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.