Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Shall Never Play a Review Game Again!

Update 8/3/15: I've decided that you probably shouldn't use this game in class and I blogged about that here. I could just delete this post, but I figure there's always the chance that someone will think of a way to improve it.

This is the second part of my ramblings about exponents. You should probably go read the first part before you read this!

I don't think there was ever a moment in my life where I said, "Hey! That review game worked really well today. It really helped to prepare my students for that big test tomorrow. Everyone was fully engaged and asking questions about the problems they didn't understand. They had so much fun and I was really impressed by their good sportsmanship! I can't wait to do it again."

Here's why it never worked for me.... The kids who struggle don't want others to notice, so they make some excuse about how they don't want to play the game. The game is "stupid". So I have to give them a worksheet to do instead. Then somebody notices somebody cheating and demands that points be taken away. Then I have to explain that I didn't catch them, but I will certainly be watching to see if anyone is cheating from now on. Then someone will get caught, and I take points away from that team, and then that team gets mad, and then the other team says something nasty to them, and then they say something nasty back, and then I explain that it's just a game, but that doesn't help, because after a few questions they're arguing again, and then I threaten to give them all boring worksheets to do, and so on and so forth.

I don't know. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but my kids can't seem to handle competition.

So after one horrible day, I declared, "I shall never play another review game again!" That sounds overly dramatic, but that's how it went down.

So today, after seven months of not allowing any games, I decided to play a game.

It was very spontaneous. Someone asked if we could "do something fun", which annoys me to no end, but after practicing solving systems for the last couple of days, I agreed that something fun was in order. I also ran out of Oreos from a task we did the other day, so bribing them to do work was out of the question.

I remembered reading a post a few months back by Kara Wilkins called Grudgeball. It was some sort of game where everybody gets so many X's and you want to be the last student/group with an X. Kids take turns answering questions, and if the question is right, they toss a basketball into a hoop, and if they make a shot, they can erase one of their opponent's X's. I basically did the same thing, minus the basketball. (I decided to name it "Grudge"...but there has to be a better name for it.)

I wrote everyone's names on the Smartboard and everybody got three X's. It looked something like this:


(I know what you're thinking...does he really have kids named Fawn? Hedge? Timon? Bowman??? No. They're completely made up. No one would actually name their kids that.)

I then explained the rules of the game to my students. An expression with exponents would be written on the board. Everyone would write an answer on their little whiteboards, and then anyone with a right answer would erase one X from the board. The last student with an X under their name wins.

First problem:

This isn't tough. In fact, they just learned how to expand these expressions and rewrite them yesterday. So everybody got it right. Awesome. And everybody got to remove an X. Our board looked like this:


Monya, Kishi and Andrew took Fawn out pretty quickly. Fawn took a little bit of revenge on Andrew, but it didn't do much good.

I gave the students another problem, but this time it was something a little different.


Several of my students point out that they've never seen a problem like this before. With the utmost seriousness, I said, "No. You've never seen this. But you're smart enough to figure it out. Just think about what's going on here." It was just one of those moments where you tell the kids that they're on their own and they need to believe in themselves. Maybe a little corny, but it works.

A little over half of the class got the right answer. We talked about what people did to simplify the expression, and for the most part, everyone was engaged because they wanted to make sure they were good at playing the game. And if that's the carrot that I have to dangle to get my students to think algebraically with 11 days left in the school year, so be it.

Note on game play: Although Fawn, Hedge, and Nathan were out of the game, they could play a zombie role and "attack" other players by erasing their X's. This motivated them to keep playing, even though they could no longer win.

Another problem was given that was similar to the last one. That time just about everybody got it. Then we tried dividing powers. Only two or three students figured it out. Then we did another, then half the class figured it out. You see where I'm going with this?

I kept introducing something new. Some students got it right away. For some, it took a couple tries. But eventually, everybody learned how to do it.

The game was finished when all of the X's were gone except for one. Usually the kid that wins is the one you least expect.


If you remember, I said I'd never play a review game again. And technically, I didn't. This wasn't a review. This was mostly new material. I wasn't using a game to trick my students into practicing something one last time before a test. I was using a game to encourage them to learn something new.

Caution: This game seems to work differently for different groups of kids. If there's a lot of animosity in the room, it's probably not a good idea.

29 comments:

  1. Okay, I like this. I'm trying it today. WITH exponents, in fact.

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  2. Hey! This is great! I'm the original blogger who wrote the Grudgeball post and I love how you modified it. My hub teaches math so I'm definitely going to pass this on to him. Thanks for the link back!

    www.toengagethemall.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Kara. It was a great idea that you came up with. So glad I could steal it!

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  3. Fawn is a sore loser, as we saw with Tetris at CMC.
    Race Car Math Review is pretty slick. I thought Basketball Review was hip, but kids dig Race Car Math way better.

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    1. I remember you posting this and I always wanted to try it. Just need to sneak the car out of the house while Emmett isn't watching.

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  4. Definitely trying this strategy! I agree - math "review games" take the focus away from the content we're trying to review, but this is a great way to get kids thinking about mathematics!

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    1. Thanks Cathy. I just started noticing your name in the mathtwitterblogo whatever. Hope to see it more!

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  5. Great game with interesting strategy...poor Fawn though...turned into a zombie in round 1!

    Thanks for sharing...another idea I will happily steal :)

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    1. Yeah, Fawn is an awesome zombie though. Thanks Mary.

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  6. Thank you for posting this at just the perfect time!

    I had promised by kids a fun review day because the end of the year is so stressful and they had earned one, but I always have the same concerns as you. I was trying to decide last night what to do and I found this. I was hesitant, but decided to try it. It was wonderful!!! I have never had that much participation in any class activity and the kids were begging to move on to the next question so they could get somebody back by erasing an X.

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    1. That's really cool. I have to play around with the rules a bit. I like the zombie mode...also had a couple rounds where students could remove two X's. It was funny how excited they got.

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  7. Another idea I need to bookmark and steal! The only real success I've had with a game is using motion detectors and the "graph match" on the TI calculators. High engagement and the game did not get "in the way" of the math.

    I have the same feelings about teaching exponents that you expressed in that graph and this year did not explicitly teach any rules whatsoever, but had students repeatedly think about the meaning of those exponents. (At the very end of the unit we discussed any "shortcuts" they had thought up - voila: exponent laws.) Anyhow, this was great until we got to negative exponents. While _I_ can see why this notation is so elegant, it really throws students for a loop. Understanding what was going on with adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing integers (negatives) is _hard_ for most of my students... and now Mrs L is using negative exponents? I really think the notation was a big part of the difficulty. It's the same symbol but it means two different things? (Especially if we start thinking about -2^2 or (-2)^(-2) or... ) So now I'm wondering how I can teach this in a way that the use of a negative number in the exponent seems as natural to them as it does to me. I wonder if I can avoid teaching the notation in the same sort of way I skipped teaching the other exponent rules - could I set them up so that would they come up with the notation on their own? Or maybe in the context of your game you could throw a "x^-3*x^5" into the mix of questions. Is this too big of a leap? If they figure this out, could it then be followed with "x^-4"?

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    1. Negative exponents are definitely a stretch. I try to reinforce the idea that positive exponents mean repeated multiplication and that negative exponents mean repeated division. So 2^-2 is 1 divided by two 2's. Why did I use 1? Because it's OK to say that this is the same as 1 * 2^-2, just like it's OK to say that 2^2 is the same as 1 * 2^2.
      Unfortunately, I don't think this helps that much in the long run. I think that it is more natural for students to latch onto those rules/shortcuts once they figure them out. The meaning gets lost over time.

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  8. Just wanted to thank you for posting about this. I introduced this to my classes about two months ago and have now played it once in each of my 6 classes (probability for two courses, factoring in IM III, and properties/operations of imaginary numbers for Pre-Calc).

    I've redubbed it "Zombies" and added in "Angel" rounds (add an X back in play) and "Demon" rounds (take away two X's from either one person or one from two separate people). Since I started using it, the rest of the math department at my school caught on and is using it as well. We found that students are actively excited to participate - every type of student is involved. Kids talk about it in the halls.

    When I mentioned to my Pre-Calc class that we'd be playing it again in late January or early February once we get to properties of logarithms, one of my students said, "Harrington, it's going to be war." They literally can't wait to play it again.

    Side note - I wrote all of their names with X's on the board and left it there for two days. I let them guess what it was and never directly answered any of them. That built up a TON of excitement.

    Side note two - watching the politics of the game unfold in each class is one of the most interesting things I've ever witnessed.

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  9. ent.

    Side note two - watching the politics of the game unfold in each class is one of the most interesting things I've ever witnesse

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  11. Your struggles with playing games in the classroom sound identical to mine. Here I was thinking I was the only one who was unable to catch people cheating, while simultaneously trying to keep score, remember what round it is, and make sure the answer given was correct and etc.! Thanks for sharing your frustrations and your ideas. I will definitely be using this game. You seem to have all the bases covered. I love the element of the zombie player.

    I also can identify with your sentiments on teaching exponents. I am in the midst of this chapter now and thought to myself only yesterday that I might in fact be making the students dumber somehow.

    Thanks again!

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  12. So how would I keep poor Fawn, Hedge, and Nathan engaged in after getting out after the first round??

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  13. I've redubbed it "Zombies" and added in "Angel" rounds (add an X back in play) and "Demon" rounds (take away two X's from either one person or one from two separate people). Since I started using it, the rest of the math department at my school caught on and is using it as well. We found that students are actively excited to participate - every type of student is involved. Kids talk about it in the halls.


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  14. looks like i can finally solve my problem which is getting my kidds off Papa's Freezeria cooking game lol, they're on it 24/7

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  15. Also might be fun to allow the kids to either add an X or take one away so that the kids with nothing have a chance to get back in the game

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  16. I have found a great way to keep all the kids engaged in a fun review game. They work with a partner on a set of problems (anything- sometimes I just copy a worksheet.) Put the answers to all the problems randomly on the board. They work the problem together and find its match on the board (allows them to self check for accuracy). They cut the problem off the worksheet, put their answer and their names on the back, and place it in a box in the front of the room. At the end of the class I draw as many winners out of the box as I want. Kids complete as many problems as they are capable of but everyone has a chance to win. They love it. Sometimes Ill have some back up problems for those students who need to be challeged. So we are differentiating as well.

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  19. My coworker and I are doing this game with teams so students can review and help each other. All of the team members must do the work on paper, and have a round "leader" who writes the final answer on their white board. We have all round leaders hold up their board to show answers, and verify all other members have work. This earns them one "x" to remove. Then, we have them shoot the ball for an opportunity at 1 or 2 "extra x's" to remove. The small ball earns 1, the larger ball earns 2 if they make the basket. This way all groups who get it correct get to erase an x from another group. When a group is "Zomibified" they must get a question right AND make a basket to earn back one X on the board for their group. Once they've earned their X back, then they may begin erasing x's from others when the get correct answers!

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  20. I'd really appreciate being able to download the set of questions you used for Grudge:)

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  21. Hello! I was linked to your blog from Math=love. Thank you for writing this and helping us new and veteran teachers.

    I cannot access the document with cards on scribd without signing up and paying. Is there a way I can access it. I know the question was asked and I didn't find a post that solved it.

    If you or anyone can help, I would appreciate it! :)

    Thank you (azulxverde@yahoo.com)

    ReplyDelete