Today in class we made explicit connections between a game we’ve been trying (DragonBoxEDU) and “the math”. Myself and the other teacher took a risk and had kids playing DragonBoxEDU for a portion of every class over a couple weeks. I had piloted it in a learning strategies course the semester before and knew that some students really enjoyed it. This proved the same in Grade 9 Applied Mathematics. Most of the students really enjoyed it, so it was more difficult to convince them to get OFF the game while we did other things than it was to get them to play. Students even came in after March break excited about how far they had gone in the game. The game can be played on a laptop or iOS device. The teacher signs up and creates a class and then the access for students is free. The game does not look like math. Students “discover” algebra rules while trying to isolate a box and grow a dragon. Sounds crazy ‘eh? Its not a drill and kill type game where they are practicing solving math equations. They are actually doing something that appears totally unrelated and acquiring skills as they go.
I’ll be honest, I was very worried at my ability to help students make the connections between the game and traditional-looking algebra questions. I worried that we had “wasted” all that time on the game. However, today we started solving equations and students were totally engaged. They watched me do a few questions in the game (and laughed at me while I messed up and then showed me the “short cuts”). Then the dreaded moment – I put a traditional looking question on the board (in ClassFlow where students can write on their own screen and send it to the front board for us to discuss). They made the connection immediately. They talked excitedly about equations.
I struggle to teach algebra “through problem solving”. I can find a way to introduce every other concept through investigation or problem solving. Algebra however, I struggle with. I can provide multiple ways to solve algebra problems using manipulatives and tools, but I struggle to pose a rich problem for students to solve that leads us to rich discussion of the skills we need for solving equations. While playing DragonBoxEDU may not be a real investigation or actual problem solving, it sure did allow students to construct their own meaning and understanding of equations and balancing. It gave us a great context for our discussion about algebra today. Students who regularly struggle in class were the first to jump up and show us how to go about attacking a problem. They just “got it”.
I’m hoping that they continue to make the connections to strategies discovered in DragonBoxEDU as we get to more complex, multi-step equations. I’d love to hear from others who have found engaging ways for students to approach the algebra content in grade 9.