Detective Math

When I was a child, I loved math because I felt like a detective solving all these cases. I loved that math was full of puzzles, and soaked up the feeling of accomplishment when I could solve something that seemed so difficult at first. Now, as a teacher, I’m passionate about bring this creative and engaging mindset into my classroom. Math doesn’t have to be scary and frustrating if you’re using your imagination and being a detective solving a crime. When school is silly and fun, students feel relaxed and safe to attempt new things, and learn from their mistakes, instead of quitting when they fail.

We do Detective Math a few times a year. I have created Detective Math bundles to cover math standards while encouraging higher level thinking. Even though these math centers are challenging, my students are always excited to do it. Sometimes, I use them to teach new concepts, but usually I use them to assess the concepts and to assess my students’ critical thinking skills. I never call it a “test”, but set up the right way, it is a perfect activity to assess my students with, because they are relaxed and engaged.

Each bundle has several cases (centers) that can be used as individual lessons and activities, or you can lay them all out at the same time to have the students rotate through as math centers. Each Detective Math bundle comes with an M.C.I.S.- Mathematical Criminal Investigation Services Heaquarters Poster to put up around your room to help transform the room. It also comes with detective badges for the students to wear. 14492352_303773670002230_775567667413411302_n


Each of the cases (centers) comes with the instructions written out as a case file. I always glue the case files to big manilla envelopes, and keep the case tasks cards inside of the envelopes. When it is time to lay out the centers, I take out the task cards, and then have the students students turn in their case work (answer sheets) to the envelopes before switching centers. Then, I can just grab the envelopes at the end and have all the answer sheets together to grade.



Even the students answer sheets are made to look like a place for the students to show their case file work.


There are several ways you an set these centers up to create the detective atmosphere. One ideas is to turn off the lights and let the students use flash lights and lamps to solve the secret cases. img_1382


Another way to create the detective mood is to transfer the task cards onto white card stock using a highlighter. Then turn off the lights and give the student UV backlights to see the secret messages. You can find these little UV flashlights on amazon.


As you can see in the picture of my students working, they are wearing what we call “Genius Glasses”. These are 3D glasses that I popped the lenses out of and put tape in the middle of. We wear them when we need to critically think and may need an extra bust of confidence. You can find similar glasses at the Dollar Store. I also play detective music in the background while they are working.


All these centers involve higher level thinking. Here are some examples of my Detective Math Bundles. Click on the links to find more information about each one.


Addition & Subtraction for 1st/2nd grade. It uses algebraic thinking while strengthening addition and subtractions facts up to 20.


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Factors & Multiples



Multi-digit Multiplication


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Multiplication  Perfect to help make those multiplication tables concrete while giving the students strength in skip counting and division skills (even though it never technically talks about division)


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Units of Measurement  Practice converting units of measurements, while incorporating the concept of perimeter.



Decimals & Fractions My very first MCIS Bundle, and the one I am doing with my class this week. Story problems are censored, numbers have turned into shapes…all kinds of number crime going on. 🙂


For more information on these Detective Bundles visit my TeachersPayTeachers Store or you can see Facebook Live videos about these activities on my Teachlikeyoumeanit Facebook Page.




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