Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fun and Games in Fifth Grade

Taking some type of content and asking kids to use it to create a board game is not a revolutionary idea. But organizing an entire unit around it was something we had never tried, until this year when Rich came to me with the idea. He wanted to try it out with his fifth graders.  We decided to use the project not as a culminating activity, but as an ongoing part of instruction in a unit on fractions and decimals.
  Here was the plan: after teaching a lesson on, say, converting mixed numbers into improper fractions, the kids would practice the skill by creating question cards to be used for their board game instead of doing pages in a journal or worksheets.  The answers would be put on the back of the cards so the game would be self-checking.  They could then work on constructing their game boards.
A typical card.
     We liked the idea that the kids would be learning and practicing the skills not because "you need to know this for the test", but because they needed them to be able to create questions and answers in order to make their game, as well as to be able to play the games that their classmates would create.
    Some of the game boards that got constructed were very plain and simple; others were much more elaborate and required lots of thought, planning, trial and error, and compromise (and yes, there were some heated arguments).  But every group managed to come up with something.
This game was called "Monopoly Crazy Cackle".

This game had a "Box of Doom".

This game was called "Toilet Twister" and featured a toilet bowl (lower left corner).

This group decided to make their own game tokens.

It was easy to land in the "Devil's Snare" but difficult to get out, as I learned the hard way.

This board had a zoo theme.  It was very colorful. 

They were given a day or two to "test drive" their games: fix any inconsistencies or correct wrong answers on the backs of their cards.  Some groups realized that their games were confusing and did not really work, so they had to revise them as best they could.  Tuesday and Wednesday they got to play each other's games.  We decided to leave one group member behind to help explain the rules and generally referee, but as an active participant. 

As we reflected on the experience, we realized there were some problems that we would need to address for next time.  Among the most significant:
  • Groups should have been required to submit their questions on paper to be checked before being committed to a card.  There were some confusing and off-topic questions and wrong answers.
  • Game boards needed to be checked more carefully to make sure that a minimum amount of questions had to be answered. Some of the games, while quite thoughtful and creative, did not include enough question-answering in their play.
  • Kids needed to be held accountable for their work answering questions (Thanks Theresa!)  After the first day we did require the students to record their questions and answers on a separate sheet, but by then it was a little too late.
  • Give the groups big manila envelopes to store their cards and boards instead of folders.  This was a suggestion that came from one of the kids; every time his group went to get their folder to work on their game, all the cards fell on the floor!
With all that being said, we felt that the project was a net win.  There was a tremendous social benefit, lots of collaborative problem solving, space for creativity and imagination...and all during math class!  We asked the kids to reflect, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  One student described it as, "Tons of fun!"  Another one called it, "Imaginative."  And my favorite was the student who gave it a score of "499.99/500".  What math teacher wouldn't like that rating!


  1. I LOVE this!! Thank you for pointing me towards it! I like the reflection at the end and you've brought up some excellent points that I need to consider for my own work.

  2. Thanks Justin. Between the two of us we'll get it right!