Yes, today was a good day. You know you’ve done something right when you tell the students that we are heading to the high school theater for a production and their reaction is, “What, we’re going to miss Math? I like math.” Yeah, that’s what they had to say. A few actually looked devastated to NOT have math.

Yes, they even said that Math is fun and that they love Math. What 5th graders says that?

Then later in the afternoon, during our regular break time, my students were so engrossed in their work, they missed their regular 2 pm break. What were they doing? Collecting information, doing research, writing notes, and creating videos about the Boston Tea Party. Yup, they were focused and engaged in HISTORY!

Now, this doesn’t happen often. Thus, me writing a blog post about my good day. We should celebrate the little things in life. Here’s to more days like today!

While our school didn’t win, we had a lot of fun! I have never seen my students so focused and determined. One student asked if I could assign MORE challenges! Yes, MORE! How awesome is that?

In the midst of it all, we were challenged to participate in a Fai-To! This is where our school and another go head to head. Considering that our Internet went down twice in the past week, I was pleased to learn that we WON the last Fai-To!

There aren’t many classrooms at my school using Mangahigh, so to have 136 points is pretty big for us.

To top it all off, I had an IEP for a student on Friday. The parents commented how much the student, who struggles academically, enjoys Mangahigh. The student often asks to try, “Just one more time,” in order to achieve a higher score, beat another student, or gain another medal.

Just another reason to love this program! And to all the winners, congratulations!

Here’s an opportunity to check it out…for FREE(for a limited time). Not only do you get to check out all the features, your class/school can participate in an online challenge! Adding to the gamification fun. Go ahead, sign up for the challenge. What do you have to lose? It’s FREE.

10% Discount

And if you like it and decide to purchase…You can receive a 10% discount and a 30-day FREE trial. See, it just keeps getting better! Email Amber (amber@mangahigh.com) with the code: NOWATECHIE10.

Challenge Details

The challenge will run from February 1st – 15th 2016 for all K-10 students at schools in the US and Canada. It’s completely free to participate and we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to explore Mangahigh and see the impact digital games-based solutions can have on students’ learning.

During the challenge, you will have full access to all of Mangahigh’s premium features, including 600+ activities aligned to Common Core and other state standards. You can assign specific challenges to support the topic you are currently teaching, or simply allow students to complete challenges independently.

What do we win?

The school that scores the most points during the competition will be crowned the Math Bowl Champion, winning a $500 Amazon voucher, $500 Mangahigh voucher, a trophy plusmedals and certificates for their top 10 students.

The 9 runners up with all receive a $100 Amazon voucher, $200 Mangahigh voucher, medals, and certificates for their top 10 students.

Students with 200 points or more will receive a Mangahigh medal!

Who can enter?

The competition is open to all schools in the US and Canada for grades K-10 regardless of school size, location and previous experience with Mangahigh.com. You are welcome to enrol as many teachers and students as you like.

Who will join me?

I’ve already signed up. Who will join in the challenge?

We have been working on division with and without decimals. To help my students gain experience with the computation, I found a game (Four in a Row) in Georgia Math. They enjoy the game, but you always have those few who get board because it’s too easy. And yes, I had some of those. However, these 3 boys didn’t complain. Instead, they asked if they could make their own.

The boys chose the numbers and did the division to fill in the boxes with the quotient. This week, the rest of the class was able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It was a hit.

Now, this same group has decided to recreate another game. It was a multiplication board game, also found in Georgia Math. They are pretty excited.

Why was this so important? First of all, we talk about differentiation but aren’t alway great at it. This allowed my more proficient students to be challenged yet work on the same goals as the rest of the class. Secondly, and more importantly, my students took control over their learning and thought of a way to challenge themselves. What a powerful lesson for all.

Recently I wrote about jazzing up Math class. I was going to have them use real world situations to make the learning more relevant. After writing Ugh, Math, John Stevens suggested having the students come up with the questions. The idea being that they will come up with better questions than I could.

We looked at different candies. Here were some of their questions:

How many of each candy are there?

How much protein in each candy?

How much calcium in all the candies?

How much does the bag weigh?

There were some pretty great questions that would require a lot of math. We started working out how much the entire bag weighs. We are basing it on the weight of the candy.

John was right, the questions were better and I had instant buy-in to boot! I will definitely be doing more of this.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Math. To me, it’s like a puzzle and I like puzzles. However, that is not the case for many. Most of the time, it’s dry, boring, and disconnected from everyday life – at least that’s how the publishers present it. Which is yet another reason I hate publishers – come on, put some effort into your lessons. Less snazzy pictures – which there really aren’t that many – and more snazzy lessons!

This week I introduced long division to my 5th graders – you all groaned on that one didn’t you? Yeah, not the most interesting Math concept. It’s mostly procedural and very dry. And the publishers… a list of division problems to work out. BORING! Then there are the word problems:

A candy factory produces 9,876 pounds of chocolate in 24 hours. How many pounds to they produce in 1 hour?

Even the person who loves Math, like me, is thinking, “Who cares?” I mean really unless I’m the production manager, I couldn’t care less.

Fortunately, I have been inspired by the likes of La Cucina Matematica (John Stevens and Matt Vaudry) and Andrew Stadel (Estimation 180). They make Math relevant and fun. This is what I want for my students. And coming up with examples of how division can be relevant to my students isn’t THAT hard.

So what am I doing tomorrow in Math? Working with a bag of Halloween Candy. Amazingly, I still have some hanging around the house. Now, I can’t actually bring in a whole bag – which would totally be better (maybe I’ll swing by the store and see what’s on sale); they could manipulate the pieces. But… I sort of ate an embarrassing amount of the bag. Banana Laffy Taffy is a weakness of mine. So I did the next best thing, took a picture of the Nutritional Label – which I didn’t really read based on my consumption of said contents.

That means I can eat 4 pieces of my beloved Banana Laffy Taffy, and that is 1 serving (nice to know). So in a bag of 200 pieces how many are Laffy Taffy? Of that, how many servings of Laffy Taffy are there? It is also important to note that there are 2 flavors of Laffy Taffy. So you can further break it down and figure out roughly how many servings of Banana Laffy Taffy I ate. We could go on to find out how many servings of the candy are in the bag, or how many calories are in 1 Laffy Taffy. We could take the total number of pieces and split them up among all of us.

Is this the most innovative lesson ever? Not even close. Is it better than the dreaded publishers’ nonsense? Absolutely. Lessons like this could go on with items such as Hot Cheetos, chips, Taquis, and anything else the kids are into. I also get to sneak in lessons about serving size and portions.

While at Fall CUE a few weeks ago, I learned about Which One Doesn’t Belong from Nancy MInicozzi. The beauty of Which One Doesn’t Belong is that depending on your perspective any of the 4 choices is correct. This has been wildly popular with my students. They feel successful because of the low risk.

Given the above choices and Padlet, my students are required to defend their answer. Recently, one of my students began experimenting with the options on Padlet. She realized that she could embed a voice recording. The next day, she decided she didn’t like the sound of her voice, so typed her response in Voki, recorded the chosen voice, then embedded it on the Padlet. Now the rest of the class wants to learn how to do it. However, she is a bit devious. She refuses to help them because she wants them to figure it out on their own. I also suspect that she likes the fact that she is the only person who knows how to do it. I love when they try to outdo each other. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Did you ever have one of those days, in teaching, where you thought, “YES! This is what it’s all about”? Yeah, I had one of those moments today.

We have been talking about place value and really digging in deep in math. Today we organically began talking about exponents. I say organically because while I’ve touched on the subject before, the students really hadn’t grasped the concept. Yet today, they began making connections. And THAT was super cool! We really only focused on exponents as they relate to the base ten number system. For example 10 x 10 = 100 = 10^{2 }

This led to one student wondering if exponents “only work” with 10 or does it work with other numbers. We briefly discussed this. Then another student started making connections about the number of zeros and the exponent.

THIS is exactly what Common Core Math is about – looking deeper into the systems and the ‘why’ and discovering the connections and shortcuts. Knowledge IS power!

This was waiting for me in my Inbox recently; along with the message:

Mrs.N LOOK !!!!!!!!!

Now, this may not look like a big deal, or that the student was playing a game and beat it, but when you look deeper; it’s a big deal. I received this email on June 28. Our last day of school was June 4. This particular game helps to reinforce the concept of the PEMDAS Rule. So this means that ‘J’ has been playing meaningful math games during her summer break! Oh, and that this game covers standards above 5th grade, is just the frosting on the cake.

The Power of Games

Back in November of 2014, I wrote about how I was Gamifying my math homework. I was using Mangahigh. Then in the spring, my school decided to purchase a different system (that had math included) for the entire school. So I switched my math homework to the new system (I was using the free version of Mangahigh). My students were NOT happy.

When I first asked them about their preference, they all agreed that Mangahigh was better. At first they went on about the games, but when I pressed further on the issue they disclosed an interesting revelation. Mangahigh showed them steps, processes, and most importantly, where their mistakes were. After one student explained, “I like Mangahigh better because it tells me why I got an answer wrong,” the rest of the class quickly agreed and expanded on the value learning from their mistakes.

Next Year

After listening to my students go on about Mangahigh, and seeing that students were STILL using it on their vacation, I asked my school to purchase 2 classes. Unfortunately, due to a very limited budget, it’s a no go. So now I’m on to trying to figure out how to finance this valuable tool. As I always say, “It’ll all work out in the end.”

Okay, well I haven’t gamified ALL my homework, really just the Math.

I’m not a fan of homework to begin with. Study after study has shown that it does no good. Those who can do it, don’t need the extra work while those who can’t, rarely have someone to help them. So what’s the point? I speculate that it comes down to the fact that, ‘it’s the way we’ve always done things’. But I’m not here to talk about the Pros and Cons of homework, I’m here to talk about a small success I’ve had with it this year.

As my district has a homework policy – I have to give it – I have strived to make it meaningful. Years ago, I assigned 20-30 math problems nightly. I know, what was I thinking? Then I scaled it back to around 8 problems and until recently it was closer to 3 or 4 per night. I tried making those problems easy enough to complete at home, yet incorporate some higher order thinking skills.

The problem? The students rushed; it was all meaningless for them. And I was frustrated with some of the half-hearted answers I was getting.

The solution? Gamify! Oxford Dictionaries defines Gamification as, “The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity”. In other words, making it a game. There are several application that can do this. I could have chosen to do it on my own, or use one of the programs available. I chose the latter. Since my homework is done online, it was only natural to find a program that worked for me. I chose Mangahigh. While there is a paid version that allows me to track the students’ progress in great depth, I opted for the free version.

I have talked with parents and students about this shift. Everyone is in agreement that it is better than the problems. Parents have commented that their child begs, “One more game Mommy, I’m trying to beat ____.” Students are working towards goals. In this particular program, they earn bronze, silver, or gold badges. While the students are striving to obtain the badges, what’s really driving them is their competitive nature. They are trying to beat their friends, and me. I also signed up as a student and take all the challenges. The students LOVE coming to me and bragging how they’ve beaten me. Several have commented, “It’s way more fun [than the problems]!”

What I’ve noticed is that students are spending more time on math. I no longer get emails from students complaining that they don’t understand. I now receive emails telling me how many challenges they have passed and how many badges they have earned. I received an email from a student this evening. She was proud of herself for passing a challenge, beating me, and earning more badges. I told her how proud I was of her, and she responded:

“Thank you, I love Manghigh. It is super cool!”

In short, we are all happier. I am no longer frustrated that students aren’t taking their homework seriously. I am happy that they are spending time ‘playing’. They are happier, as are the parents. There are no more tears from students complaining that they don’t understand what to do (let’s face it, we’ve all been there. We can do it in class then when we get home, we forget how to do the problems), and no more frustrated parents.