Friday, September 16, 2022

A Little Competition to Increase Participation

 There's a very blurred line between student engagement, participation, and compliance. You start down that rabbit hole and you quickly find that true student engagement is a tough thing to achieve. But somedays, and I hope I am not alone in this, you'd just be happy with whole class participation! Not every day is a student engagement masterpiece lesson, and that's okay! When I start to notice that students are a little down, a little tired, and a little too interested in their cell phones than normal, I like to throw in some fun ways to get kids motivated to participate through a little healthy competition! 

Now, before we talk about two of my favorite easy strategies, I have to first say that I am not a huge fan of games in the classroom that only reward the "smartest" kids who are the fastest at answering. Being a strong mathematician is about more than being fast, especially when content is newer. When the fastest and smartest are the only ones rewarded, I actually find that games can make more students check out then check in. Why participate if Sally is just going to win every time? We all have a Sally. We know who she is. And bless her, as teachers we do love Sally. I was Sally. 


I first saw this game at a CPM conference in San Francisco back a few years ago and was wildly confused until I finally tried it in my classroom and saw the simplistic beauty of it. Take a collection of problems you want students to practice solving. You know those days where you just need them to practice a skill and really hammer it home before you can dive into some of the deeper contextual connections that will truly promote student engagement? Yes, those days. 

Have students sit with a partner. They are going to be competing against this partner. 

Each student needs to fill out a MATHLOVE board. Here is my very not fancy version made in a table in Google Docs: 

Direct students to put four 3's, four 2's, four 1's, and four 0's anywhere on their board. When its finished it should look something like this: 

Okay now here is the fun part! Put a problem up on the board or direct students to complete a problem on a worksheet. Everyone works independently on the problem. When students have the answer they circle it on their paper. The circled answer is their final answer. Reveal the answer and have partners check each other to see if they got it correct. 

If they got it wrong, they get 0 points. If they got it correct, they have the opportunity to earn points. How many points? Here is how points are awarded after each problem. 

Create two cups and cut up the letters M-A-T-H in one cup and L-O-V-E in another cup. 

Draw a letter from each cup. Loudly, with lots of gusto and zest, announce the letters chosen. Students, once they know what's going on, will be holding their breath in anticipation. 

"M and V" you announce. The crowd explodes with noise. Chaos breaks out. I love it. Students check their board, and whatever number is at the intersection of the two letters is the number of points they earn for that problem. Students keep track of their points and the "winner" is whatever partner has the most points. 

Things to mention:
1. Some students will get the right answer and still get zero points, leveling the playing field a little for Sally who gets every single one right. Calm down, Sally. She will be very upset about this but that's the game. Her partner, on the other hand, will feel like he still has a chance.

2. Everyone is working on the same problem right now, together, and there is a time limit to get going. There is a sense of urgency to tune in, get started, and start working to get it done in time. 

3. If you throw each problem up one at a time students can't work ahead. I actually love this. Sally would do all of them in 5 minutes. This way as you go over the answer or address whole class misconceptions, everyone is hopefully more tuned in. 

4. It could not possibly be more low prep. Get some problems. Copy a very not fancy table. One you make the cups you can reuse them. It's great on days you need something but don't have time to create, laminate, cut, etc. 

5. Heads up... the first time you try this students will treat the board like a Bingo board and try to cross the numbers off. You could draw A & V multiple times over the course of a game so every single square stays in play the entire time. It's a one time issue and they figure it out pretty quick. 


Want to win the lottery?! Okay not really… And if lotteries or gambling is going to get you a parent email on this one maybe just change the name.

I 100% snagged this idea from a coworker. A win for one of us is a win for all, am I right? Students work in pairs and have a set number of problems to complete (I usually do about 10). Each right answer earns them a lottery number. You'll have to make sure you have enough lottery numbers for every group to claim however many they need. 

After they get a problem or two finished, they check their answers with me for approval and then go up and claim their lottery numbers by writing their initials on the whiteboard. I just ran around the room like a mad woman checking answers and addressing misconceptions with students. I love days where I get to connect one on one or two on one with everyone in the room.

At the end of the period I pulled up a random number generator and selected 10 numbers. Winners for each number got candy and everyone got great practice in for the day. Engagement? Debatable. Depends on the student and the content. But whole class participation and valuable practice time? You bet. 

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