Thursday, February 6, 2014

I never, not ever...

When I was in college, we played a game called, "I never..." When it was your turn, you said something that you've never done - I've never kissed a boy on the first date, or I've never been to Colorado - and anyone who had done it would take a drink.

We played a version last summer at church camp. We had one-too-few chairs (musical chairs-style) and the person in the middle would claim something - I've never run a marathon - and anyone who had would have to jump up and find a new seat.  The slowpoke who didn't get a new seat had to be the next "caller."

Tuesday we played with my algebra students.  We had learned polynomial vocab on Monday, so Tuesday I put them all in a circle and gave everybody a polynomial.  I would say, get up and move if you are a binomial! ... if your leading coefficient is 2! ... if you're a quadratic!  What ensued what raucous fun!  Those 8th graders wrestled and played like kindergarteners.  We laughed and shouted and cheered.

What surprised me, though, was how much real learning was happening.  I had expected it to be a diversion, another way to get those vocabulary words out there, but was impressed by how much it actually helped.  Kids would say, "wait, wait, am I a binomial?" or (not surprisingly) they'd tell on each other, "Kaylan was supposed to move!" I could ask, "why do you say so?" and then "Kaylan, care to defend yourself?" MP3, folks!!!

Real-world activity? Umm, no. High engagement? Most definitely.

On Wednesday, I tried to grab a restroom break between second and third period, and when I walked into my classroom they had moved the tables and put the chairs in a circle.  They were shouting out questions and answers - one girl would yell "binomial!" and everyone would yell back "two terms!" I was so touched, I scrambled to come up with a way to keep playing.  I grabbed a sharpie and a stack of index cards and gave everybody either a constant, or a single variable raised to some exponent.  I reminded them about factors of a number, and then gave a quick defintion of factors of monomials.

First we did a few rounds where I'd write a monomial on a white board, and you had to jump up if you were holding a factor. Then I started writing two monomials, and you would jump up if you had a common factor. After each round, I would have all the people who were holding factors stand up. We'd confirm, and them we'd decide whose cards comprised the Greatest Common Monomial.  What had been a review and reinforcing exercise yesterday had become a teaching exercise today. And it was just as fun the second time!

My daughter is in that class, and just to be mean I gave her "1" on the second day. It was fun watching the kids notice that she was getting up every time and tying to work out why. One boy raised his hand and said, "is there a case when Kate's the only one who gets up?" You could really see the wheels turning!

I stopped the game for a few minutes to re-group and give examples of factoring GCMonomials from polynomials.  We factored a multi-variable monomial from a trinomial, and they started murmuring about how easy it was, when would I get to the hard stuff?  I was pleased with how accessible they found the whole thing.

I'm a big believer that fun and engaging aren't the same thing, but this game really was both.  I also contend that this game didn't actually have anything that put the concepts in context, or any of the other edu-trends, but it did reinforce the skills in a motivating way. I am genuinely curious to see how the summative assessments turn out for this. I'm also more than a little worried about how to ever live up to this week!


  1. This sounds like a lot of fun! There's something about associating a math thing to a person that just makes it come alive, like having each student pick a point on a graph and test to see, say, which is closest to something. Suddenly each point matters, because each one is a person! Plus you've got them moving, more blood flow to the brain, and more kid-like behaviour. I love this idea!

  2. Love this! The physicality with the self-assessment: awesome for attributes or vocabulary. Thanks for sharing.