Monday, 23 March 2015

Gaming in the maths classroom

On Saturday, I presented at the Education Show in Birmingham on gaming in the maths classroom and thought I would share some of my ideas with you.

Above: Some photos of me before the show. The photo on the right-hand side was taken before the presentation (note the nervous smile!)

As teachers, we need to be convinced of the positive impact something would have before adopting it as part of our educational practice. Initially, we I started out with this project and research I was unsure of (1) why gaming works and (2) how to make it meaningful so it is not just perceived as a reward. However, now I am convinced that gaming is the way forward for mathematics education (within given parameters of course), but gaming is definitely changing students' mindsets and engagement in mathematics.

How the brain works:
If we start with what we know about the brain (at least at this moment in time), stressors for teenagers include many factors and one of those is repeated failure. When students are confronted with these stressors, the amygdala (also known as the switching station) is not allowing information through to the prefrontal cortex. In most mammals we see this as the 3F's - fight, flight and freeze. However, in a teenager in a maths classroom we see it manifest in one of two ways:
1) Acting out
2) Zoning out

It is essential that information arrives at the prefrontal cortex, as it is the prefrontal cortex that allows for critical thinking, reasoning and application of what we are learning in mathematics. However, for the majority of students, mathematics is associated with repeated failure and as a result, the amygdala is not allowing information to the pre-frontal cortex where the need to process and apply the information.

Above: Image of the brain from edited by Sarah-Neena Koch

This is where the games come in:
If you have ever observed someone playing a video game, you will have noticed that repeated failure doesn't seem to deter them from playing - and you would be correct. When playing games, the amygdala doesn't associated repeated failure with the switching that in other mammals is so important for the preservation of the species, in continues to allow information through to be processed by the prefrontal cortex.

Gaming in my classroom:
It is important to understand the differences between gamification and game based learning. This video I created will explain more:

If you are new to gaming, gamification is the best way to start off. Get comfortable with the various ways you can game in the classroom. I would suggest Kahoot, as teachers you can get it at: and students access the games you've created at  You can use kahoot to create polls of just using the online gaming tool. I also use kahoot for formative assessment or as a lesson starter.

Above: Engaging the audience at the show with a kahoot we played together.

I have also used Lego to gamify what students are learning/doing in mathematics.

Game based learning:
There are several games that I have used for game based learning in my classroom, using dragonbox and MineCraft This video will explain more:

I hope you have found this useful. Please get in touch if you are using games in your math classroom so that we can create a community where we share ideas and resources.

Investigating quadrilaterals

Following on for the investigation into triangles last week with my grade 6 MYP class, I had students inquire into the interior angles of quadrilaterals today. They firstly had them identify the different types of quadrilateral and find a ways of organising and identifying when you have what type of quadrilateral.

Afterwards, they had different types of quadrilaterals and cut out the angles from these quadrilateral add them, by means of glueing it to find the rule: interior angles of quadrilaterals add up to 360 degrees.

The verdict: Another fun and easy way for students to investigate the angle rules in quadrilateral. I had them complete a traditional determining angles exercise afterwards and they found it really easy to determine based on previous knowledge. Recommended! 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Investigating triangles

During today's inquiry into triangles with my grade 6 MYP class, we reached for old-fashioned technology - and with great results! Students were really engaged throughout this activity.

I started by giving students an example of triangles with their identities written inside, and they had to label these. For example, acute and isosceles, students had to identify the acute angles within that triangle and then had to indicate the two sides that are of equal length in order to make it an isosceles triangle.

Here is a great example of two of the pieces of work the students produced:
I then asked them to use the exact same triangles (I made two copies of the same triangles), and to cut out the angles (HINT: if you are getting the students to do this activity, get the to cut it round, otherwise it becomes difficult to see where the original angle was). 

After cutting out these angles, students were asked to glue together these angles to find the pattern in the angles. 

After repeating it several times, students realised that it demonstrate that the interior angles of a triangle will always add up to 180 degrees.

The verdict: Great use of time, quick activity, but students find it so easy to remember that interior angles add up to 180 degree. Give it a go, it's so worth it!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Math class without numbers?

You are joking right? Surely that is not possible in a high school?

In an attempt to re-engage my students with sequences and series, I invited them to create a sequence using only paper and scissors. I explicitly told them that they are not allowed to write any numbers, but can model and explain their sequence using words in everyday language.

After a few moments of staring at the pieces of paper in front of them, ideas started to emerge and the previously disengaged class was not only engaged and the most surprising, the students that I struggle with most in terms of engaging, was the most engaged! Not only were they ‘hands-busy’, cutting away, they were ‘heads-busy’, as I would often hear conversations about whether this particular piece was indeed a sequence or not. 

Here is some of the work they’ve created: 

Each time the paper is folded open, it produces the sequence 1, 2, 4, so as this student commented, that if it was a infinite piece of paper, this would have produced a geometric sequence.

Considering you are starting (with the man in the middle) each additional layer, would provide a +1, so therefore this student created an arithmetic sequence.

We had discussions that ranged from what makes a pattern a sequences, and when it is a ‘normal’ arithmetic sequence and when it is a recursive arithmetic sequence. They could correct themselves on the terminology we so easily get tripped up on, one student started “this is a series of circles, oh no! I’m not adding, the pattern repeats. This is a sequence of circles…”.  (As seen below). 

One of the students referred to different terminology - she explained “this is my pattern of triangles, but when I fold my paper and bend it down, I introduce a line of symmetry”. 

Another student, produced smaller cut-outs that they arranged and re-arranged every time to create various different sequences (both arithmetic and geometric).

The verdict: This is a fun way to either introduce or reflect on sequences in mathematics. It is not very time consuming, but involves great amounts of fun! Fantastic to get students talking about what they created without feeling the 'pressure'. Highly recommended!