How to Help Students Master Integers

Integer FLUENCY IS a Non-Negotiable Skill

When I taught 7th grade math, it was always so frustrating to see students leave my classroom without truly mastering integers and the integer operations. I would use manipulatives, scaffolding, teach and reteach, peer helpers, intervention strategies, real-world examples, etc. You name it, I felt like I had tried it. And, unfortunately, the dreaded pacing guide forced me to move on. It was heartbreaking to watch a student try to solve basic equations when they couldn’t subtract integers. 
After a couple of years of feeling desperately helpless, I decided to put my foot down and not let them leave my classroom without mastering the operations. I had to be flexible with my time and the pacing guide and it meant some things were not fully taught. But in my opinion, not fully having fluency with integer operations was a non-negotiable standard. Better yet, a non-negotiable life skill.

Integer Boot Camp

This is how Integer Boot Camp came to be. In our pacing guide, integer operations were taught early in the school year. As the school year came to a close, it was necessary to do one big, effective push for mastery. It was perfect because it was fun, engaging, differentiated, and it built confidence. 


For me and my students, it worked really well for us to do boot camp on Fridays, for 5 weeks in a row. On day 1, to build excitement, I came to school dressed up in some of my camo gear and played the role of the drill sergeant. I introduced the unit as a fun way to reinforce skills they had already learned. We talked about the importance of learning integer operations with fluency, so they didn’t need to use a calculator to work each step of the more challenging multi-step equations I knew were coming in 8th grade and Algebra. I also stressed the fact that integer operations are life skills. They were pumped up for boot camp.

Each student drew their call name for the unit. This was important to protect students’ identities when the Top Ten lists were posted each week. More on that later. I projected a special Integer Cadence and we chanted it together. We reviewed how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide integers and then the students took progress quiz #1, which served as a pre-test.


Each week, I scored their progress quizzes and used their call signals to post a Top Ten list. Students were so excited to find out if they made it each week! They genuinely cared enough to try hard. They were wanting to learn and improve. It’s a beautiful sight for a teacher. 🙂
I used their scores to differentiate the lessons for the next week. Each Friday of the 5-week boot camp, students were placed in small groups to meet their needs toward integer fluency. Some students would play a game or do an activity to improve their fluency (such as these free Square Dance Puzzles) and others would do a small-group reteaching mini-lesson with me to address any misconceptions or repeated mistakes they were making.
As we moved through the five-week (one day/week) unit, the students’ excitement never wavered. What did change was their confidence. It was just the thing that I needed to feel good about sending them to the next grade. 
Best wishes to you for implementing an Integer Boot Camp with your students! If you would like to save yourself time and energy, you can CLICK HERE to grab mine.
Or if you would like to about more fun activities in the math class, try this engaging lesson over Investigating Lines Cut by a Transversal. 



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