Create Suspense – MTBoS Week Two: My Favorite


For week two of our blogging challenge, we were asked to write about one of our favorite lessons, games, resources, tools or strategies. It was tough to pick one.  I have so many excellent resources and tools, that as I reflected on what to write about, it made me once again realize what a great time is it to be a math teacher and just how lucky I am.  What a hard but awesome job, and what a generous and sharing community we have.

I really like keeping students in suspense.  If I can set up a situation where students want to know what’s coming next, that often translates into engagement and the desire to learn.  When you watch your favorite TV show, and it ends on a cliff-hanger, you make predictions and you think about it in between episodes.  You are connected to and invested in the story, and you can’t wait to see what happens next.  I want my classes to have at least some of this kind of anticipation.

I also like to create some public presence for math in my school, and I try to create a bit of suspense around this as well.  Typically, a few days before we publish our work on the math wall, I will put up a provocative question, or something to generate interest. This week I just put up a funny title with a big question mark, and listened for the buzz..


As a culminating activity of learning about graphing linear equations, I asked Algebra 1 students to create “math faces” through drawing with graphs. They used Desmos (…it was very tempting to write a series of “my favorite Desmos” posts – everything those guys do makes my classroom better!) to create their works of mathematical art, to practice transforming linear equations, and to solidify their understanding of domain and range.  I ask students to make sketches ahead of time to ensure that they are purposeful in manipulating their equations.  This is an activity
conceived of by the incomparable Fawn Nguyen, and one that I use every year.  I have written about it before as well.  This kind of task gives all students an easy entry point, but allows for real complexity for those who are ready. This low entry, high ceiling aspect of drawing with graphs makes it a rich and motivating activity that we can return to with students again and again.  Although the Des-Man activity is not currently available through the teacher dashboard at Desmos, I have heard that it is getting a make-over and that they will be bringing it back again.  Each time, I am amazed at how motivating this activity is for students.

After a couple of days, we published our process and our results on this year’s “Sweet Wall of Math!”


How do you create suspense and anticipation in your classroom?

4 thoughts on “Create Suspense – MTBoS Week Two: My Favorite

  1. Jennifer Abel @abel_jennifer

    I love this idea of creating suspense. I really need to build this into my classroom more. One time that I think I have done this was with an intro to solving systems of linear equations. I hid a few coins in an old 35mm film container and asked kids to guess the exact contents of the container with as few hints as possible. They were pretty excited to figure out what was inside after investing so much time in figuring out the least amount of needed information.

    1. Nat Post author

      Thanks for your comment. I love the hidden coin problems, and do a version of this myself. I use envelopes for the coins, but film canisters sound like a better idea (…can you even get them anymore? :) ). I write what kinds of coins are in the envelope, and give students a digital scale, along with samples of each kind of coin. They weigh the coins, and figure out how many of each are in there by creating systems of equations. I prepare a bunch of envelopes, and I’m deliberate about giving some softballs to certain kids, and some tougher ones (multiple possible answers) to other kids. I play up the drama and we do a big reveal at the end of class. Love this example of suspense and anticipation.

  2. Pamjwilson

    creating some public presence of math in your school is a great way to celebrate awesome thinking going on in the classrooms! Sweet Wall of Math! thanks for sharing!

    1. Nat Post author

      Definitely, it’s worth letting students know that we find things to celebrate in their work! I’ve found that once kids know that their work will be posted publicly, they often approach it a bit differently. I think that the same goes for me. Putting work up on the walls outside the classroom and posting our work on the blog is a way of putting myself in this mindset as well.


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