Sticky Note Math

One of the best things about living near Orlando is that we are less than an hour away from Disney World. Regardless of the trip length, Rayni always brings items with her to play with in the car.

rayni-sticky-noteI noticed that on this trip, she had brought along a small, sticky note-filled notebook that I had given to her while cleaning out my office. She was keeping herself busy by talking to herself and plucking out different sized sticky notes to create a colorful display on the notebook page.

As she hands me, what I expected to be her latest artwork, she proudly declares that she has created a math problem!

“See, Mommy? The green and pink sticky notes are 10 and the yellow ones are 1. So if you add all the 10s you get 30. Then plus the 2 yellow ones and you get 32!” I stared at the paper, impressed and filled with pride! Even my six-year-old is on the lookout for a #MathMoment!

sticky-noteSeize the Moment

What an unexpected yet perfect opportunity to explore what she knew about these math concepts! One small notebook page held the key to conversations about variables, addition properties, and reasoning skills. The math teacher in me was thrilled, even more so in knowing anyone could have this conversation!

The vocabulary is important, but not so important that it should create a barrier for having math-rich conversations with your children.

Don’t worry about being an expert. Just jump in and have fun listening to how your child’s brain works!

“Wow, Rayni! I can tell you have been working really hard on solving larger addition equations in Ms. Mendez’s class. Why do you suppose the smaller sticky notes are worth more than the larger ones?” I wanted her to come to her own realization, without me telling her, that it didn’t seem logical for the smaller sticky notes to be worth more.

“Well the skinny ones look just like the tens I see in class. So I made them worth 10,” Rayni clarified.

Ah-ha! Misconception identified! The conversation continued, not with me telling her she was mistaken, but in asking questions that made her reflect on her decisions. They weren’t complicated. Just simple clarifying questions:

  • How do you know the green and pink sticky notes have the same value?
  • How many smaller sticky notes fit into the larger sticky note?
  • If that many fit inside the larger one, what would the larger sticky note be worth?
  • I wonder if 1 is the best value for the larger sticky note. What do you think?

sticky-noteThe Math Never Stops

We’ve held on to this paper and as we drive to school or around town, I continue asking her questions, helping her sharpen her mathematical skills and her understanding for how they can be used.

  • Is this the only way this problem could have been solved? Let’s play a game! We can take turns finding new ways to solve the problem and see if we keep coming up with the same answer.
  • What if I changed the values of the sticky notes to 20 and 10. Do you think the answer would be larger or smaller? Prove it!
  • How many more sticky notes (and which kinds of sticky notes) would we need to add to make the answer 100?

Try it! This activity can be transferred into toys, pens, cups, silverware… Whatever you have available! It can even be changed to work for older kids. Change the values of the sticky notes from whole numbers to fractions. You can talk about adding fractions with common and uncommon denominators, comparing fractions, creating mixed numbers and fractions greater than one (improper fractions).

I’d love to hear how your #MathMoment conversation went with your child!

Image Credit –

6 thoughts on “Sticky Note Math

  1. Mary Burr says:

    These look just like algebra tiles to me– perhaps a sticky note could be labeled “x” or even “x^2”. Even the older kids would have fun creating their models with sticky notes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jessica Solano - 2017 Florida Teacher of the Year says:

    Great idea! This is so adaptable. I’m going to have to share your idea with my upper-grade teacher friends. Thanks!


  3. Gretchen Brantley says:

    Your specific examples are approachable and seem fun. I can’t wait to spend time with my 1st and 2nd grade nephews. I want them to read about Rayni’s adventures with math and then ask them how they would help Rayni figure out answers to the follow on questions you pose.


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