Who Is The Elf On The Shelf In Math Class?

During this holiday season we were seeing parallels to how children are internalizing their connection to mathematics with how they internalize their connection to the holiday season.


How We Shape Mathematics With Statements

In our quest to engage students in math class, we often found ourselves making statements that, upon reflection, seemed to place the sole value of mathematics on achieving a stellar test score. Statements like:

  • “Make sure you pay attention and do your homework so you can perform well on the test.”
  • “If you don’t complete this activity, you won’t do well on your test at the end of the unit.”
  • “You should follow my instructions or your report card may suffer.”

These statements unintentionally conveyed that the only purpose of learning mathematics was to earn a credential. They overshadowed the inherent goodness in experiencing math and made it challenging for students to form a positive connection to the subject.

How We Shape The Holiday Season

Just as some households have adopted an The Elf on the Shelf® to watch over children during the holiday season – silently judging their behaviour – we question whether such surveillance may affect the true magic of the season.

Is it about internalizing the joy of the holidays, or are children internalizing the idea that their behaviour determines their gifts or the overall experience of the season?

Does this magical elf become a set of watching eyes that suggests behaviour dictates outcome and ultimately judgement?

Elf On The Shelf & Math Class

Drawing parallels, when teachers make statements similar to those at the start of this post, we unwittingly become the elf in the classroom. Our watchful eyes, and statements, though well-intentioned, inadvertently communicate that outcomes are solely based on students’ ability to behave and follow directions.

Just like the elf adds a blur filter to the true purpose of the season, teachers can can blur the true purpose of studying mathematics.

We, as teachers, play a crucial role in shaping how students internalize their connection to mathematics through our actions and statements.

Instead of continuing with an approach that could negatively affect a student’s connection toward mathematics, let’s consider alternative ways to foster a positive mathematical experience:

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Each lesson consists of:

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson consists of a Teacher Guide to lead you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure your lesson runs without a hitch!

Each Teacher Guide consists of:

  • Intentionality of the lesson;
  • A step-by-step walk through of each phase of the lesson;
  • Visuals, animations, and videos unpacking big ideas, strategies, and models we intend to emerge during the lesson;
  • Sample student approaches to assist in anticipating what your students might do;
  • Resources and downloads including Keynote, Powerpoint, Media Files, and Teacher Guide printable PDF; and,
  • Much more!

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson begins with a story, visual, video, or other method to Spark Curiosity through context.

Students will often Notice and Wonder before making an estimate to draw them in and invest in the problem.

After student voice has been heard and acknowledged, we will set students off on a Productive Struggle via a prompt related to the Spark context.

These prompts are given each lesson with the following conditions:

  • No calculators are to be used; and,
  • Students are to focus on how they can convince their math community that their solution is valid.

Students are left to engage in a productive struggle as the facilitator circulates to observe and engage in conversation as a means of assessing formatively.

The facilitator is instructed through the Teacher Guide on what specific strategies and models could be used to make connections and consolidate the learning from the lesson.

Often times, animations and walk through videos are provided in the Teacher Guide to assist with planning and delivering the consolidation.

A review image, video, or animation is provided as a conclusion to the task from the lesson.

While this might feel like a natural ending to the context students have been exploring, it is just the beginning as we look to leverage this context via extensions and additional lessons to dig deeper.

At the end of each lesson, consolidation prompts and/or extensions are crafted for students to purposefully practice and demonstrate their current understanding. 

Facilitators are encouraged to collect these consolidation prompts as a means to engage in the assessment process and inform next moves for instruction.

In multi-day units of study, Math Talks are crafted to help build on the thinking from the previous day and build towards the next step in the developmental progression of the concept(s) we are exploring.

Each Math Talk is constructed as a string of related problems that build with intentionality to emerge specific big ideas, strategies, and mathematical models. 

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

MMM Unit - Snack Time Fractions Unit


Partitive Division Resulting in a Fraction

Shot Put Multi Day Problem Based Unit - Algebraic Substitution


Equivalence and Algebraic Substitution

Wooly Worm Race - Representing and Adding Fractions


Fractions and Metric Units


Scavenger Hunt - Data Management and Finding The Mean


Represent Categorical Data & Explore Mean

Downloadable resources including blackline mastershandouts, printable Tips Sheetsslide shows, and media files do require a Make Math Moments Academy Membership.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!