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Functions in Primary Math

working with functions in primary grades

Functions are such an important skill in algebra.  It’s important to establish an understanding of function rules and how they work in the primary grades so students are accustomed to them and can apply functions in new ways.  In first and second grades, functions typically take the form of cute robots named Function Machines.  Rules are applied in input and output tables based on the Function Machine.  Through continued practice students learn that a number goes into the function machine, a rule is applied, and a new number comes out.

Rather than just focusing on the typical Function Machine robot, I created this Captain Cool unit.  Students become Captain Cool and go on 3 different missions to save the day and rescue their helicopter, super car, and sidekick in order to continue their superhero duties.

Captain Cool Mission

Each mission has students completing a different task related to working with functions and in & out tables.  In the first center, students roll a dice and use the given operation to apply that rule to given input numbers.Applying Rules

The second center has students practice identifying the rule given two equations.  This helps students practice identifying missing addends and continues to work with students practicing unknowns in every position.Captain Cool What's My Rule

The third center gives students the rule while they generate the numbers for the input/output tables.  You can have students choose the numbers on their own, or you can have them roll a dice to determine the number for the input table.

Captain Cool Solve Your Rule

After students complete all 3 centers and completed their missions, they have successfully saved their helicopter, sidekick, and super car and continue on their superhero adventures.  There’s a certificate at the end of the unit that you can give students upon completion.

Kids love pretending to be superheroes and trying to complete each mission.  With 3 centers, it will easily fit into your math block.  You can set up the centers to be completed throughout just one day, or you can set it up for students to complete one each day throughout the week.  You can get the unit from my TpT store by clicking the image below.

Function Unit


I also have a set of worksheet templates for functions.  Each one is just the template without numbers; just print, add numbers, and copy.  There are several different styles so you can find the one that best meets your students’ needs.  You can even change things up by completing part of the input table and part of the output table, giving students an additional challenge with switching operations.  You can download the templates for free by clicking the image below.

Function Printables

Do you have a tried and true resources for working with functions with students in second or first grade?



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