Math Projects: Differentiated Hands-On Learning

When I’m looking for rigorous practice that’s so fun the students almost forget they’re learning, I turn to math projects! These projects hold so much learning power with their real-world connections, differentiation options, collaborative learning opportunities, and numerous avenues for cross curricular learning too. PLUS they’re printable and digital for even more flexibility. 

I'll never forget the first math project I made. I was the gifted coordinator and teacher, and we had just finished working on multiplication. My students had a pretty solid conceptual foundation of the skill, but they needed a bit more real-world practice. At the time, my husband worked in hotels, so we sat down together and made my very first math project, The Resort Report. At the time (back in 2012), there was simply NOTHING like this available on TpT, so I had such a great time designing it and determining the best way to make the math project work. Once I implemented the math project into my classroom, there was SO much math skill practice, SO much real-world math relevance, and SO much engagement. My students were literally BEGGING for more. From that point forward, I started creating math projects for every unit we were doing. My students absolutely loved them, and these math projects have become a cornerstone of my teaching.

math projects upper elementary

How To Use Math Projects

  • Cumulative review or assessment project for end of unit. Each of my math projects is designed to show mastery of MULTIPLE skills related to the concept at hand. Many eliminate the need for traditional assessments, which is a win-win for both students and teachers.
  • As seasonal practice. Upper elementary students love seasonal fun, too. The seasonal math projects are specifically made for this!
  • Anytime review. Math projects are perfect at the beginning of the year for brushing up on the previous grade’s skills, during test prep, or at the end of the year when you’re looking for structured fun.
  • Math centers. The projects are great for collaborative learning and work so well as ongoing math centers. Sometimes, I will break up the pages and make each page a different center or math station.
  • Differentiation. You can pull out and assign specific pages for each student or group. This is such an easy way to differentiate, and students rarely even realize they are working on separate pages. I design almost all of my math projects to have pages that stand alone, so they are easy to pick and choose from.
  • Early finisher projects or warmups. Students can keep their current project in a folder for easy access. These are particularly awesome for enrichment as most require some level of higher-order thinking. THESE ARE NOT BASIC WORKSHEETS.
  • At-home math homework. Ditch the worksheets and send these math projects home for some at-home practice!
  • As the cornerstone to a Project-Based Learning Unit. While I don't claim that these math projects are PBL (they are missing a few components), they are PERFECT to integrate into our project-based learning units. I have seen teachers do AMAZING things alongside these math projects… students design full hotels including scale models, they created a real classroom movie theatre, etc.
  • As the basis for mini room transformations. I simply don't have the energy for massive room transformations, but these projects all lend themselves SO well to mini-themed room transformations. For example, when we are completing The City of Shapes Perimeter and Area Math Project, I get each student a hard hat from Oriental Trading. For Place Value Detectives, they get their projects in a detective folder. For the Great Zoo Review, they put on a zookeeper visor and earn an animal coin (again from Oriental Trading) as salary for their hard work on each page. The options are limitless, and a little bit goes a LONG way to keep your students engaged. They truly LOVE this little aspect if you are able to work it in.

What Sets These Math Projects Apart?

Every time I set out to create a new math project, I look at the concept we are working on and outline all the different ways that skills needs to be practiced. I consider how I can review the skill and ways that I can encourage students to really stretch their thinking with the concept. It's incredibly important to me that my math projects aren't just another worksheet with a pretty theme, and I go to great lengths to create in-depth projects that help students excel. Every single one of my math projects has been designed to enrich and extend student thinking.

More Math Project Ideas

Here's some feedback from classroom teachers on how they used these math projects.

I love that it's “real life” math. The students get to use the skills that they've learned and apply it to “real life” situations to see that math really is everyone!Seasonal Bundle

Such a fantastic set of ready-to-go, super engaging projects. My students were so excited to complete these challenging, appropriate, real-world scenarios using both new and old math skills. Students got to use varied strategies to figure out what methods worked best for them, the differentiation was perfect, and they were easy to break down into bigger or smaller chunks depending on the group and level.Seasonal Bundle

I have used these projects in the classroom as early finisher packets so that students have something to be working on. I have also used them in my remote weeks as lesson follow up. The kids are very engaged and I love that they tie our topics in with the season.Seasonal Bundle

This is a great, easy to use, resource for my students during our time in distance learning. I love doing STEM activities and can actually create an activity based on each of these Math Projects! I love it! The assessments are amazing! I will continue to use them when we get back in the classroom!Concept Bundle

These projects are fantastic! I am always looking for ways to make math more hands on for my students and this was exactly what they needed. These activities give my students a purpose for using what they have learned and they are having fun doing it!Concept Bundle

A Closer Look At A Few Favorites

I use both concept-based math projects to focus on specific standards and seasonal math projects that integrate several skills. Here are some of my favorites!

Road Trip Math: I love using this road trip math project at the end of the year or the beginning of the year as we talk about summer break. This one also has FREE road sign math task cards that work well with it. It covers SO MANY math skills like problem solving, place value, money, etc.

road trip end of the year math project

Place Value Detectives: This place value math project is BY far my most-loved math project! Turn your students into crime-fighting detectives while reinforcing place value skills. These are five different crimes to solve and four of the activities have two different options to make differentiating within the same project a snap. If you're teaching place value, this post is full of more place value ideas.

Long Division Movie Marathon: Extend and enrich division skills with this math project while students explore the ins and outs of designing and running their own movie theatre. There are actually two math projects in here, one advanced (two-digit divisors) and one standard (one-digit divisors) so you can use it across multiple levels! See this post for more long division ideas.

division math project

Decimal Place Value Sports Scramble: This one tops my list for most fun to create! Let your students be the judges with this decimal math project! The biggest sporting championship of the year has just wrapped up and your students have stepped into the role of Scoring Official for the games! I also have this post full of more decimal ideas.

decimal math project

City of Shapes Perimeter and Area Math Project: Students will create and design buildings and other features in their imaginary city. From parks and recreation to housing and hospitals… it's all up to them to design using their perimeter and area skills. You can get a closer look at this project and more perimeter and area ideas here.

perimeter area math project

All Current Math Projects

Reading Projects

If you're interested in using projects in your literacy instruction too, I also have a reading projects bundle!

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Free Morphology Activities

Are you ready to get started teaching prefixes and suffixes? This FREE word study bundle can help!

free upper elementary notebook ideas for teaching prefixes and suffixes along with Greek or Latin roots

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