Monday, December 14, 2015

Writing Linear Equations, Domain, Range, and Desmos

My students in Algebra 1B have learned and tested on writing linear equations.  They did rather well, but I'm not ready to give it up just yet.  Every year this is what happens:  the students can write linear equations given certain information (slope and point, two ordered pairs, etc.), we learn something new, and then the students can no longer write linear equations.  I see you nodding your head.  It happens to your students too, right?

So, I wanted to stay here a little longer, but change it somehow.  A few things happened at once.  I wanted more, the Algebra II teachers here were frustrated with their student inability to understand piecewise functions, and I saw this:

Click here for the link.

Image from "Reflections of a High School Math Teacher"

It's a maze!  How cool is this?!?!  It's exactly what I was looking for:  more practice for my students with equations (and domain and range for that matter) and it will help the Algebra II teachers when they go to teach piecewise functions.

Days 1 & 2: Desmos Activity

In order to prepare my students for this maze activity we've been writing equations of line segments.  I created a desmos activity for us to work through as a class.  Here is the link to the desmos activity.  

The desmos activity is infinitely better than paper and pencil practice because of the immediate feedback.  In the activity, I graphed two ordered pairs and the students are required to create the line segment that will connect the two points.  They first write the equation, then restrict either the domain or range to make the endpoints.  The students could instantly determine if they were correct just by looking at their graph.  THANK YOU DESMOS!!!

As predicted the students didn't remember how to write the equations.  "How do I even find the slope?"  "What is the second number in the equation for?"  The good news is that they remembered quickly with a short explanation.

Day 3: Card Sort

After working through the desmos activity (it actually took us two days) I felt that we needed a stepping stone between desmos with its immediate feedback and paper and pencil that doesn't have it.  So I created a card sort.  Here is the link to the card sort.
Some advice on creating card sorts:  Copy each set of cards on different color paper.  This makes life easier once class is over and you find a card on the floor but you don't know what set it belongs to.
This was a hit.  The students like the hands-on appeal of this and it seemed to be right on level with their knowledge so far.

Next we completed a worksheet on creating the equations to make given line segments.
I was not in school the day they completed the worksheet (I was at the IU) and that didn't go well.  I needed to really walk the students through the process when I came back.

Next I had the students work through this maze that I created on desmos.  Click here for the maze.
I was not impressed.  The students were so needy throughout the whole process.
"How are we suppose to find the equation if there is no line?"
"I don't understand what I'm supposed to do."
"Mrs. Oswald, basically sit next to me and tell me exactly what to do."

I really wanted to cry and/or pull my hair out.  Really?!?!?  None of you understand how to complete a maze?  Not a single one of you?  It was awful.  I understand why many teachers just want to stand up front and lecture.  It's easier, the students understand this, it's less work for everyone involved.  I seriously thought about doing that for the rest of the year.  These activities are really starting to wear on me.  Not the activities, but all of the whining.  But then a student raises his hand and states that he's finished.  What?  He did it?  He did it!  Then she did it!  Then another, and another.  And before I knew it at least half the class was able to complete the maze.  Whew!

There were still a few students who said the activity was dumb, that it made no sense at all, when are they every going to need this.  Ugh!  But I reached a few.  And those students felt like a million bucks.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Teaching Game Design

This is my first year teaching a game design course and I wasn't sure what to expect.  I have never taught a course that didn't have a state exam attached to the end of it.  This class is a breath of fresh air and we can go in the curriculum where the wind takes us.  This is also wonderful because this course is not a prerequisite to any other classes.

But this class is not all fun and game (pun intended).  The students are required to write rule documents for some of the games they design.  Have you ever tried to write a rules document?  It's not an easy task as many games are not linear, but rule documents are.

Hidden Agendas:

Every few weeks I require the students to play new games and write a review for each one.  I do this for four reasons.  One, the students are required to actually read the rules document in order to play the games.  Two, the students are learning new mechanics by playing different games.  Three, when the students are writing their reviews they need to think about their thinking.  Four, they're actually bonding with each other during game play.

F is for Friends who do things together:

The first few weeks of class were a little awkward.  The students didn't know each other, there was a broad spectrum of grade levels, and two of the students dropped the class because they didn't know anyone else.  I wish they would have stuck it out, because after a few weeks of game play something I never expected started to happen: All the students started to become friends, like good friends.  I noticed how close they were by their smack talk (the friendly smack talk).

Better than conversations:

The other day, many of my students were missing from one of my Algebra classes for various reasons (keystone testing, blood drive, absences, and a field trip) so I declared it a game day.  Have you ever played the game Spot It!?  Here is a link to that game.  Here is a link to a video about the game.  In short you need to find a match then say it before anyone else does.  I have this one student who rarely speaks and has a processing issue, he wanted to play.  I was a little concerned that he might become frustrated with the game, but decided to see what happened.  The first few rounds he just seemed to watch, maybe getting 1 or 2 matches (pity matches given by the other players).  But then he got the hang of it.  He even beat me a few rounds.  This is my 3rd year teaching this student and I heard him talk more during this game, than I have all the time I have known him.  That's crazy, right?

Games and game design are a gateway to so many wonderful things.  I'm watching friendships bloom, students talk, bonds forming, reading skills increase, and writing skills develop.

My favorite game design assignments so far:

For one assignment I randomly placed the students into groups of 3 and gave them a bag with random game pieces in it.  They had one week to make a game.

For another assignment I gave these instructions, "Create a tabletop game that you would want to play."  This was probably the most productive assignment and you could tell by the effort that the students put forth in designing their games.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Insane Asylum - Simplifying Radicals Game - Results

I was reluctant to play this game with my students due to all the rules and how complicated I think it is.  But, I decided to take a risk to see how it goes.

The game rules and videos can be found HERE.

My timeline:

Day 0:  Go over previous test, pre-test on simplifying radicals, and fill in the prime factorization sheet (this was a short class due to early dismissal).

Day 1:  Play the game whole-class style to learn the rules.

Day 2:  Play the tabletop version of the game.

Day 3:  Have conversations with the class on how the game ties in with math (less than 10 minutes) and post-test.

Day 4:  Lesson 1 - traditional teaching style.

Day 5:  Lesson 2 - traditional teaching style.

Day 6:  Test

If you are interested in the pre/post-test, I made it on Socrative and here is the code:  SOC-18934767

There are two questions on the pre/post-test about the game that they should skip when they take the pretest.  Also, I couldn't figure out how to get a square root symbol in the answer, so I type "sqrt" instead.

The results:


  Period 5:  29.5%

  Period 6:  42.2%

  Period 7:  35.2%

  Overall:  35.5%


  Period 5:  52.1% (22.6% increase)

  Period 6:  45.6% (3.4% increase)

  Period 7:  48.6% (13.4% increase)

  Overall:  48.8% (13.3% increase)

These increases are all over the place.  I do have a theory and it's this:  It depends on what the leaders (AKA cool kids) of the classroom think.

The 'leaders' in period 5 said that they liked the game and it was well thought out.  I believe that other students were more willing to give the game a chance and therefore learned from it.  That class was engaged, and many of the students on the post-test said that they enjoyed the game and would like to play it again.

However, in period 6 a few of the 'leaders' said that they didn't like the game (they said it was too complicated) and I noticed a downward spiral from there.  I saw students sitting cross-armed and said, "Can we just have the worksheet?"  As I walked away from each group to circulate, I would see them either stop playing or cheat to make it look like the game was closer to being over (or open their laptops as you can see in the background of one photo above).  Many of the students said on the post-test that they didn't like the game and did not want to play it again.  I also noticed that a handful of students were finished with the post-test in under a minute.

Period 7 was somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

It appears as though the complicated rules will either win over a class or turn them off and I have no way of knowing which way it will go.  But my conclusion is this: if the students are willing to play the game, they will learn something.

Here are all of the materials if you are interested:

Prime Factorization sheet to use during the game.

Practice 1

Practice 2

Tests -->  Version 1, Version 2, Version 3

Next time:

For one, I will make sure that I have a rules document printed for them.  I just ran out of time again.

Somehow I will have to hype up the game.  Maybe I can teach the rules on a more personal level than whole class.  I'm not sure how to accomplish this.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How I Taught Absolute Value Equations This Year.

I'd like to share with you how my students learned about Absolute Value Equations this year.


...we started by playing The Absolute Value Equation game as a whole class.  This worked out well, because the students started class by taking a test on the previous topic and once they were all finished we played a few rounds as a whole class.  I split the class into 4-5 teams and they worked together on their turn.  This was a great way to explain the rules to the whole class at once.
Now that they know the rules, the next day I split the students into groups to play the game as a tabletop version.  This way, instead of teams, each person was playing against all the others at his table.

This is the first year the students played the game individually at tables rather than as a whole class.  They loved it.  Everyday since we played the game, they've been asking to play again.  I'm thrilled that they enjoyed the game so much.


...I lectured.  Yup, that's still important.  We talked about distance, absolute value, and subtraction.  I connected absolute value equations to the game and then connected it all to the solutions.  We solved absolute value equations algebraically AND graphically and compared the two methods.  


...we practiced.  I created 6 different stations for the students to work through. 

  • Card Sort
  • Worksheets
  • Challenge problems
  • Error Analysis
  • Educreations video
  • Play Absolute Value Equation game (optional)

To begin, I gave each student a copy of the stations/activities they needed to complete.  Click here for that.  

Card Sort:

For the card sort, I made 4 copies of them in 4 different colors, so that more than one person could be at this station at a time.  Click here for that.
I do give the answer key as well.  I found that most students are more interested in doing it themselves than cheating.


I created 3 different versions of the worksheet on  Here is a link to that website.
Level 1 included "Monomial Expressions" and "Polynomial Expressions (no coefficients)".
Level 2 included all of Level 1 plus "Polynomial Expressions (with coefficients)".
Level 3 included all check boxes.

I included an answer key for all three levels at the station as well.

Surprisingly, the worksheet station was the most popular.  I guess that's what is most familiar to the students.

Challenge Problems:

I gave four challenging problems for the students to work through.  They are problems that we have not covered in class and asked students to dig a little deeper.  Click here for those.

I found that students were more willing to attempt and not give up on these challenging problems because there would be no punishment for being wrong.  And the reward was intrinsic.  I did include and answer key for all four problems at the station.  Most students did attempt the problem before looking and the answers.  Most.

Error Analysis:

This seemed to be new to students.  They wanted to just solve the problems on their own and then say, "The person should have done it like this."  They really struggled to find the error.  Click here for that.

Absolute Value Equation Game:

This station was optional since they have played this previously.  But, since the students enjoyed the game so much, why not?  You can read more about the game here.


We had some issues with the filter in my district, so we put off this station until after the test.  The requirements were that the video had to be under 5 minutes in length and it had to include solving simple absolute value equations by graphing, solving simple absolute value equations algebraically, and solving complex absolute value equation algebraically.    Below are some of examples of their work.

Here's an example of student work.  Absolute Value Equations.

The Exam:

Once I gave the students the exam it was just all too easy.  After the game, the lecture, the stations, the students were more than ready for this exam and it showed.  I had more students pass this year than in previous years.

What I Would Change:

  • I would change the worksheet.  I was running out of time and used a worksheet generator rather than creating my own problems.  Next year, I will create my own problems and worked-out solutions.  
  • The card sort was way too easy.  I would like to make one (or two) that are a little more challenging.  Such as blank cards that the students have to fill in.
  • I feel that I need to make the students more accountable during the stations.  A few students skipped some stations because they "didn't feel like doing them".  And those were the students who didn't pass the exam.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Collaborative Teaching

I have this idea, but it requires my district to spend money.  Like hiring-an-additional-math-teacher kind of money.  So, I had better come up with a convincing argument to see my idea come to fruition.

My idea:
I have this idea to change the way we schedule and group students in math class.  I would like to try a pilot program with CP Algebra 1 (they are the students who have to take our state exams).  The students would have their Algebra class all scheduled at the same time.  This way we could easily switch up classes, groups, activities, lessons, etc.

For example, all the CP Algebra 1 students take a pre-test on a certain topic.  From there the teachers can plan how to proceed.  They could regroup the students homogeneously.  One teacher could take the students who scored low on the topic and need more assistance, another teacher could take the 'middle students' and work with them, and another teacher could take the students who seem to know what they're doing and work on enrichment.  They could also regroup the students heterogeneously.  The teachers could groups students so that there is one strong student in each group.

Assuming the total amount of students isn't too large, we could hold a whole group lesson/activity in the LGI room (Large Group Instruction).  I see review games like kahoot or socrative taking place and each teacher could play a role during these activities.

We have SBG and RTI in our district and I believe this model would integrate seamlessly with these two initiatives.  Those students who are not successful on a topic could be grouped together and provided more support.  Those who are successful can work on a project or activity to gain a deeper understanding.

There's also the option for research.  Teachers could regroup students as evenly as possible and complete different lessons/activities on the topic and compare results to see which method was most successful.

We know that students are more engaged in their education when they have more control over it.  The teacher could create lessons/activities and allow students to pick which one(s) that want to participate in.

Why an Additional Math Teacher?

If this were to be done correctly, the teachers involved would need time to collaborate.  Usually, when we ask for something like this we are told that we could be scheduled the same prep period.  It sound greedy when we say that we can't give up our prep period every day to collaborate with each other, but it's true that we some individual time too.  We need our prep periods to call parents, make copies, talk with other colleagues, attend meetings, grade papers, create lessons for our other classes, and attend to other paperwork.  I also use my prep period to stay connected to other teachers online through twitter, blogs, and other online PD.

In my district, we teach 6 classes and have 1 prep.  I'm proposing 5 classes, 1 prep, and 1 collaborative period for the teachers involved in this program.  Out of those 5 classes, 1 is the collaborative class.  Then of course, since there are multiple teachers teaching 1 less class, there is a need for another teacher to pick up those classes.

The question begs, "What will the teachers do during this collaborative period?"
The teachers will create lesson plans, activities, and projects.  They will review benchmark exams, pre-tests, exams, and other formative assessments.  They will share successes and failures in order to move forward.  They will work together to create dynamic students groups.  They will hold parent-teacher conferences together.  Notice the common denominator here: TOGETHER!!

Have any of you participated in something like this?  Can you poke some holes for me?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Slope-Intercept Card Sort - Google Drawing

Click here for a link to a copy of the card sort.

The link above is a copy of the drawing, so feel free to change (and use) it how you like, it will not effect mine. :)

I was creating a notes template on google drawing when it occurred to me that google drawing can replace my card sorts.  Yes!!  No more paper to print, copy, cut, and laminate!!

Students simply open the copy of this google drawing, click and drag each equation on to the corresponding graph and submit their work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


This is my school district's first year in their 1-to-1 initiative called Project OLE (Olympian Learning Environment).  Our mascot is an olympian.

Because we are 1-to-1, I think it's time I try a learning management system in my classroom.  At first I assumed that Google Classroom was the way to go.  My IT showed me how to use Google Classroom and then mentioned Schoology.  I know very little about either one, but decided to try Schoology because I hear it has more bells and whistles.  

So, without any training or anytime to play around with it, I jumped in.  Honestly, what's the worst that can happen?  (<-- That is not foreshadowing)  I created an account, gave the students the class code and POOF, I now have a learning management system.  Yay!  It's so easy.  

You hear this all the time but it's true:  You don't have to be an expert in technology to use it in your classroom.  The students are very knowledgeable with technology and are eager to help.  I started the class by being open and honest with the students and told them it was new to me and I wanted their help.  

My favorite feature so far: grading.  This is wonderful.  No papers to collect, no papers to carry back and forth to grade, and students can submit from home.  

Anyone else use schoology?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Expression Polygons

In the August 2015 issue of Mathematics Teacher the article Expression Polygons by Colin Foster caught my attention.  A quick google search lead me to a PDF of the article if you'd like to read it.

Just this morning my colleagues and I were talking about the struggle that students have when faced with an expression.  They are programmed to solve, so they insert an equal sign where ever they can.  Even Algebra II students.  I feel that this activity is a great way to help students understand the difference between expressions and equations.

In a nutshell, the students create 4 expressions and set each one equal to the others, so that there are a total of 6 equations:

Try it myself:

Before I try a new activity with students I like to try the activity for myself.  Here are the requirements I'd like to give the students:

  • Create 4 expressions where the 6 solutions will all be different integers.
  • Two of the expressions are of the form __x +- ___.
  • One of the expressions is of the form x +-____.
  • One of the expressions is a constant. 
It took me 6 minutes to come up with this, so I think it's a reasonable assignment for my students.  

For the Students:

I introduced the project to the students, put them into groups of 2 or 3 students, and gave them this link for a copy of the template.  Click here for template.  

I gave each student a copy of the rubric.  Click here for the rubric.

There was a lot of productive struggle going on in my classes.  One thing many groups were doing was not getting an integer answer, so they erased the entire equation rather than working backwards for a solution.  

Many times I hear the students say that the assignment was hard (not as a complaint though) and I was ready for them to give up and say that it was impossible.  But, this assignment must have had the right amount of flow to keep them going because not one group of students gave up.  

I also like all the bonus stuff we got to talk about other than solving equations.  First was vocabulary: expressions, equations, vertex, and polygon.  Students had many questions as to what an integer was since all the solutions had to be an integer.  And believe it or not, in high school the students wanted to know if there was a difference between 5 divided by 1 and 1 divided by 5.  

Action Shots:


Here are some of the students' work ,worts and all.

I found this one interesting with all the same solution of 5.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

How to Implement Games in the Classroom

Since playing more games in my classroom, I've been stumbling though the implementation part of it.  Trial and error really.  My hope with this post is two-fold.  For one, I want to reflect on my lesson/game planning.  And two, if any of you are considering using games in the classroom perhaps you can learn from my trials (and errors).

This is a little tricky, since different games have different objectives.  For instance, some games are created to introduce a topic and should be played before the lesson.  However, other games are meant as more of a review or reinforcement and would be played after the lesson.  Here is my flowchart of a unit of study.


The idea of previewing a topic before pre-testing is new to me.  Typically I would start by giving students a pre-test.  I read about previews in the book Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci.  The book suggests that before giving a pre-assessment, to quickly preview the material.  It even states that 5 minutes or less will do.  We could show a few examples on the board, watch a short video clip, or have a class discussion.


I teach Algebra 1 and most of the material that I cover has already been touched in to some degree in previous courses.  But how much was covered and how much do they remember?  You won't know unless you pre-test them.  Remember to share the results with the students, but be careful with their egos the first time.  I seem to get students who are not accustomed to pre-assessments.  They often tell me they feel stupid.  Once they become familiar with pre-assessments they understand that they will feel better once they have the chance to compare the pre- and post- test results.

Play the Game:

Most of the games that I play with the students introduce the topic so I'm going to focus on game play that takes place before the lesson.  I generally don't tie the game to curriculum with introductory games until after game play.  Every once in a while a students will say something like, "I enjoy playing this game, but shouldn't we be learning some math?"  Ah, but you are.  I like this element of surprise when I show them how the game is actually teaching some math concept or at least a connection to a math concept.  I think this sudden and surprising learning experience is effective.

Teach the Lesson:

When game play is over and it's time to teach the lesson, I often refer back to the game.
"What numbers would you use to capture this city?"
"Pretend this ordered pair is one of the character in the game.  How would you get him to this ordered pair?"
Just as it is important to help student make connections between topics in our curriculum, it's also important to help them make connections between the game and the topic it covers.

Post Test:

Once I feel that almost everybody will be successful, I give the post-test.  However, once in a while I will give the students a test even when I know they're not ready.  I use it as formative assessment to see what areas still need reinforcement.  Sometimes this includes the game and sometimes it doesn't.

Repeat as Necessary:

I feel it's important for students to know that the teacher will work at their pace.  If a class is struggling with a topic, the teacher will go back and help them.

There you have it.  This is my general guideline for playing games in the classroom.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hidden Squares Activity Goes Digital

Remember my hidden squares activity that I wrote about last year.

Click here to read about that.  You won't be sorry, it's a great activity.

We just finished this activity with 3 of my classes, roughly 65 students.  As much as I enjoy this activity, I do not enjoy the little scraps of paper all over the floor, the students who still cut paper as skillfully as a Kindergartener, and the  s l o w n e s s  of the students' pace with just creating the posters.  Not to mention the grading.  I don't mind the grading, it's just that I'm not willing to drag them all home to grade, I try to get them done at school.  Oh and I almost forgot to complain about buying the supplies.

Then I received an email from our tech coach about making virtual posters with Google Drawing.  If only she had sent this one week sooner.  Better yet:  why didn't I think of this?

4(x + 2) + 3x + 5 = 34
4x + 8 + 3x + 5 = 34
7x + 13 = 34
7x = 21
x = 3

Here is a link for you.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Never Give Up, Never Never Give Up, Never Never Never Give Up

Never Give Up,
Never Never Give Up,
Never Never Never Give Up

-Winston Churchill

These words were and are displayed in the high school where I graduated.  I was on the basketball team and before each home game we ran through that hallway to the gym and would jump up to touch those words.  Never Give Up!

I was a young 17 years old when I graduated from high school, what does a teenager know about hanging in there and not giving up?  My 17-year-old self didn't know too much about that.  I know quite a bit more about the long haul (I still have a lot to learn), but that's not the focus of this post.  I would rather focus on my students.

Many of my students are quick to throw in the towel.  I see this often in math class and I can't help but wonder if they give up so easily in other aspects of their lives.  How many people easily give up on their spouse?  How many give up on their friends?  How many....give up on their dreams?  Here's something unexpected:  How many give up on getting gas for their car?  What?  Just watch this clip.

I've been showing this short video to my classes and while they watch it I listen to and note their comments:

"She should just drive away."
"Wow!  I can't believe someone is that stupid."
"Why didn't she ask for help?"
"Is she going to drive around again?"
"Finally!  She figured it out."

After we watch this, I like to make the connection to the classroom.
"Do you ever feel like you're driving around in circles?"
"Do YOU ever feel like you look like a fool and others are laughing at you?"
"Did this woman give up even though she may have looked foolish and stupid?"
"At what point do you ask for help?"

And then my favorite analogy is if she were to give up and drive away without getting any gas:
"What would happen if she drove away without getting fuel?"
Then we talk about how she would run out of gas, or she would need to come back to the gas station at a later point.  This is like quitting on a challenging class assignment, but then having to come back and try it later.  This takes a lot of time.  It could even have a bigger meaning, like dropping out of school and having to go back when you're older.

And what if she was too embarrassed to come back?  The students say she would have to walk or get a ride with someone else.  Walking is one way, but it sure isn't as convenient or efficient as driving (aside from pollution and exercise).  And other people are going to get tired of driving you around all the time, you have to be more independent.

Now, when I see a student give up on an assignment I say, "Ah, little Bobby just drove away from the station without gas."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Guess My Number - Python

In the beginning of August I wanted to learn a little bit about coding.  I mean I took a semester of computer programming in college and struggled, but it was interesting.  Insert MOOCs and I'm all set.  I signed up for the Coursea course An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python (Part 1).  I am in love.  I am only in the 3rd week of class, but I can't get enough.  I finish the assignments during the 2-day weekends, then wish for more the rest of the week.

For me, the assignments are just challenging enough that I have productive struggle and a real feel of accomplishment when finished.  I'm also learning a lot about being a student again.

Here is a screen recording for this week's mini project.  Nothing earth shattering here, but still cool.  It's called Guess the Number.

Would you like to play?  Click here to try it out.

To start, click on the play button in the upper left of the screen.  
Then click on either 0 to 100 or 10 to 1000.
Type your guesses in the box and press enter.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

First Day Wordle

Yesterday was our students' first day of class.  I'm very excited about what I saw so far.  The students were very respectful and I think I'm going to have a great year!

I usually start the year with a survey for the students to fill out about themselves.  The first question asks the students to fill in the blank with one word.  Algebra is __________.  Then I take the words from all classes and create a Wordle.  This is the result:

My plan to to give the same fill-in-the-blank later in the year to see the change.  I'm hoping that "Boring" will get smaller.  It would be great if it disappeared all together.  

Here are the questions that I give to my students.  Feel free to steal this if you like.

As far as question #2 goes.  Here are the results of that:

This bar graph was create at Create A Graph

The one year almost all of the boys wrote that "The Maze Runner" was the favorite book.  I had to go out and buy that book right away.

There is one thing that happened this year that never happened before.  One of the students asked me what my answers were to these questions.  I was flattered.  Never did a student show interest in how I would respond.  See?  I told you it was going to be a great year.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Connect Games to Curriculum - Don't Make my Mistake(s)

I use to believe that the games I play in my classroom could stand alone.  In other words, the students could play the game and *poof* they knew the material without any further instruction from me. Let me give some examples.

Bounty Hunter:

Last school year, I had students comes to my room four at a time during homeroom.  I asked them to come there to play Bounty Hunter so I could pre-test them, watch them play, and post-test them without losing class time.  Most importantly, the students were struggling with determining slope from a graph and needed this reinforcement.

I was amazed at how quickly they 'learned' the material for the game.  They were correctly placing the numbers in the "fraction" for the game and moving their pawns in the right direction.  I was so impressed.  Then I gave them the post-test and although their scores increased, I expected scores to be much higher due to their competence in the game.

After this happened with 16 students (4 groups) I decided to figure out what was going on.  When the 5th group came during homeroom I took some time between the game and the post-test to talk with the students.  During the game, the students did spectacular just like the other groups.  Then I gave them a graph like the one on the right in the image above and asked them to tell me the slope.  I got blank stares from all 4 of them.  After some discussion with the students I found out that they didn't see the pawns in the game as points on a graph.  In fact, they didn't even see the grid lines on the game board as grid lines on the graph.  Once I took 30 seconds (literally) to make those connections for the students, the light bulbs went on.  The difference really showed on the post test. 

Pre- to Post-Test results without making connections for students --> 18% increase

Pre- to Post-Test results with making connections for students --> 35% increase

The Absolute Value Equation Game:

In our building, the administration team allows us to decide what day and period we want to be formally observed.  I chose to play a game with the class on the day of my observation.  (You think I would have learned my lesson from Bounty Hunter, but I'm a little thick in the head.)  My plan was to play the game with the class, then give the students an exit ticket before leaving, and showing my Assistant Principal what a genius I am. Ha!  Not one single student got the exit ticket question correct.  Not one.  

So what happened this time?  We played the game and the students were doing extremely well.  They could create absolute value equations that would place their pawns exactly where they wanted them.  In the example above, the student created the equation |x+5| = 2 with their cards, then moved their pawns to -7 and -3 to collect their gems.  They were doing with without assistance from me.
The exit ticket was a problem similar to the one above.  "Solve |x+5| = 2 for x".  Most students gave an answer of x = -3 and quite a few of the remaining students wrote IDK on their exit slips (The correct answers are x = -7, -3).
The Assistant Principal asked to see the exit slips and noticed that not one student was correct. "What happened Mrs. Oswald?"  Oh, I'm certain that I didn't connect the game to the curriculum.  *sigh*
The next day I took some time again to talk with the students.  In less than a minute I was able to help the students understand the connection between the game and the problem.  For my own sanity, I needed to give another formative assessment on this.  This time all but one of the students were able to get the correct answers.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stitch Fix August 2015 - New Back-to-School Style

I LOVE!  In a nutshell, you pay a $20 styling fee, they send you 5 items (clothing, accessories, etc), you decide what you want to keep, and send back what you don't.  If you do decide to keep something, you get back your $20 styling fee as credit.  Want to learn more?  Check out their website.  Also, if you decide to try out this company, please consider using this link.  If you sign up under me I will receive $25 credit when your first fix ships.  I am so appreciative to all you who have already don't this.  Thank you so much!!

Here is what I received in my back-to-school stitch fix!!

Seriously?  How cute is this dress?  This is the Donna Morgan Kellen Dress.  Here's another shot.  

Wow, I make some seriously strange faces when I take my own photos.  I have a few cardigans that can be worn with this dress.  Do all teachers have a rainbow of cardigans like I do?

All three of these items arrived in this fix.  I am wearing the Liverpool Anita Skinny Pant.  I use to think that I have absolutely no business wearing skinny jeans.  But(t), these are so comfortable and sturdy that I can.  
The white shirt is Market & Spruce Jamie Button Down Cotton Shirt.  This shirt is lightweight and perfect under a dress or sweater.  
The scarf is cute.  That's Octavia Saira Skull Print Scarf. Yes, skull print.

And my favorite item from this stitch fix (of course it's a cardigan):
RD Style Cassi Open Cardigan.

I am in love with the elbow patches.  

I decided to try the shirt with a LBD and the necklace from my previous stitch fix.  This could be a first day outfit for me.  

And the styling cards.  

Want to get your stitch fix?  Click here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Insane Asylum: Making the Irrational Rational

Every summer I attend the Edugaming Workshop that is hosted by the local community college.  Each year I learn something new and am given the motivation to create another game for my classroom.

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The two professors that run the workshop challenge us to create a game with the following constraints.
  • The game has to be your own, meaning that we can't partner up to create one game together, but of course we can offer each other ideas.  
  • The game cannot be quiz based.  In other words, you can't have a game where if a player answers a question correct, then they get to do something in the game.
  • The game must be closely tied to a story.  No abstract games.
  • The game must be original.  I can't take Sorry and turn it into a math game.
  • We are required to pre- and post-test the students to see if there is any change in the students' knowledge.  
  • I guess this one's obvious, but the game needs to be educational.  

I was going to wait until the game was completely finished to share it here, but that's silly.  I could be getting your feedback and suggestions.  In Insane Asylum the players are a group of doctors working together to help cure their patients of being insane.

The objective is for students to be able to simplify radicals.  (I thought I was overdue to create a game with this objective since it is the name of my blog).  For the most part my student can simplify sqrt(12) with little difficulty.  However they struggle with sqrt(6) * sqrt(15) because they don't see any 'pairs'.  Hopefully this game with help them factor the numbers and then look for pairs.

I created a video to show you how the game works so far.  Your feedback is greatly appreciated and welcome!

The Materials:

  • The game board
  • 4 pawns (red, yellow, green, and blue)
  • Cards:  4 of each (bed #1 - bed #12, and straight jacket)
  • Player Cards 
  • List of Actions
  • Potions: 6 of each (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 6, 10, 14, 22, 15, 21, 33, 35, 55, 77) Yellow circles, numbers on both sides.
  • Patients: 2 of each (6, 10, 14, 22, 15, 21, 33, 35, 55, 77, 30, 42, 66, 70, 110, 154, 105, 165, 231, 385) Green circles, number on one side.
  • Prime Numbers: 9 of each (2, 3, 5, 7, 11) Pink circles, numbers on both sides.
  • Card Chart

Game Set Up:

Game Play:

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