Monday, September 26, 2016

There is Nothing Worse Than Being John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt'ed

Finding the greatest common factor of two monomials... can you think of a more thrilling, exciting, topic in any subject?  I mean having a teacher give you 14x3 and 20x2y and finding 2x2.  THRILLING, right?

About as thrilling as teaching commas in grammar I'd imagine.

This year I have taken Michael Matera's writings from Explore Like a Pirate to Gamify my classroom.  I have used games in my classroom before, but this is the first time I'm fully integrating gaming into the classroom.

During the week we have been working on factoring monomials. Students did this in small groups, individually, and in whole group games.  They included playing Clue, higher/lower, and hot seat.

It culminated with a game of Magic Card.  Here is how we played:

All 52 cards of one deck were laid out on a table:

Didn't take pictures, sorry...

From there I explained the rules:

I would post a problem and give 30 seconds to work it.  After 30 seconds I will use the random name generator (found here)  to pick a name. A new name would be picked every 10 seconds until a correct answer is given.

If you have a correct answer, you can go to the table and pick any playing card.

The more questions you get correct, the more playing cards your team will have at the end of the game.

Once the game is over, I will draw a card from a second deck.  That is the magic card.

Here is the scoring for this game:

Really should have taken some pictures. Sorry.

So that means if the winning card is the 3 of clubs, you get 2 points for each black card in your deck, 4 points for each club, 10 points for each '3', and 25 points if you have the 3 of clubs.  I gave them a moment to calculate how many points the winning card is worth.  At first they said 25 points, then a few realized the winning card would match the color, suit and value as well, so the winning card is actually worth 41 points.

As part of my gamification, students also have game cards available.  These are kept in their binder in a plastic card holder.  If you are curious, I made these cards on the Magic: The Gathering Cardsmith Website. It is an easy site to navigate and saves up to 1000 cards! Here are a few that were used during this game:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmit: This card allows you to take a turn when it is someone else's turn.  Know the right answer, but were not selected?  Play this card! It's your turn now and not theirs!

Twinning: When someone is chosen, you may play this card and get full benefits of being called upon. Have the right answer? You get a playing card! Have the wrong answer? No card and you've used this card's power for the day.

Shield: Use this card when you are targeted.  You are protected and are not targeted anymore.  Great for countering Twinning and John Jacob.

It was so wonderful watching students collaborate in their teams, hope their name got called, and then strategize when to use cards.  One group realized that if a teammate got selected, they should twin their teammate so that they can get double (or triple) cards that round.

I gave multiple bonuses out for good team work, showing good processes, and good sportsmanship.  When it was said and done over 2 dozen of the 52 cards had been selected.  Later in the year I plan on expanding this part to have them write some probability examples from the game data.

When it was all done, Team Emmy Noether had 9 cards, Johann Kepler had 7 cards, Leonhard Euler had 6 cards, and Brahmagupta had 5 cards (my students are on teams named after mathematicians.)  Each team had their own strategies; Emmy went for a good variety of cards while Brahmagupta went for only cards with hearts on them.

Tension built as I was getting ready to reveal the winning card.  Of course it didn't happen right away - we had to get our homework copied,  get our work in our notebook, and close up a bit...

Then I went to the deck and pulled the 9 of clubs.  The girls immediately cheer as they realized they had the winning card and at least 41 points.  Brahmagupta's members groaned as they saw they had no clubs and no 9.  Zero game points.

Overall this was a crazy loud, fun, and fully engaging way of teaching what is otherwise a rather dull topic. Students were authentically excited to solve for the greatest common factor of monomials.  Emmy Noether was also excited because they had fallen to 2nd overall in the team points, but knew today's domination would put them back on top.

Best of all?  Students were leaving the classroom saying "Factoring monomials is fun!" Seriously.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Go To the Mirror!

Those who are longer-term readers know that I am very into protocols, routines, and procedures.  The students at my school have many executive function difficulties and the more consistent and familiar the classroom schedule is, the more success they generally have during that class.

However protocols, routines, and procedures do not have to be boring and dull.  Take reflection.  This is one of the most important parts of my lesson, and there is some form of reflection integrated into all my my activities.  This is also a place where I have the ability of having lots of fun.

It is also important for students to reflect on all aspects of the classroom, not just the 'academic learning targets.'  How are students feeling about the class? How did they like a lesson?  Do they have a suggestion for the improvement of the class?

SOAPBOX DISCLAIMER: Reflection is very personal.  It allows students to think about what they have learned and to process that learning.  It is also a great tool for me as the teacher; if the student didn't write the 'correct' information about what was learned, it is an indicator to me that my method, presentation, or delivery didn't have the intended effect.  I don't 'grade' reflections for content (thought I tell them grammar rules always apply), and I never tell someone they did not reflect correctly (unless, of course, they don't answer the prompt given.)

Sometimes reflection doesn't connect to reality. Use that information! 

Today's reflection: Mystery bag. 

For this reflection I gather students into a circle.  This is another procedure we have practiced many times throughout the year.  I've outlined this in my previous blog.

Once there I held an old lunch box up and shake it up a bit.  The students make some guesses as to what might be in the bag.  Then I dump the contents right in the center of the circle:

Well that was unexpected...

After the circle is ready, I pose the question.  For example, the first time we did this activity I simply asked "Which of these objects remind you of math?"  I explain that there are no 'wrong' answers, as long as you can make a connection to math.  I give them 2 minutes of think time and at the end ask them to put a thumbs up if they have an object and reason.  Most, but not all, usually will be ready.

I explain that we're going to go around the circle.  Each person in turn will pick up the object, explain why they chose it, then return it.  This means there is no worry about someone else 'taking' your item.  I also explain that if someone picks your object and has the same reason, that is fine.  You will just pick the same object and say your reason in your own words, even if it sounds like someone else's response.

I then address the students that are not ready.  This is a VERY abstract concept and not all students will be able to connect an answer.  I tell them that their job is to listen to everyone else's response and I will be calling on them to make a connection (or agree) with someone's reasoning.

I love doing this activity for a number of reasons.  First, it is completely unexpected.  Students have never walked into a math classroom and seen something like this.  It let's them know that "we'll have routines, expectations, and protocols, but don't expect it to be dull."

Second, I LOVE the responses I get.  It allows me to get some insight into the thought process of my students as well as their abstract reasoning ability.  Here is a smattering of thoughts that came out from the first week of school:

  • Math is like the dice because it has numbers (very concrete thinker.)
  • Math is like the battery because it has positive and negative signs. (attention to detail!)
  • Math is like the turtle because you have to just keep swimming (movie connection!)
  • Math is like the multi-colored pen because there are lots of different ways to solve problems (are you kidding me?)
Reflection does not always have to be exit tickets, written statements of what I've learned, and 3-2-1 cards.  Feel free to mix it up, but always get them reflecting!