Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 Math Olympics

Last week was the first week back from Spring Break. Over the break, I took the feedback from the Survey your Students (earlier post) I gave and wanted to finish the school year in a different manner. I chose a class theme (which I'm not sure I've done before) to be the 2012 Math Olympics. I needed a fun way to spend the last 5 academic weeks with my 8th graders. I went to Target and the Dollar Store and found a few goldmine items for weekly events and "Gold medal" winners.

Last week's event, Jai Alai 
I wanted to both professionally and personally challenge myself to make improvements in the following areas:

Group & Discussion Based Learning:
I had to change the desk arrangement in my classroom. As you can see from the picture above, students are facing each other now instead of the interactive board. I did minimal direct instruction this week.
It was fantastic!
I wanted the groups to figure out and discuss examples before telling them how to answer, solve, or approach the examples. Kids are smart!
The students were put into heterogenous groups, having a range of mathamatical abilities. On Monday, they met their teammates, nominated a team captain, and picked a country from the list of participating countries in the 2012 Summer games. USA was not an option!
It took a couple of days for the students to warm-up to the discussion based learning, but by Thursday, they had made great strides (remember to praise them on Monday for this!)

Different Classroom Management Skills:
We take our 8th graders to Washington D.C. at the end of May. Therefore, the students have one giant foot out the door by this time of year. This past week, I saw a greater level of engagement and less need to remind students about learning. I have found myself in previous years sternly reminding them,
"It's imperative that you guys learn this if you're interested in getting into Geometry as a freshman."

The only thing I had to remind my students of this week was for their captain to report their good-will points to me before leaving. Good-will points are earned for displays of good sportsmanship in class by staying on task, helping another group, or scoring a point in Jai Alai. I kept track of good-will points on these cheap chalkboards I found at Target:

To earn Good-will points (and to avoid foul play) in Jai Alai, one team had to successfully pass the ball to another team so both teams received points. It was awesome to see them cheer each other on instead of making fun.

I found a highly successful warm-up activity this year that was based on assessing individual skills, called my favorite yes/no (video found here).
However, with the students in groups (countries), I transitioned my two-minute warm-up into a group task. I not only had great discussions going on, but kids were submitting their cards cheering for their country, writing...
"Go Fiji! Germany rocks! Go Tunisia!"
I loved that they took ownership of both their learning and their adopted country for the Math Olympics! (again, remember to praise them for this on Monday!)

Student Estimation and Prediction:
The daily two-minute warm-up also includes a question requiring estimation to answer it. Past examples include:
What year was the first cell phone call made?
How many In-n-Out Burgers are in California?
How many miles is the California coastline?
How many miles is it around the earth's equator?
Discussion following these questions has been quite valuable. They find the validity in guessing too low and too high and enjoy sharing the actual answers with family or friends throughout the day. I assigned homework on Monday for them to look up two fun facts about their country. I will use the facts they submitted throughout the next 4 weeks. I believe this will pay dividends... we'll see.

Incentive Based Learning:
I tread lightly in this arena. I have never been a big fan of handing out candy or giving small trophy awards for something I believe learning is, intrinsic. However, the second you toss candy in front of a middle schooler, it feels like the equivalent of feeding the dolphins at Sea World after performing a trick. My school banned the distribution of candy and I'm totally good with it. Let's be realistic though, every once in awhile, kids enjoy some type of reward, even if it's silly. They are kids after all.
On Monday, I will be awarding my Gold medal winners with glow bracelets I found at the dollar store. In order to win glow bracelets for your country, your group must have the highest exam average from the previous week. We learned parabolas this week, and I've seen some of the best understanding ever, which translated to great scores as well!

Lastly, our event for next week is Archery. I have a student-made target at the back of my room. After successfully answering questions, students will aim a giant foam rocket at the target to earn good-will points for their country next week. London 2012!!!



  1. A fantastic integration of P21--21st century skills! I see global awareness, collaboration, creativity, communication, adaptability... And the list goes on! Fantastic ideas...highly motivating opportunities for critical thinking!
    I bet they'll be paying a lot more attention to the summer games and make cultural connections as well!

    1. Thanks for the compliments! I don't want to jinks it, but week 1 went very well and I can only hope to improve as we progress through the next 4 weeks!

  2. Thanks for sharing your blog with me! I am a fellow math enthusiast. I really enjoyed the theme that you chose and the amount of collaboration that is occurring is impressive. I have younger kids, so this may be beyond your students - but I use sentence frames to guide students to hold the floor in a math discussion and encourage them to be comfortable with disagreement/questioning.

    I look forward to following your blog :)

    -Nicole Kubasek

    1. Hi Nicole,

      Thanks for the feedback and suggestion regarding sentence frames. I actually did use them on Thursday in preparation for our Friday quiz. We had fill in the blank frames and repeated them orally as a class. However, I'll have to try them in the arena of a math discussion promoting disagreement and questioning. Thanks for the tips!

  3. How fun is this, Andrew!! What a great way to "unite" the kids with the Olympics theme and well-placed for this time of year. (Our kids went to DC already, #nowwhat?)

    I really like "my favorite no" too, shared it on my blog some posts ago. I don't use it as a warm-up though but I use it often enough. Your inclusion of "estimations and predictions" is fantastic; I have a similar "Fun Fact" warm-up once a week that asks for an estimation, but I know the kids would love to do it daily.

    I like the small chalkboards to display the tally. (Hopefully that blank one doesn't belong to any country.) And now I see a geometric probability question from your archery target that you could ask the kids!

    Always great, Andrew, thanks!

  4. Andrew, I really like the estimation questions. I'll have to use some variations of them. I was thinking that you could ask some questions that the students would feel like they have some more familiarity with as well. They could be questions about the school building (how many lockers are there? How long would it take to walk through the hallways between classes/during class?). Or questions about the city you live in (how many pizza restaurants are there?).
    I think these short questions work very much like the 3 acts, but you don't have to do nearly as much work. And I think they can be just as interesting to the students. I think the 3 acts are great for sharing work much like we're doing, but there are probably other ways of perplexing students - and that can be done with a word problem or having the students physically present for the phenomenon. (Is that how you spell phenomenon?)
    Nathan Kraft

    1. Thanks Nathan. All good points. I actually have incorporated warm-up questions about our school:
      -How many windows does the school have?
      -How many doors?
      -How many parking spaces in the parking lot?
      Of course, i didn't count those; that's no fun. I sent out students to do the counting; that's fun for both parties.
      I totally agree with adding some questions about their city or surrounding area. Great idea!

  5. So, how did you do Jai Alai with your class?? (Thanks for taking the time to share the cool things you've created for your classes!

    1. I use the term Jai Alai very loosely. It's not like I had the kids wearing helmets and the ball was sailing through my room at speeds in the hundreds of miles per hour. Ha!
      As you can see from the picture above, I used plastic baskets and a really light plastic ball that were both extremely safe and harmless. My kids sat in groups of 3-4 (their country) and were given one basket per group. As we went throughout the lessons, students earned opportunities to pass and/or catch the ball with their basket by correctly answering or volunteering in discussions. Good will points were earned in the following manner:
      One country had to successfully pass it to another country in the room and the receiving country had to catch it. This way it was an incentive for students to give the other country a good toss and not sabotage them. it worked out really well because the kids realized they benefited from giving a good toss and it eliminated a lot of foul play. I was very proud of them. We might do a reprise here in the next couple of weeks. I hope that answers your question.
      Thanks for checking out the blog!

  6. Not sure if anyone pointed this out already but you said homogeneous groups having a range of skills... homogenous would be people of similar skills. Heterogeneous groups would be a mixture of abilities. I'm pretty sure.

    1. WOW!
      Gross oversight on my part. Thanks for the catch.