I will just start by saying that I did not create this fun math game. I didn’t even find it! A member of my awesome math team emailed everyone a link to a math teacher’s blog, in which she explained the 5×5 game. I’ll sum it up here, but definitely go check out her blog. She has a lot of great ideas!
Let’s start by discussing the day before vacation in middle school. Ugh. The kids are either excited or anxious or both. And that doesn’t translate into an excellent learning environment. When I taught in the Catholic schools the day before vacation was very ritualized….we would have church, we would have traditional parties organized by the parents, etc. It was still tiring and the kids were still super amped up, but at least there was some structure provided by the nature of the day. In public school, where I’ve been for the past 12 years, we obviously aren’t going to go to church! While I do miss the structure, I much prefer teaching where I am now. So, how to make the last day a positive experience for all involved? I’ve tried a variety of ideas, as I’m sure you have. I’ve tried giving a test. Didn’t work so well because the kids weren’t very focused on math. I’ve tried having a “math party” or “game day”. Some teachers I know really love this but I always find it chaotic. As well, my heart sort of hurts for the kids who are left out and struggle to find someone to play with. It just isn’t fun for them. You can imagine then, that when Aaron sent the link for this game, I was ready to try!
Turns out, too, that we actually learned math today. Common Core Math Practice Standards were everywhere….persevering in solving problems (MP1), attending to precision (MP6), and even looking for and making use of structure (MP7). I loved this because I really, let’s be frank here, was just looking for something vaguely mathematical to fill our time on the Friday before vacation. Instead I found a mathematically rich activity that literally engaged 99% of my students for the entire period!
Here’s how it worked in my classes (6th and 7th grade math):
I downloaded and made copies of the 5×5 grid sheet from the blog. A student can play 6 rounds on one sheet. I sorted my playing cards, as instructed, pulling out all the face cards (except the Aces, which count as 1). My instructional aide, Jocelyn, made a great power point of directions for the game with pictures that helped to illustrate for the kids how to play. Basically, it works like this: the teacher calls out 25 numbers as drawn from the playing cards. Each student fills in his or her game board as the numbers are called. (The teacher can only say the number once so you have to listen carefully!) Students have the ability, and this is where the kids start to quickly discern strategy and apply problem solving thinking, to place the numbers anywhere on the 5×5 grid. After all 25 are called and placed, students begin adding up points. Anytime two or more identical numbers are directly adjacent to on another, either vertically or horizontally on the grid, you may add them. These are your points. Then you add the total from each row and the total from each column to get a grand total. The student with the highest grand total wins the round and, at the suggestion of the game inventor, a “no homework” pass.
It was amazingly fun and easy. First of all, my students all see themselves as very capable of adding, which is great. It made the game accessible to everyone, which is a the perfect place to start. Because the game felt accessible and “easy” the kids were all willing to give it a try. As well, most of them felt capable of “trying again” and trying out a strategy. I encouraged chatting about strategies and ideas as we got ready for the next round. Jocelyn played, too, and chatted with kids about strategies. As kids finished adding, I had them stand up if they had a total greater than 100. Once everyone was ready, we went around the room calling out totals. If you had more than the total called, you kept standing. It was fun to do it this way because I could give positive verbal feedback and it was pretty quick. As we got into playing the game, kids would also spontaneously clap for high scores, which is cool. In the game directions there are several modifications of the basic game to try such as: going for the lowest total score, going for the highest even score, going for a specific score, such as 30. All were fun.
I loved this activity because everyone played. I loved it because it was not just the typically “good at math” kids who were winners. I loved it because we had controlled, positive, genuine fun on the day before vacation. And, I will be honest, I loved it that 5 or 6 times in each class period I had total silence for about 2 minutes as all 20 or so kids listened avidly for the next number. It was beautiful.