Thursday, September 20, 2007

Basketball review game

I have always used games to review for tests and quizzes--they make the often painful work of reviewing fun, easy and memorable, they help break up a sometimes boring routine, and they can make your students excited about coming to class. Last year, I developed a version of the common basketball review game. The setup and rules are simple (see the picture below as well):
  1. The desks are arranged into two groups (3 desks deep) facing a wide center aisle. The hoop is at the end of the aisle.
  2. The class is split into two teams (one side vs. the other).
  3. One student from each team comes to the board to complete a question, whoever answers it correctly first gets a shot for their team.

The twist I added to the versions I've read about is that I thought it would be fun to use one of those giant inflatable basketball hoops, such as the Sportscraft Monster Basketball Set you see in this picture from last year. I can't stand the idea of using a garbage can as a "hoop" and wads of paper as a "ball" as this basketball review game (via About.com) calls for--my students would be insulted if I tried to pull that trick. I wanted it to be as authentic as possible without leaving the room.

I looked around at the local big-box retailer and saw many versions of giant outdoor hoops. The one I actually preferred, which looked like those round ones that you usually see floating in pools, was $60. I have been trying to cut back on the whole spend-thousands-out-of-pocket thing and this was simply too much for something I could only use sparingly. When I found the Monster Basketball Set for $20, I picked it up immediately. It's a little over 6' tall and the ball is 16" in diameter, big enough to make an impression but small enough to fit in the room.

Students took shots from the front of the room (near the first row of chairs), which made the shot difficult but not impossible (due to the ceiling, you had to throw it straight or underhand in order to make it). When we played last year, the games were always low scoring (2 or 3 points total) even when we plowed through a lot of questions and the students took a lot of shots.

I just ran this game again this year, and this is my advice for running it smoothly in your classroom:
  • Make sure that while the two (or more) students are competing for a shot up at the board that everyone else is doing the same work. The easiest way to do this is to inform your kids you'll be collecting all of the work on all of the problems we did a the end of class, and since you would review each answer there would be little excuse for students not having complete work and answers for each problem.
  • The game play allows consistent opportunities for the teacher to explain common mistakes and reteach difficult items by design. I usually confirm a winner, let them take their shot, and then discuss what the winner did right and what (if any) mistakes the other player had made.
  • This game is ideal for easier content that only requires memorization (the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy), although it can be used for concepts that require multiple steps and require higher order thinking (it just may take longer and you won't be able to complete as many questions).
  • Depending on your students' level of confidence on the topic being reviewed, you can choose to give them the problem first with a chance for them to work on it before coming to the board (which I did today for the challenging topic of solving two-step equations and inequalities) or keeping the questions a surprise until they are already waiting at the board (which I did last year when I was trying to get them to visualize and sketch linear equations without a calculator). The latter is better when you are focused on the type of easy material I described above.
  • As with any game, you need very good classroom management in order to keep everything under control. If you have problems with vandalism, or don't believe your students can handle this without hitting things or each other with the ball, don't even think about using this game.
The game keeps the kids engaged and while they can easily get overexcited, in a well-managed classroom you should be able to tell them the alternative will be the most boring thing you can think of, and the mere idea of that will keep them focused.

Unfortunately, my hoop did spring a leak after repeated uses last year and being stuffed into a box over the summer this year. I couldn't patch it (I didn't keep any of the patching material included with the game) even with a ton of duct tape and spent too much time inflating it repeatedly throughout the day. Alas, this game will have to go on hiatus until I can get another (or better) hoop.

I am extremely happy to report that the grades on today's weekly quiz, covering all the material reviewed yesterday in the game, are excellent. My students made a huge jump in comprehension and retention this week compared to how they did on similar quizzes the last 2 weeks.

[Update 4/21/10: This idea and many others are part of my recently updated book Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition ($9.95 paperback, $2.50 digital).]