## Trying to find math inside everything else

### Dragonbox in the Classroom

Last week, my students spent 2 double periods playing Dragonbox, the iPad (and computer) game designed to teach solving linear equations, which I think it does quite well. (I agree with many of Max Ray’s opinions when he writes about it here. Which makes sense, as Max first showed me the game this past summer.)

While one of my goals was teaching solving equations, it was not my only one, which is what I wanted to talk about here. (I’ll probably review the game itself later.) I told the students that I had forgotten to make a lesson, so we were just going to play a game on the iPad today. What I did want, though, was for them to home their ability to figure out how something works. To me, this is an even more important lesson to get than just solving equations.

To this end, I talked about how websites like GameFAQs has walkthroughs for all sorts of games, but one walkthroughs were all written by regular players, who sat down with a game right when they bought it, took notes on what they did, figured things out, and shared with others. So we were going to take that role. In their Interactive Notebooks, I told them to write down every thing they could do in the game. Whenever they came across a new rule, some new ability, or a new solution to a tough puzzle, write it down. Example: “Tap the green swirl to make it disappear.”

The surprising part was, they really did it, and quite well. Hey even discovered a lot of things about the game that I didn’t know, because I always played it “perfectly,” since I knew the rules of algebra. (Example: if you have a denominator under a green swirl (aka 0) and tap it, the while thing disappears. Or a green swirl won’t disappear if it is the only thing left on its side, which was fun to talk about later.)

At the end of my first double, with about 20 minutes left, I compiled all the notes they took using Novel Ideas Only (where all students stand and share things they have written, only sitting once everything they have written down is said, either by themselves or someone else), creating a master list of actions they could refer to next time.

The next class, they came in and immediately started playing. I must say, the entire time I used it, the kids were really into it, and most of them were really persistent. Some occasionally requested help, but my intervention was minimal. This time, I had this answer several questions after they had played some more, which really dove into the meat of the game. What does this card or action in the game represent in math? Why does a certain rule in the game happen that way?

One thing I really loved is how solid the game got them on how dividing something by itself won’t make it go away. It was a tactic many of them tried in several levels and it always got them stuck. I focused on the difference between “zeroing out” and “oneing out.”

We had one major downside, technology-wise, though. Each game had four save files, which worked out, because I had four sections. So one file per student. But there is nothing to stop a student in one class from playing on, or, even worse, DELETING, another student’s file. I e-mailed the company, and they said a solution would happen in a future update.

Today was the follow-up quiz, and they mostly did well. The things they stuck on was something that wasn’t well covered in the game: the distributive property. But we’ll work on that.

I’m back from Twitter Math Camp, which was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve never made friends so easily, but I was so exhausted afterwards, because we pretty much spent 96 non-stop hours together (except for sleeping time). When people asked me if I had vacation plans this summer, I mentioned I was going to St. Louis for “a conference” and was told it didn’t count as vacation. But oh, it totally did.

I’m not sure whether I should blog about the conference or the after conference. I’m a terrible note-taker, so I’m sure others will better be able describe what went on, but highlights include spontaneously lesson-planning with Karim of Mathalicious, community-building and website ideas with Sam Shah, Megan‘s totally awesome Interactive Notebooks talk. But honestly some of the best sessions were the My Favorites… sessions, where people just went up for a few minutes and shared something awesome they did. And it was so much awesome. I also loved how, when something great was said, everyone in the room would say “Someone tweet that.”

As for after-conference events, Pi Pizzeria was actually quite good (and so I appreciate a Deep Dish Pizza as being something tasty, but not pizza). The brewery tour was nice, even though is was super-hot and I don’t like beer, but as before, the company was so good. Anyone going to St. Louis (or anywhere close) needs to visit the City Museum, an amazing experience, even if Max Ray did almost lose his wallet from up high. And I was convinced to go see Magic Mike by Julie and Sam, and seeing it with them and the other tweeps (like Marsha) made it hilarious. (Julie taught the whole audience a special dance!)

I think the thing that sums it up the most was our final activity:

I’ll post about my talk and what I shared later. Have a lot of chores to do now.