Friday, December 6, 2013

Day 67: GAMES!!!

I have no coherent plan for my classes.  At some point, I'll write a longer post about curricula, but that won't be today.  I have a general idea of my goals.  I want my students to be able to leave my room as better critical thinkers than when they came in.  I'm finding myself caring MUCH less about the mathematics than about the problem solving skills.  To this end, I have been mixing up my activities, not letting anyone get too comfortable, but still feeling safe.  I want them to be able to adapt to whatever situation they are thrown into and find a way to deal with it, work through it and find a satisfactory solution (satisfactory to them.)

So today was game day!!

I have quite a collection of games on various topics, but all basically surrounding logic, planning and strategy.  Several of them are pattern recognition and identification as well.  Most of them are chosen because they are more obscure and I want kids branching out and learning new games, developing new strategies.  I gave a very brief introduction to each game and then used ClassDojo to pick students at random to choose the games they wanted to play.

In geometry, the engagement level was 100%!

Students persisted in learning the rules of complicated games because it looked cool and stuck with them until the end.  There were cooperative games, and competitive games, group games and solo games!  The games range from concrete mathematical skills to abstract linguistic skills and more.  Students had a great variety to choose from and if they didn't like one, they went and picked another.  They did an amazing job of taking turns and joining groups they wouldn't normally join so they could try out a new game.

They took the time to patiently explain the rules of games to others as they joined a group.

In pre-algebra, the students worked with EXACTLY the same level of persistence that they display with everything else they do.  The kids who give up easily on my assignments gave up and moved to another game when the rules took too long to understand.  The kids who work hard and persist in my assignments, regardless of difficulty, stayed with their games until completion AND chose more complicated games.

I may not be up on my educational theory, but I think this may be a great counterexample to the idea of "engagement."  If I have students who never engage, regardless of  my lessons or activities, then those clearly there is something else at play other than how "engaging" my lessons are.

At the same time, several students didn't want to take the time to read the instructions or find out how certain games were played, so they made up their own rules!  It was fascinating to see how these games, many of which they had never seen before, could be played in ways other than intended.  I think this speaks volumes for allowing students to explore their environments.

I worry deeply about the thought that ALL students are able to be engaged, if only the teacher were good enough, or able to find the secret formula.

I think there are some students who simply will not engage in the traditional public school setting.  I think there is a place where every kid can thrive and become the best they can, but it isn't always in an environment that I can offer. 

With that said, I can never know which kids are the ones who won't engage.  It's always possible that I just haven't hit the right activity or lesson to pull them in.  Also, I have a strong personality and I know that there are some kids who will never work for me, no matter how I try to engage them.  Just because I know that there are kids who will never engage doesn't mean I can ever stop trying.

I have to ALWAYS try to engage every student.  I just can't beat myself up if it doesn't happen.  I tell my students that they should be proud of whatever grade they earn, as long as they worked to the best of their ability.  I need to apply this to myself.

Not every student can get an A on every test in every class.

Not every teacher can engage every student.

But we have to teach as though we can.

Game days clearly need to happen more often.  I have to figure out how.  I can't have it as a "reward" because I think it implies that games are only for rewards instead of as a means to learning.  I might set it up as a station and assign kids certain days while I work with others.


  1. I love game day! I used to do it every marking period at my old school (where there was NO curriculum to speak of) and would love to incorporate it in some of my classes now. I need more games, though - which of your games do you think would still be challenging for high school students (15-17)?

    1. Other than memory and Clue Jr., I have played everything on that table with high school kids. Giving them the choice of what to play seems to be the key to getting them into it.

  2. I've been wanting to write a reply to your recent posts. I have so much I could say to you, Justin! First and foremost, the fact that you remain reflective and engaged in your teaching in spite of obstacles is amazing. I applaud you! After 34 years in education, I've watched teachers give up, burn out, wait for retirement, and also excel in their craft. I've seen education go through many swings of the pendulum. When I did my student teaching, the newest philosophy was the "open classroom" - I was scared to death! I came from the education of "sit in rows, raise your hand, and do what you're told." That's how I viewed what I would be doing. I was now being told, "We're going to put 6 classrooms in a big open area with moveable partitions. Let's go explore with the kids." YIKES! I remember crying one day because I had to reprimand a student. I spent weeks trying to be their "friends" and didn't want to yell at kids. My supervising teacher asked me why I was crying and told me, "You'll get over it." LOL Education has morphed and continues to do so.

    As a lifelong learner, one of the most important things I can model for my students is openness, flexibility, and curiousity. I love learning new ways of reaching my students. The hardest thing for me is knowing I can't reach everyone. Not everyone likes chocolate (I sure don't understand why...) and no amount of different recipes, varieties, and cajoling is going to make them change their mind......unless they do. Same thing for our students. You'll find your groove for teaching that satisfies you and suits your style. Why, just yesterday, a kid told me I was his favorite teacher because.....of all brilliant lessons? my creative engagement ideas? my flexible grading system? I watch The Walking Dead!! LOL

    Keep swimming, Nemo! You are awesome! You are associated with a fabulous community of teachers/learners through MTBos - the BEST I've ever encountered.

    1. I know that several students have put me at the top of the list of favorite teachers for the sole reason that I'm a huge fan of Doctor Who! I'll take what I can get.

      I think part of my apprehension is still external. I am still worried that someone will come observe me, see the few kids that I'm not engaging, decide I'm an awful teacher and fire me.

      Consciously, I KNOW this is an irrational fear. My principal is VERY supportive of what I do and my classroom produces fewer discipline problems than almost any other in the school, but that fear is still there.

      My internal worry is that all of this experimentation that I'm doing will leave my students far behind where they should be in terms of content. I, too, was raised in the "old school" style of education and it's what I'm comfortable teaching. It makes sense to me that if I deliver information to students and they do the practice assignments, they will learn the material.

      Again, consciously, I know there is MUCH more to it than that and I will get better results by moving away from lecture style, but it is way outside of my comfort zone.

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I write these posts for me, but it's always nice when other people read them, agreed with them, like them and share them.

      Thank you!

  3. Justin, I didn't finish your post yet, 2-yr old jumped in my lap, but I will soon. I agree, I find myself more intrigued with improving students problem-solving, perseverance, exhausting all options, etc. than I am with the mathematics. I threw out my "curriculum map" last year and haven't picked it up since. I am making my way through concepts and skills, but still need more. I like what I've read so far.

    1. My 4-year old started crying in the middle of #MSMathChat so I totally get it.

      I haven't had a curriculum in the 5 years I've been in my current district. I'm told it exists but... Sadly, we go by the book. I wish I could trow it all out and just play games with them every day...

  4. This post reminds me that I need to plan a game session in my classroom sometime soon. Similar to you, I find that the student engagement level varies depending on the type of game that's being played. The goal is to have 100% engagement but that doesn't always happen. I enjoy being able to observe the conversations that occur during the games. Interactions and "math talk" between peers can definitely give insight to some of their mathematical thinking. I've actually documented some of the group conversations and have used them during p/t conferences. I’m also looking at incorporating some type of journal activity after the game sessions. Thanks for the post.


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