabulary, providing additional skills review. These math mysteries were developed by Steve Wyborney, who is a master of developing meaningful math tasks.
In an esti-mystery, students are shown a picture such as the one below, with the task to determine the total number of objects. They are then given clues, one by one, that narrow down the possible options.
This combination of estimating, using a clue, estimating, using a clue, allows for meaningful math dialogue and fun interaction for kids.
Benefits of Esti-Mystery Challenges
You can probably already see tons of benefits of incorporating esti-mysteries into your math routine. But here are some of my favorite reasons to use them:
Esti-Mysteries provide meaningful and intentional estimation practice.
As I’ve already mentioned, estimation practice is often thrown into a math curriculum randomly, with no real teaching or intention behind it. This does not develop number sense in students or prepare them for real world math skills.
Using an esti-mystery, however, you can provide meaningful and fun estimation practice that is more than just guessing and hoping for the best.
Esti-mysteries can help review & teach math vocabulary.
Depending on the target age for a mystery, kids can learn and apply many different math skills (and learn/apply math vocabulary) as they go through the different clues. For example, a clue might say, “the number is a multiple of 3.” If a student doesn’t remember what the term multiple means, this provides a way to review and use it correctly.
Esti-mysteries provide an opportunity for meaningful math talk.
Because students have to explain their reasoning for their estimation, rich discussions result as they think about how they came to that estimate. They can then learn to justify their thinking and articulate themselves in a meaningful way to others the more they practice.
Esti-mysteries provide opportunities to practice logical thinking skills.
As students consider different clues, they are forced to think about how to use and apply that clue to lead them to the solution. What does a particular clue mean for the solution? Which numbers can therefore not be correct?
Esti-mysteries provide a unique and engaging challenge that is FUN for kids.
Lastly, but certainly not least, esti-mysteries are FUN. Kids love the thrill of not knowing what the answer is, and narrowing down their choices to try and prove themselves right or wrong. The exciting climax of revealing the true number is a fun moment that kids of all ages look forward to.
How to Use Esti-Mystery Challenges in Your Classroom
Want to get started with these fun estimation challenges? Steve Wyborney has a huge collection available for FREE on his website.
To use them, all you need is powerpoint. If you work with a large class, you will also want a projector so that you can project the powerpoint presentation at the front of the class for everyone to see.
You then simply click through the slides and clues, pausing to allow time for your students to reflect and form their estimates.
When I use these with my kids (we homeschool) I simply pull up the presentation on my computer and “view slideshow” with them.
One of the most important steps to make sure these challenges are meaningful and effective for kids is to give time to pause, consider and re-evaluate their estimate after each clue.
For this reason, I created a simple recording page with a hundreds chart for my kids. The visual of the hundreds chart allows them to cross out numbers as they are eliminated. There is then space to write their adjusted estimates as clues are revealed and explain why they made their choice.
Stopping to reflect and write out their choices is a key component that will allow for a richer experience and better retention of skills learned.
Would you like to grab this set of esti-mystery recording pages to use with esti-mysteries? Simply use the link below to grab them from my shop.
This includes teaching tips and directions, as well as two different versions.
The second version only includes the hundreds chart and space to write the estimates. This is for the youngest mathematicians who may not be ready to write out their reasoning just yet. You can still be sure to discuss their reasoning, though!
Have fun estimating and practice math skills with these rich math tasks!
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