Practical Math Practice: The Tollbooth Game

Learning is most effective when it is both practical and relevant. Teachers and tutors can maximize their students’ real-world math abilities by creating experiences that mimic how math is used in real life. One of my favorite examples of a hands-on, concrete math practice activity is the Tollbooth Game. I still remember playing this Tollbooth Game decades ago when I was in middle school and can recall how effectively it made the concept of carrying out accurate mental math seem meaningful (shout out to Mr. Brennan!).

Objective

The tollbooth operator completes a set of transactions with customers focusing on accurate computations, speedy calculations, and maintaining composure.

Materials

(per participant)

• Money (real or fake)
• Coins – typically one roll of each type
• Bills –\$1 x 40, \$5 x 20, \$10 x 10, \$20 x 2
• 50-100 Index cards or similarly sized pieces of paper
• paper
• pencil
• calculator

Setup

1. Create a set of 50-100 toll tickets by writing a variety of toll prices on index cards. Use an authentic toll table like this one from the New Jersey Turnpike to add realism.
2. Designate a student or set of students to act as tollbooth operators. The remaining students will be the drivers. There should be at least a ratio of 1:1 between tollbooth operators and drivers (although 3:1 tends to work best).
3. Give each tollbooth operator a station (a desk or table) and a set amount of currency. All remaining currency and the tollbooth tickets you created should be located on the other side of the room for the drivers to access.
4. Establish a traffic flow for the drivers where they pick up a toll card and a combination of bills to pay for their toll, move through the tollbooth, and wrap back around to repeat the process.
5. Tollbooth collectors take the ticket and payment from the driver, calculate the change (either mentally, with pad and paper, or calculator – depending on the target skill), give the driver the change, and save the ticket in a receipts pile.
6. After a set period of time (or after the cards are all gone), total up the receipts to see how much money should have been collected. Total up the cash on hand, subtract the amount of money the operator started with, and compare the result to what should have been collected. The closer the absolute value of this difference is to zero, the better the tollbooth operator performed.
7. (Optional) keep a high-score chart of the best-performing tollbooth operators with the total discrepancy. Consider upping the difficulty by adjusting the tools the tollbooth operator is allowed to use to calculate the change.

The Tollbooth Game is just one example of how practical, everyday math skills can be practiced in a hands-on and engaging way.

Have suggestions or modifications for this activity? Have you tried this or something similar with your students? Share your feedback below!

Be sure to check back with The Knowledge Roundtable Blog for more practical practice activities!