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Robert Sidelinker's picture
Apr 03 2016

3-2-1 Blastoff!


In my classroom, math is organized into three stations. Generally, one is captained by me (A) and is the focus lesson for the day, another (B) is based on pencil and paper review/games/problem solving, and the third (C) is computer based using various websites designed for practice or review, such as www.xtramath.orgwww.tenmarks.com, and www.everydaymathonline.com.  This week, station “B” centered on the next phase of our inquiry project.  Over the past couple of weeks, students have played the game we “invented,” given me feedback through their performance and conversation, and the game has been modified.  Our conversations centered on making the game more fun, even though they seemed to be having a pretty good time already!  Based on their input, we discussed the attributes of a “good” game.  According to them, games need to seem like a challenge, yet players also need to feel like they can be highly successful.  Based on student feedback, I decided to increase the height of each backboard to allow a greater possibility of success.

Modified game image

Throughout this activity, students have been experimenting with different score sheets.  I asked what math we could practice along with our game that might give us feedback on how each player is performing.  We decided to record each individual score and, from this information, identify the maximum score for each person for each day, along with the minimum, range, median, mode, and mean.  Not surprisingly, these are all math concepts we’ve studied this year!

With the understanding that modifications were made to increase scores, which initially averaged 1.5, I asked students how we would know if their suggestions resulted in greater success.  Table groups agreed that we’d know if average scores increased.  Over several modifications suggested by students, our average scores did increase from 1.5 to 2.5 to 4.4 over several days of testing!

Along the way, I experimented with different versions of score sheets and have settled on this one for the final phase:

Modified score sheet

If you examine this one close enough, you’ll see that the student failed to identify the median score, and for one game the mode should be 7 and 5.  This happened with several students and allowed me to identify a misunderstanding on their part and address.  As you can see, this student is currently scoring above the class average.  I was able to identify several above average players and several below average players.  High scorers were then asked how we could help improve the class average.  They agreed to tutor other students, watch other players play, and give constructive feedback on technique.  Before setting pairs off to work, I coached the high scorers on how they could be “constructive” in their approach to helping others.  Through their dialogue, they realized they needed to point out positive things they saw in the approach of their classmates, and offer gentle suggestions for improvement.

Yesterday, Station A had pairs of students exploring fractional parts using pattern blocks, Station B was electric with kids playing 3-2-1, 1-2-3, and station C featured pairs exploring customary units of measurement as they collaborated on an online activity.  I worked between the three groups, identifying issues, checking in with students who needed support, and monitoring progress online.  I smiled noticing the extreme level of engagement.  After students rotated through all three stations, we had less than five minutes to prepare for Friday dismissal.  As I organized materials and got a final check on their online performance, a hush fell over the room.  I looked over the table groups and noticed children feverishly calculating the statistical landmarks for the day . . . without prompting!  This made me think of Constance Steinkuehler’s “Big Thinkers” video.  In her talk, she mentions the epiphany of realizing games are a “Trojan Horse” for studying interest driven learning.  Her remark that, “In schools, we have the luxury of ignoring interest.  We simply say, ‘you must’” made me realize we should actively avoid this type of thinking.  She discusses the fact that games promote engagement, are captivating, and motivating as a vehicle to advance learning.  “Interest Driven Learning?”  Who’da thought?

Next week, students will finish their final three sessions of playing, record keeping, and calculating.  Each student will graph their results.  We may also configure data to compare the results based on gender, birthdates, etc.  I’ve also invited students to blog about the game on our class blog and I’m looking forward to learning from their conversations in this space.

The next phase will be turning the kids loose to create their own games.  My team and I have some preliminary thoughts, but answers to the following questions will have to be formulated:

* How can we incorporate the use of fourth grade principles of math?  Statistical landmarks are easy and will be expected.  Other concepts in math will be investigated by brainstorming with students and consulting with the other teachers on my team.

* How can we support the students and facilitate continual improvement?  Informal monitoring will occur, but what else?  We anticipate this will be a group project, as opposed to individual.  We need to identify the steps students will follow, with their help, then offer benchmarks and incorporate their ideas on basic rubrics for cooperation, group work, and final products.

* How can we measure success?  See above related to rubrics to guide expectations and achievement.

* How can we provide formative feedback?  See above.

* How can connections to writing, reading, science, or social studies be accomplished?  Students will be expected, at a minimum to write out directions for playing their game.  Other ideas include directions for reproducing their game and/or persuasive or opinion essays related to their game, games in general, or our overall project.

* How can elements of art, music, research, and physical movement be incorporated?  This was always a reach, but if time allows, we’d like to get advice from the art teacher on how to make the games attractive and possibly the music teacher on choosing theme music to go with each game.  We have other ideas, but time will be a factor here.  There’s always next year!

3-2-1, 1-2-3 is in its final version and, after this week, we expect the game to be retired and replaced with student creations.  Outcomes so far:

  1. A very high level of engagement in play, record keeping, work with statistical landmarks, and effort to improve performance.
  2. Lots of conversation about data, performance, and the qualities of games.
  3. Opportunities for leaders to emerge and give feedback to peers.
  4. Teacher modeling of the process students will follow when creating their own games.
  5. Hopefully, the springboard we were hoping for to launch this project into its next phase.
  6. Students are connected with a shared purpose.

I have to say, it feels nice to throw out the playbook and act on an idea that simply begins with high interest as a goal and trust that, as educational professionals, this will act as a catalyst for meaningful learning that we will craft/facilitate along the way.  After all, as stated on http://educatorinnovator.org/lrng2015/, "Connected Learning research and practice has demonstrated that all young people can achieve and learn when given opportunities to follow their interests, support from peers and mentors, and time and space to create work that is meaningful to them."

We have liftoff!

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