Saturday, April 19, 2014


Last year, when we first got the class set of tablets as a part of the RDSB21C project, one of the first things we did was load them up with math and logic games. With the other teacher and I so new to using technology like this in the classroom, we figured it would be an easy way to entice students to use them: we could either start class with some math games, or reward students with games once they had finished their work.

Now that I'm allowing BYOD in class, and students are moving at their own pace through the course, the games have very much fallen to the wayside. Distractions through games are few (hoorah!) and it is only occasionally that students are so caught up on their work that I suggest they choose a math-based game to play for the remainder of class.

But in the past week or so, I've noticed my students getting distracted by what appears to be the latest fad in simple-yet-addictive games: 2048

Playing 2048

From a distance, it looks like a math game: numbered tiles which combine vertically or horizontally to go up in powers of two. Initially, I let them play! Look at them, choosing to play a numbers game when they had some free time! They even argued it: "But Miss! It's a math game!" I was a happy teacher.

But then I started to get suspicious. The last game craze was Flappy Bird (and subsequent Splashy Fish (the fish version) and Flappy 'Stache (the moustache version)). Call me a pessimist, but would my students really pick a math game over Flappy Bird? I had a hard time believing it.

So I tried it. (And yes, it's horribly addicitve.) 

Is there a math component to it? Yes. Would the students be more familiar with the powers of two having played it? Yes. But do you need ability in math to play it? No.

It's a game that's all about patterns, and strategy in how you combine the blocks. But you don't need to know the math to successfully combine the blocks (in fact, most of the time when I play, I don't even see the all combinations before I swipe in a given direction, and am pleasantly surprised when all the blocks reduce down).

This was made all the more obvious when @Brindegazon and @juliecasson introduced me to other, non-math versions of the game. As long as you can memorize which symbols come next in the sequence, you can be just as successful no matter what version you play, numbers or not.

I have to admit, I was disappointed. While pattern recognition is a big part of mathematics, I don't feel I can let my students just play on a whim. Just because it's numbers, doesn't mean it's math.

But wait... there might be another way I can capitalize on my students' interest in 2048. I played around a bit, and discovered how easy it was to make my own version, using images, numbers, words, you name it. Could I make a 2048 game for my students to review concepts? Or maybe vocabulary?

In fact, eduhusband @christheij made his own music note version for his music classes.

So now the wheels are spinning. I'm starting to think of ways I can flip this and have my students create the games - maybe as a part of a final project, or a review activity for the course exam. What can they create - and how can they create it - to better accomplish their learning goals?

I'm excited by the prospect, but not sure where to look next...

Without getting into coding, what have other teachers done in the way of game-creation with their students? What have you found works best? Are there games out there already created by students for other students? I'd love to see them!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It's the Little Things!

The other day, I was handing back assignments to my grade 12 Data Management class, when I was asked a surprising question by one of my students.

“Hey Miss,” he said, “do you still give out stickers when we do well on tests?”

(Yes, that was said by an 18-year old, grade 12 boy.)

I had forgotten about that. For years, I would place little star stickers - sparkly, colourful ones - next to students’ marks on assignments and tests when they got over 90%. I would try and do it on every item handed in for evaluation - from large projects right down to the smallest 5-mark task. There were some assignments on which no one received stars, and some where pretty much the entire class got 90% or higher, but regardless of the “importance” of the assignment, my rule stuck.

Photo Credit: Enokson via Compfight cc

I wasn’t sure it was making any kind of a difference in terms of motivation. I had seen a few students, over the years, carefully peel the stars off their work and stick them in rows on their binder. Others would compare stickers (“I got a blue one - what colour did you get?”), and some would ask why they didn’t get one. But I hadn’t heard anyone ever say, “I’m going to work harder so that I can get a star!” 

And the majority of the students never did or said anything about the stickers, at least that I could see. Sure it was fun (from my point of view), but was it making any kind of a difference in the classroom?

I stopped doing it earlier this year when I went to mark a bunch of assignments at home and had inadvertently left my star stickers at school. It was such a little thing, that I didn’t think it would be noticed. And it wasn’t. I handed back the assignments and not a single student asked why there were no stars. 

So the practice fell to the wayside. It’s funny how quickly you can fall out of a little habit like that when there are a dozen things on the go at once. And over time, like I said, I had forgotten that I had even done it in the first place.

Until the other day, when one of my students asked out of the blue if I still gave out star stickers.

“Do you remember that?” he said to another one of the boys at the table.

“I loved those stickers! They were the best!” the second boy replied.

“Wait, you guys used to get stickers? I want stickers too!” said a third, who had never had me as a teacher. “Why don’t we get stickers?”

(Aside: who knew grade 12 boys were so into stickers?)

This made me realize something important - no matter what we do in the classroom, the students notice. Every little act, gesture, comment; even if they don’t acknowledge that you do it, they notice. This can be a good thing - those little star stickers ended up being something they enjoyed, just as I’m sure little comments and tidbits of motivation are, a smile, or a nod of encouragement. But it can also be a negative experience they notice - every eye roll, unhappy face beside a poor mark, every time we neglect to make time for them and their questions.

Anything I can do to make my classroom a happier place for my students, no matter how trivial, I will try. Effective immediately, not only will I go back to using stickers to celebrate success, but I’ll also try harder to deliver as many smiles and messages of encouragement as I can. Because even if they don’t respond, they’ll notice.

What little things do you do in the classroom for your students?