Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Secret Decoder Math

I hated math. I know, hate is a strong word, but when I look back on my childhood struggles with multiplication, division, and later, algebra, the word fits. I’m like most parents that don’t want to see their child experience the same pain they did.

I designed this math activity to help my son have fun with basic addition. Let’s face it. A page of problems is boring for a bright child. For a child new to math, it’s daunting and frustrating. Secret decoder math provides a reward at the end – a message is revealed! Here are a few steps to get you started.
  1. Pick your message. Keep it simple with no more than 3 or 4 short words or words that are easy to sound out.
  2. To create your key, write down the message and then jot down all the letters used (some will be used twice).
  3. Assign numbers to each. These will be the answers, so make sure the numbers are large enough. For example, “Get a candy” has 8 letters (a, c, d, e, g, n, t, and y), a=4, c=5, d=6, etc.
  4. Write the corresponding answer numbers above the letters in the message. Then create addition problems for each answer number.
  5. Create a blank template with just the addition problems and answer boxes for your child. Include the key at the bottom of the page.
I’ve used phrases as simple as “Have a lollipop,” “Get a token,” “Time for snack,” and “A penny for you.” You could use any short sentence, even something as simple as “Good work, <name>.”


I love this activity because it combines multiple skills (reading, writing and math). My son, on the other hand, loves it because he feels like a secret agent. That's what I call a real win-win.

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