Combining Numbers Lesson Plan: Monster School Bus Game

Grade Levels: 3-5, K-3

In this combining numbers lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 1-5, students will use the fun Monster School Bus online math game to practice creating number combinations (such as whole numbers which add up to 10, or decimals which add up to 1). Students then create their own version of the game using hands-on materials.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Combine numbers to create a target number, such as whole number combinations of 10 or decimal combinations of 1.
  2. Explain how numbers can be combined in different ways to create a target number and discuss various problem-solving strategies.


  • Computers with internet access for BrainPOP
  • Interactive whiteboard (or just an LCD projector)
  • Class set of photocopies of the grid
  • Pencils for students
  • Scissors for students


This lesson plan uses a free online math game from NMSU called Monster School Bus. At the beginning of the game, students explore how many ways they can combine numbers to add up to 10. More advanced levels challenge students to combine decimals to add up to 1. As the new monster school bus driver, students will plan routes to pick up as many little monsters as they can in as few trips as possible on the way to monster school. They can combine groups to create a full load and earn prizes while they watch neighborhood buildings transform all around them. Monster School Bus teaches ways of representing numbers; conveys relationships among numbers and number systems; helps players visualize numbers as sets and quantities; reinforces addition of integers and decimals; and builds new mathematical knowledge through problem solving. Note that the game uses only whole numbers until the Carnietown and Slimesburg levels.

In preparation for this lesson, preview the game and plan how to adapt it to your students' needs. You should also determine which BrainPOP and/or BrainPOP Jr. movies to use to help build background knowledge. For grades 1-3, we recommend Making Ten, Basic Adding, Making Equal Groups, Counting On, Repeated Addition, and Doubles. For grades 4-5, we recommend Adding and Subtracting Integers, Associative Property, Commutative Property, and Decimals.

You can find additional lesson resources (including bonus activities) on the Math Snacks website.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Play the BrainPOP or BrainPOP Jr. movie you selected to reinforce your target skills (see the Preparation section above.) You may also want to explore the related movie topic features with students.
  2. Project the Monster School Bus Game for the class to see. Build anticipation and clarify any misconceptions as you go through the introduction together, explaining that when students play the game independently, they can press the "Skip" button in the top righthand corner to move past the intro. (After you beat the first level, your progress will be saved on that computer. If you start a new game, it will go through the tutorial again. If you continue the saved game, it will skip the tutorial.) You might also want to point out the other buttons which allow students to control the sound, etc.
  3. For younger students, you may want to demonstrate the beginning portion of the game in which players practice using the keyboard to navigate the school bus. Older students should be able to read and follow the directions independently.
  4. Provide class time for students time to explore the game independently or in pairs. Allow 10-20 minutes for younger students who will only be completing the first few levels and working on combinations to ten. Older students may need 20-30 minutes.
  5. You can break game play into multiple periods if needed. Note that if you start a new game on a particular computer, you will erase your progress. Otherwise, you can play all the levels that you've previously unlocked. There is no way for students to skip through levels they haven't played at some point.)
  6. Talk with students about the strategies they used to create combinations during the game. Explain that students will have the opportunity to create their own version of the game using a blank grid. Show the grid to students and demonstrate how to write a number in each square to create a combination for your target number. For example, if you want students to practice combinations to 10, you could write 4 in one square and 6 in the square next to it. You could then write 7, 3, and 1 in other squares. Continue until the entire grid is filled.
  7. Demonstrate how to cut the grid apart with scissors to create individual cards. Mix up the cards and challenge a student volunteer to try out different combination until she or he has matched all the cards to create the target number.
  8. Pass the grids out to students and have them work alone or in pairs to create their cards.
  9. Have students switch cards with a friend and practice creating combinations. Are there different ways that the cards can be matched? Which combinations are the easiest to make? The hardest? Why?