Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Follow-Up: Combining like terms card game

I tested out the Like Terms card game in class today with fairly positive results. It took me a few periods to work out the best way to introduce the game and explain the rules, requiring a lot of adjustment on the fly, but by the end of the day things were going swimmingly.

I made a false assumption that many students had played a variation of rummy or any card games where you take a card, make a play, and discard. However, beyond Uno or poker, many students were unfamiliar with this style of game. Thus, I had students following the rules to make groups of 3 or 4 like terms (which is good) but through varying methods of obtaining cards.

As far as knowing which cards go together (and thus which terms can be combined), I think there was no problem--that part of the objective was clear even in classes where the rules of the game were confusing. What was lacking in the classes earlier in the day was a better explanation on how to score the game--taking the tally of each group of cards and turning it into a longer expression.

I realized that I needed to walk everyone through a turn or two to get things started. At first, I would explain the rules myself, showing examples from the decks and referring to the Like Terms rules and scoring guide I had written before arranging them into groups or having the cards dealt. This was a significant mistake on my part that gave some students in earlier classes quite a bit of confusion.

Later in the day, I made sure the groups were formed and cards were dealt before I explained anything. Then I had the first person in each group complete a turn along with me walking the whole group through it, so each group saw a clear example and knew how to proceed. I held off on the scoring until a few groups had ended the game, and using the score tracking sheet I had printed on the back of the directions, wrote out a full example to show them when and what to add or subtract.

To clear up the morning confusion and review for everyone who did get it, I filled out a score sheet with 2 sample scores, one from a winning hand and one from a losing one, and will ask them to total up the scores properly to start tomorrow's class. I told students all day that as long as they understood and remember the main idea of the game--which terms are like terms and how to simplify expressions containing them--it doesn't matter if the rules of the game themselves were confusing.

So if you plan on doing something like this, be sure to:
  1. Arrange students into groups and distribute cards first.
  2. Walk students through the first turn (or more if needed).
  3. Understand that it may take time for students to grasp the rules of the game (but probably not the concept).
  4. Constantly monitor and be prepared to walk groups through the game procedures to get them to the point where they can play on their own.
  5. I recommend having groups play through no more than 2 full games.
  6. Design a closing activity, even as simple as 1-5 sample questions on the overhead, to end the lesson.
  7. Follow up the next day with a filled out sample score sheet (you can borrow ones from students that are correct and cover the totals OR take one that is incorrect and have the students identify the mistakes) and related simplification activities (we will be doing the ever-present "Find the perimeter of the polygon" where the sides are labeled with algebraic expressions.