## Trying to find math inside everything else

### Name That Solution

I was reviewing solving equations for my SAT Math class. It’s a tricky thing to do because “equations” includes linear, systems, quadratic, and exponential equations. A lot of different skills to go over in a short amount of time.

After working through the requisite problems, I wanted a little more practice, so I came up with a game that they could play, based on the Bid-a-Note sections of the old “Name That Tune” game shows. I called it Name That Solution. Gameplay goes like this:

• Start over with a simple equation, like “x = 2.”
• Each turn, a team can change the equation in one way to make it more complex. (For example, make it “x + 3 = 2” or “5x = 2”.) Only one operation and one term can be added at most per turn. The team finished by saying “I can name the solution of that equation.”
• On a team’s turn, they may challenge the other team to, in fact, actually solve it. (“Go ahead! Prove it!”) If the challenged team can, in fact, solve the equation, they earn a point. If not, the challenging team gets a point.
• First team to 5 points wins.

They played on whiteboards so they can change the equations quickly. The students quickly learned to not overextend themselves when making the equations harder, lest they find themselves challenged. So it leads to a nice exercise of constantly mentally making sure you know the steps to solve something before you take your turn, getting a lot of practice.

At the end of one of the classes, I did a big class-wide version, half the class versus the other half. But they wound up being very conservative, with neither team challenging the other and only take moves they knew they could solve. Which I guess was the point.

That final round.

### Intentions Change Approach (DragonBox 2 vs DragonBox 1)

So since I first had my students play DragonBox last year, We Want to Know came out with a sequel, DragonBox 2. They are now branded as 5+ and 12+, as the original DragonBox is intended to introduce the idea of algebra and solving equations to someone unfamiliar with it, while DragonBox 2 is meant to deepen the equation-solving toolbox of someone already familiar with solving equations, allowing them to deal with more complex equations.

I was trying to decide which one to use with my class this year. It seemed like DragonBox2 would be better at first glance, because I teach high schoolers: we have seen basic equations, and now we need to kick it up a notch. But I wound up going with DragonBox 1, saving the sequel for a handful of students who blazed through it and were advanced. I know I made the right choice because of situations like I tweeted about:

There were several students who could solve the first level (one of the hardest in the game), but not the second, which came later. This showed me that there was something about the structure of an equation that wasn’t getting through and that we needed to work on it.

In DragonBox 1, you only really have four abilities: you can combine inverses into 0, you can divide a card by itself to get 1, you can add a card from the deck to the game (one on each side), and you can attach a card from the deck to another (multiplication/division), as long as you do it to every card in the level. In DragonBox 2, you can do new things like flip a card from one side to the other, divide a night version by a day version (leaving negative 1), combine like terms, factor out common terms, and treat complex expressions as single units to multiply/divide by.

Those are all good things to do, and someone proficient in algebra should be able to do those things. But I backed away from using it in class because it lacked the why. At the end of the first DragonBox lesson, I compile the notes students took while playing to make a comprehensive list of rules and abilities you have in the game. The one student who played DragonBox2 insisted that, in the game, you can slide a card from one side to the other. No matter how much I pressed him, he didn’t see that the card wasn’t sliding over, it was flipping/inverting.

And that’s what I was afraid of by using DragonBox2. These tools are important, but they have to be earned by understanding them. DragonBox2 gives them to you by completing previous levels, not necessarily by understanding how. At the least, in DragonBox 1, because you are stuck with the basics, you have to grapple with where the solutions come from. They can’t magically appear.

So while DragonBox2 is rated as 12+, I wouldn’t give it to any student who didn’t already have a firm grasp on the concept of equality. Maybe post-Algebra 1. Or at least not until much later in the year.