Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Game, New Tools

 Thanks to Twitter and Kristen Fouss, I came across this blog post last spring. The post describes how to play Trasketball, a fun way to review before a math test. I filed the game away under "Use At First Opportunity". It seemed like the game could be fun and yet still provide some good learning opportunities.

Last week my grade 9 class was ready to review for their first test. What a great opportunity to try Trasketball. As I was setting up the presentation with the questions I couldn't help but think that it didn't seem like there were a lot of questions and I was worried that my students wouldn't get enough practice. I didn't let that sway me and I went ahead anyway.

I had a couple of reasons to  involve another class. I ended up with this class about a week ago as a result of the splitting of another class. I thought why not get the other half of the original class in on the game as well. Although we could have all packed into one classroom and played the game it would have been much too crowded.

The second reason for involving another class is that I'm currently part of a team at the school exploring the use of video conferencing. What better way to start with video conferencing than with the class next door, with students who would be comfortable with the teacher and the other students in the class. If you're interested in the technical details I'll document them at the end of the post.

Photo by Maik Pereira
We divided the classes into groups of four (each person got a letter M, A, T or H) and numbered the groups in both classes. The group ones, although in different classes, were working as a team to get the most points. The same was true for the other pairings.

The game went like this: I posted the question which showed up in both classrooms. Everyone worked on the question and could get help from their group. My colleague next door, Kate, choose a random letter out of the word MATH. The person in the group with that letter came to show Kate or me their work. If the work was right they received a point and could shoot for either two points from the two-point line or move back and shoot for 3 points. The cameras in the classrooms were pointed at the basket looking towards the shooter, a backboard cam of sorts. Students from both classes were able to watch the shooters from both classes. The score was tallied on the screen so that everyone could follow along.

How did it go? I was quite pleased. Although I didn't think there were enough questions, every student did every question. I was amazed that everyone was engaged for the entire period. Although I assigned fewer questions, I would say that the overall productivity was much greater than I had I simply given work out of the textbook. I was also very pleased to see that my students' math skills were far superior to their basketball skills.

Did we need a video link to the class next door? Absolutely not. Did it help keep students engaged? Probably not that much. Why do it then? I'd like to eventually bring some guest speakers into the class using video conferencing. These guest speakers might talk about how they use math in their jobs and hopefully answer questions from the class. Before trying with a guest speaker I thought I'd try within the school. Thanks Kate for being such a good sport about the whole process.

This is more for my future reference than anything, but if you're interested in the technical details read on. We setup and tested the equipment the night before. Despite this we still ended up with an audio hiccup in the morning. We hooked up a simple web-cam, a set of speakers and a projector  to the computer in each room. Since our district has licenses for Adobe Connect, that's what we used. One teacher was signed in as the host, the other as a presenter. I loaded the slide show into Connect and had it displayed on the right side of the screen. Both videos were shown on the left half of the screen. The score was shown on a Connect Whiteboard at the bottom right under the slide show. I ended up moving windows around a lot so that the questions were large enough. Next time I would spend a little more time setting up the layout so that I was happy with it for the entire presentation. We recorded most of the presentation so that we could learn from it.

Just before we started I sent an email inviting the principal and the two vice-principals to join us either in person or virtually. I was happy to see that all three were able to join us virtually at some point throughout the presentation.

Notes for next time:
  • Get the groups cheering for each other, shoot baskets in specific order so that it's easier for them to remember who they're working with.
  • The answer key should go to both teachers instead of being displayed on the screen to stop groups from cheating (not that it happened).
  • Find a way to minimize the delay in video