Monday, June 1, 2009

competition, motivation, & self worth

this year i've been working with a small group of 10 third grade students who were identified by their teachers as needing extra help in math. they come before school for about 40 minutes of extra support time. they, of course, have no idea this is remediation, and think they were hand selected to be a part of the exclusive club for their high interest in math.

in the beginning i'd have different games for us to play that supported our math skills, but as time went on we've become more and more obsessed with the game make 10. it's a simple game i played with my first graders. we use a stack of "ten grid" cards. each card has a number on it, and in the middle there is a grid of 10 boxes- five on each side. the number of dots in the grid matches the number on the card. to play make ten each person takes a turn flipping a card over. when you see that you can add the numbers up to make ten (6 + 2+ 2) you take them. the winner is the one with the most cards. the great thing about this game with the ten grid cards is that they are able to use the visual of the ten grid to manipulate the numbers in different ways. this was hugely popular in first grade and i started using it in the beginning of this year as a way to work on getting our 10 facts quickly.

they loved it, but as it became too easy for them we switched to making 11, 12, 15, 18, or any number they chose. then, on a whim, i suggested that they use subtraction in their equations as well (the cards 10, 8, 7 would win because 10 + 8 -7=11). they LOVED this. suddenly kids who'd only been partially involved in the game were flying. i have to stay on the edge of my seat when i watch them play and make them say the equations they're coming up with- but usually they're correct. they have become very competitive, and many children will gather around to watch one game.

we recently added multiplication as an option (6x2=12 so that counts in making 12). i've been amazed not just at their interest in playing this game, but also the way they're able to manipulate the numbers quickly to make their equation. some of them have memorized their facts so they can quickly grab 7+4, 5+6 to make 11, and others are great at grouping numbers together (always going for the 2+2 as a for, or 2+3 as a 5 as a strong base number to play off of). they will quickly tell me their current equation as their eyes scan the floor looking for the next way to make 11.

part of me feels like i've just been preparing them for vegas (we do this very vegas style- the "flipper" aka dealer flips the cards out so there are 6-8 cards on the board. then as soon as the kids take the cards on the board the flipper puts new ones out. the cards snap down on the ground and then snap back into the children's hands faster than i can sometimes do the math. there is a crowd standing around them, cheering them on, and quickly doing the math themselves, eager to point out wrong equations.

i feel like i've learned a lot as a teacher as i've watched this game develop with this group.

competition with a chance of success- i usually stay away from the competition, but with this group it was the perfect motivator. plus, this is a group of kids who would probably lose the game again and again if they played it in their own classroom. in our small group where we are all around the same level, everyone pretty much has a chance to win. suddenly there is a point in trying because there is the possibility of winning.

motivation -this group needed motivation to come before school 2 days a week, so just giving them remediation worksheets, or even making them play games i chose wasn't going to be as exciting. i feel that i really paid attention to the games they were interested in and found ways to make them harder, instead of forcing them to play games that i thought they should be playing.

scaffolding-the competition element, along with their self-interest, really did speed up their math fluency. i took all of my cues from them, which led me to know when to add a twist to the game, and when to give us more time. because of this they pushed themselves so that i didn't have to push them. some math facts you just have to memorize so you can solve harder math problems. some of the kids would come in with a sheet where they'd written all the different ways to make 15. they wanted to know them so they wouldn't have to do the math on their fingers because that takes too long. even if this group doesn't do well on the sol tests (but i'm praying that they will...) i feel like i helped scaffold them from being finger-counters to being able to manipulate numbers more freely.


Anonymous said...

The notion that you can play this game by starting with +, and then move on by adding -, and then add in multiplication, and division...


What about adding cards to the game? One set of cards for numbers... and another set of cards for operators, like (), exponents, fractional values [so if they have the fraction card, the cards 8 and 8 count as "1"], and so on? The game could get very complex indeed!

Good luck with that... you've inspired me... I wonder if I can come up with a similar game for teaching history facts...

Joe B said...

they, of course, have no idea this is remediation, and think they were hand selected to be a part of the exclusive club for their high interest in math.really? i would have thought it impossible to trick kids this way.

Tracy said...

It's refreshing to hear from a teacher using novel ways to motivate kids who struggle in math.

Every classroom has its own unique dynamic. For you to recognize competition as a means for motivation is something we need more teachers doing on a day to day basis in our classrooms.

For another means of motivating grade school students struggling in math, check out the software program DreamBox Learning. We've been working hard to create an online learning game that early grade school kids find engaging and enjoyable. Keep up the great work!

organized chaos said...

Joe B, To be honest, I'm not sure if they get that it's remediation or not. I was skeptical we could pull it off- but they were all so proud of themselves for being a part of the club that I was pretty sure they bought it. It didn't mean they were good in math- just that they liked math. Then one day another third grader showed up at the door and said he'd heard that if you needed help in math you could come see me on Tuesday and Wed. mornings. He'd been told by two girls who are in the club. So who knows. We didn't tell them it was because they needed to work harder to catch up- we put a positive spin on the extra time. Whatever we did it seemed to work- they've all come week after week, and begged to keep the club going after it was officially over.

Thanks for the suggestions on the signs Andrew! Thats the perfect twist to keep us occupied the last few weeks.

Thanks Tracy- I'll check out dreambox learning!

Anonymous said...

A separate set of cards with different functions is a common feature of many collectible card games (CCGs) like Magic: the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh and others.

Ultimately you could have three sets of cards, and an equal sign: one large set for numbers; one smaller set for operators and variables, and one set for results of the operation = X-values for Make-X.

It's a pretty common framework in game design, and has been for 500 years or so: tarot cards have four suits plus major arcana; regular card-decks have four suits; mah jongg, though it doesn't have cards exactly, does use a similar idea...