Thursday, March 26, 2020

A New Favorite

    Something I've been carrying around in a folder for years finally got a trial run this past winter in one of the grade 2 classrooms I visit, and it was a big hit.  Lifted from the Georgia Frameworks (you can find a detailed lesson plan, directions, and game sheets in Grade 2, Unit 1, pgs. 80-89), it's called Capture the Caterpillar, and if I can make any sort of contribution during this current crisis, it's an activity I'd highly recommend.  It will work just as well at home as it does in the classroom.
    Capture the Caterpillar combines place value, comparing numbers, addition and subtraction, number sense, and strategy as you attempt to get as close to a target number as possible.  All you need are:
  • A deck of cards (10s and face cards removed, though Queens can be 0s)
  • A pair of dice
  • A game sheet and a score sheet 
  • Counters or anything that can stand in as counters, such as beans, paper clips, etc.
Here's how it works:

  • Pick two cards and generate a target number.  In the example above either 28 or 82; I chose 28.
  • Roll two dice.  Find the sum.  Take that many counters.  I rolled a 3 and a 2 and that makes 5, so I took 5 counters.  
  • Place the counters in the caterpillar and try to get as close to 28 as possible.  You can place them anywhere you want, but you need to use them all. 

Here I made 14.  1 ten and 4 ones.  That's 14 away from 28.

23.  2 tens and 3 ones.  That's 5 away.  Closer... but can we do better?

32.  3 tens and 2 ones.  How far away from 28?  Is this the closest we can get?  How do you know?

     In the above example, 32 is the closest number to 28 we can make given the 5 counters.  We would score 4 points because the difference between 32 and 28 is 4.  Play as many rounds as you like (in the game it's 5) and try to get the lowest score possible.
   Here are two second graders playing this game.  Their target number is 22 and they have 9 counters.  Pay attention to how they collaborate; how they count, how they determine the differences between their numbers, how they talk through the rules, how they plot strategy:

Here's a completed scoresheet:

Two more versions:

Some notes:
  • The Georgia Frameworks include only the 100s and 1000s caterpillars.  Honestly, it's been so long I'm not sure where the 10s caterpillar came from.  I can't find it on either the new (2019) or older (2014) edition of the Frameworks.  Did I do a cut and paste job and make it myself?   Here's the image in a google doc.  Or you can make your own.  Better yet, have your kids make it!  (Actually you don't even need the caterpillars.  Just circles will do.)  
  • The scoresheet in the Frameworks has a column for expanded form.  We eliminated that column and replaced it with a column to indicate the difference between the two numbers. Here it is.   We were about to experiment with having the kids plot their target numbers along with their attempts on a number line, but never got the chance. 
  • An alternative to competing against another individual or team is competing against your (or the class's) best score.  I like that better anyway.  
  • For a change, try to make the number that's farthest away from the target number and try for the highest score possible.
  • Try it with 3 dice. 
  • Forget drawing cards and trying to get close to a target.  Instead roll the dice, grab counters, and see how many different numbers you can make.  Is there a systematic way to go about the task?  Is there a relationship between the number of counters and the number of different numbers you can make?  
  •  One possible assignment: take a picture of a set up and ask students to come up with the   closest/farthest number possible.  This is a good number sense routine.
    My hope is that this activity can be used by parents working with their children at home and teachers working virtually with their students.  I can only imagine what it must be like for all those trying their best to continue to provide meaningful educational experiences for their kids right now.  Know that, when all is said and done, you will be counted among the many heroes who held our society together during this most difficult and challenging time. 



  1. Hmmm. Definitely something here.

    I wonder about one die per space, roll twice. I'm not sure how the caterpillar helps. I wonder about just blanks. Maybe a break the code idea? If you set it up like two sets of blanks, one with cards one with counters, you could rearrange to show the difference...

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes, the caterpillar doesn't have anything to do with the math; it's just a cute visual. But not sure what you mean by a break the code idea.

    1. I just had a mental image of these spy thrillers where there's 4 blanks they're trying to fill to stop whatever from going off. Probably not a resonant image for youngers!.

      I was thinking that it might be higher stakes if you can't rearrange the cards. Just deal the number, then decide where the counters go.

    2. It was my understanding that you had to decide on a number before you rolled the dice, that you couldn't rearrange the cards. That you couldn't decide beforehand whether or not you could get closer to 28 or 82 with 5 counters.

  3. THANK-YOU so much for sharing this idea. I teach grades2/3 in Canada and can certainly use this activity for my on-line learning. I appreciate your post. Question: Can you share a blank score sheet? It would save me trying to make one. I would use it with your idea of best class score.