Place Value Game: How to Play Trash Can Math:

Are you ready for THE BEST beginning of the year math game ever?! In this post, I’m going to teach you how to play Trash Can Math–a place value game!

 I learned this game two years ago when I was filling in for a teacher on maternity leave.  We got to spend 4 days together for transitioning (which now that I think back is AMAZING!)  I truly learned so much from her! And get this, she is also Mrs. Stahl!

Short story long: I was getting married that September so I started the school year off as Miss Fitzpatrick and then changed to Mrs. Stahl.  So I was Mrs. Stahl filling in for Mrs. Stahl.  Kind of confusing, no?  We made sure to warn the parents ahead of time so they weren’t wondering why pregnant Mrs. Stahl came back to school 2 weeks after having a baby.

Anywho.  The name of the game is Trash Can Math.  Although no actual trash cans are involved.  You could probably change that to make it more realistic but that’s up to you. I always include this in my first week plans which you can find here.

You will need:

  • 1 dice
  • whiteboard
  • marker
  • Trash Can Math page (optional to use instead of whiteboard)

The game is simple.  Tell students we are trying to make the BIGGEST number we can by rolling the dice 3 times (or 4 if you choose to include hundreds).  The catch is, we can only use the digit once and we have to pick a spot for it before we roll again.  We CANNOT move the number once we picked its spot or that will be cheating.

Set up the board

(The T is for tens and O is for ones, the rectangle is the trash can)

Choose a student to roll the dice.  Say they roll a “2”, well that’s fairly easy—you will likely want to put it in the trash can.  There’s a little risk since you could roll a “1”. But, there’s also a high chance that you could roll a 3, 4, 5 or 6. Ask for some opinions on what to do.  Make the kids do the thinking!

Then choose another student to roll again.  Say this time you roll a “4”.  Well that’s a little trickier and you kind of have to gamble.  You could roll a 5 or 6 next time so maybe don’t put it in your tens place just yet.  Or maybe do because there’s a chance you will roll 1, 2 or 3.  See where I am going with this people? This is HIGH ORDER THINKING at its finest!! Discuss it with your students and decide where to place it. In future games, I let them pick but while we are still learning, we all put it in the same spot–the ones place.

Last kid rolls, and obviously you put that number in the last open spot. Let’s say it is a “1”.  Now that you rolled three times, evaluate if you have made the highest number or not. {Can you feel the rigor?} In this example, you did not win 🙁

The first few times we play as a class so we are all making mistakes or awesome decisions together.  After a few rounds, I let the kids put the numbers where they want but of course I question some of their decisions.  You always have that kid who throws out a 5 because they think they will roll two sixes next.  And you ALWAYS have that sneakster who tries to erase numbers so they “wins”.

*I typically use whiteboards but you could also laminate the page below and have kids write on that. I stick them in protective sheets so they can still wipe off.   Click here to get a free copy : )

*I was uber excited because I ordered these inflatable dice at the beginning of the year.

However, I didn’t think to blow one up ahead of time.  And I was 9 months pregnant.  So blowing it up in a timely fashion wasn’t happening.  Instead, I panicked thought quickly and used this virtual dice. What is awesome about the virtual dice is there are a bunch of different options like 1-4, 1-6 and 1-8!

Overall, I love this game because it can be short or long so it’s a great go-to if you have some extra time at the end of the math block.  Once kids are experts, you could have it as a choice for centers or if they finish early.  Add the hundreds or thousands place to differentiate.  SO MANY OPTIONS!

Well I hope I wasn’t too confusing explaining that.  If you have any questions still, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.  Happy Teaching, all!

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