Casino Night and Gamification

Spending about 30 hours marking assignments to learn not very much at all was a Spring break holiday activity that I did not enjoy. Working with the kids during classes meant there weren’t too many surprises for me in the reports.

Something wasn’t right and I tried to think how to make the marking process just as valuable for the kids without the bonus  hours and hours for me after the task is done. I like to return work quickly to students, so 30 hours (outside of teaching,planning and meetings × 100) makes that a terribly difficult goal, unless you do have holidays to complete it all. Before you begin to think, or maybe it’s too late, that I am a very slow marker, I have over 60 students, in Grade 8, and they produce large reports, not just problems that are right or wrong. No tick, cross, tick, tick, cross… My kids are mathematicians, exploring, investigating and applying.

Another issue is electronic marking. It takes longer than old fashioned paper copies. I’ve been thinking about that too, but that’s another blog post.

For the final task of the year, for Grade 8, the final large task, I had to do a rethink or seriously consider running away. It’s the Casino Task and if Casino Night doesn’t happen, lots of people are disappointed. It’s a big school event and kids ask about it when they commence Grade 8.

A lot of time goes into Casino Night. Kids design their games before they build them, using the MYP Design Cycle. The idea in my head was if I know the work so well before I sit down to assess it, then I should be able to assess as they progress. Another challenge is to assess students individually even though it’s a group task. Individual reports only do so much for this.

Instead of taking you through all the ups, downs and swirls of my thoughts I will take you to the solution. If you want to see how students chose their groups, you can check out this Google Doc*.

*NBF = new best friend



Students will work through levels earning badges (the images at the top of this post) as they proceed (gamification) with extra points available.

Each level has a minimum number of points required.

When students accumulate enough points, they can then, and only then, begin to create  their game.

When creation begins, they will have:

    • design of the equipment: the parts of the games (spinners, dice, lucky dip…), betting board, sign and rules
    • plan of who needs to do what in the groups with expected times
    • the Mathematics behind the probabilities and the house odds

It is expected that they work as a group ensuring that everyone is comfortable with the Mathematics.


While they are being busy like the elves in Santa’s workshop, I will call them over one by one to interview them about their game.


Each student will describe their game and why they believe it will be successful on Casino Night. I will assess them there and then applying two MYP criteria: Knowledge and Understanding and Communication.  The Reflection  criterion must wait until after the big night.

    • The Mathematics behind the events of their game will need to be explained.
    • How they made their games attractive to customers to keep them at their table – Mathematics and Design.

Students, as always, have the assessment criteria at the beginning of the project.

I decided it would be easier to show you, so I took what I made as a Onenote Notebook for the kids and put it into wikispaces, so I could share it with other Mathematics and MYP teachers.

Here is the G08WikiSpaces

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Clint Hamada, @chamada, (our school tech faciliTATOR and all round great guy for bouncing ideas off) and EARCOS. I did not go to EARCOS, but Clint went and saw John Rinker‘s, @johnrinker, presentation on Gamification. Very timely!

Thanks to @zomoco for the ideas of internet memes for award badges – the kids LOVE them

NBFs: “What’s The Chance Of That?”

The end of the school year is hurtling towards us at an astonishing pace. My grade 12s/seniors/final year students will sit their IB Diploma exams in the first week of May, and I’m excited for them, but that’s another blog post.

Although my head swims with my grade 12s who I refer to as “my babies”, this post is about my grade 8s and their probability unit. We are pressed for time so how to get it all in was a challenge. Every year we have a casino night and to not do it would upset students and parents. The solution was not to teach the content prior to tasks, just start investigating (with some scaffolding). We started with an investigation called “What kind of gambler are you?”. NCTM has a great activity called SKUNK and we MYPed it.

Before I begin I will digress a little, again, and say stick with this post until the end. The collaboration in this investigation has been incredible and the method can be used in any subject. The great game of NBF will be explained further down.

From NCTM:

Before the students knew it was related to assessment we just played it and discussed it. Kids love it. Some of my students decided that the dice would decide if they remained standing or sat down. If that made no sense, go back and read the rules, it won’t take long. Some used odd versus even, low or high.

From NCTM - Fabulous site for mathematics teachers

We used the SKUNK dice simulator from NCTM, real dice which I rolled. then a student wanted ‘control’ so I happily passed it over to who has now become “Mr. Snake Eyes”.

Their task is to make a SKUNK user guide. How to be a successful skunk player both as a high roller and a play safe type gambler. They need to produce strategies for both types of players and back up them up with evidence. The assignment will be submitted on Tuesday.

When I teach probability I introduce the great game NBF. NBF stands for New Best Friend. Every lesson students get an NBF. I have the tables numbered from one to twenty-four. As the kids come into class they reach into the NBF lucky dip and pull out a number. This is where they sit. For the first couple of minutes they must chat with their NBF. I told my kids that being able to talk to anyone is such a great skill to have. While they might be out of their comfort zone, it’s worth it. They now look forward to it. Two kids actually sat next to each other three classes in a row. “What’s the chance of that?”, when you get a genuine question like that, you stop, grab the student directed moment and run with it.  

What I hadn’t anticipated was how wonderful the great game of NBF was going to be for an investigation. Students worked together in the first lesson to collect data, make predictions, record results. Their homework was just to review what they had recorded so that when they met their NBF the next lesson they could explain it to them. NBFs share ideas and results and the investigation took shape in a way that wouldn’t have happened if they had continued to work with their same friend each lesson.

I told them that long ago mathematicians would travel for weeks, even months to meet someone working in the same field, to find an NBF in the mathematical world, that they were fortunate to pick so many wonderful mathematical minds and to share ideas.  This is how each lesson began.

3d people partner.

3d people partner by 姒儿喵喵 licensed under CC by A SA

Were they taught tree diagrams and outcome tables? No. Did they appear? Yes, everywhere. All year we have focussed on the MYP criterion of Communication and you could see this paying off for this investigation. When this investigation finishes we will spend a lesson on a few more games, then they can just start their design of the casino game with their teacher in the background nudging them forward, showing them the mathematics they need when it is needed, in context.

If you have an investigation over a week or more and students can work together but need to produce individual reports, I can’t recommend this enough. Totally by chance this came my way, and that’s quite fitting. Oh yes, and it is fun. And learning should be fun.


An interesting thing to do if you are teaching probability, is for you to grab a random number for NBF and give to the students and then discuss how they felt and if it actually made any difference.

An extra resource I found is from that I used for a statistics unit for grade six. On page 24 of this document is the language of observation and analysis. Great for any subject that studies results. Remember we are all EAL teachers. It’s important to support our students in their writing.

Too Much Too Much Too Much

What a month it has been, in every way. From a wedding in Goa (not mine), checking out endangered primates on a school field trip, building evictions (strange family owns apartment building) and a move to new house in an exhausting five day turn around, reports going out for the third time this year (5.5 weeks until the next batch – hmmm) to bundling up my students’ internal assessment projects for the IBO to moderate.  To say I was tired, it’s just not expressive enough. “Met qua” is how we say it in Viet Nam, and it feels right. You can hang on that qua to emphasise the level, but not as a crescendo, dampening the sound at the end. Me, “met quaaaaaaaaaaaa”. It’s like a verbal graph. Nice.

Naturally there were still classes going on so I also have a month of pretty interesting things to talk about. With so much to report this might get swirly or I might write a few posts and then link.  By the time you read this, the structure will be obvious.

Links it is…

Poetry week and the mathematics classroom.

Final (maybe) Pythagoras comments from and MYP angle.

Joining in with science, humanities, languages and more for an IDU on nuclear energy. My class joined in to create some data visualisations.

Pythagoras – “a model MYP student”

ythagoras would have been a model MYP student, as there are so many Learner Profiles and Approaches to Learning that you can link him to.

Math-ilde 8BD, UNIS, Ha Noi


What a great success that project was. The kids enjoyed finding out about the man himself, that he wasn’t just a guy into something called the hypotenuse. There was so much more to Pythagoras and our Grade 8 kids know it.

If you teach MYP, then it’s a really great way to discuss the IB Learner Profile. I grabbed a quote from one of my students for the yearbook, alongside the likes of Pythagoras, Andrew Wiles and other notables.

This particular student has improved greatly this year in her reasoning and investigating, but most importantly in her enjoyment of mathematics. Her name was Mathilde, but her father has decided she is Math-ilde. This is, of course, mortifying when he uses it in notes and comments on assessments. It tickles me, so I tried to sneak it in to her report. We shall see.

It’s also a project where I don’t like to tell them what the AoI is. One of the things they discuss is which AoI(s) they think are relevant.

If you aren’t an MYPer, then basically we are asking what characteristics did Pythagoras embody and how does all of this relate to today’s world as a student and just to the way things are. How did he push the development of mathematics and world around us. How do we still do that? TEDtalks are another great way to open kids’ eyes to cool mathematics and pushing the envelope.

A few weeks on and kids still refer to him, Pythagoras, and mathematical challenges with prizes attached.  They used their knowledge of Pythagoras and his theorem for our poetry in mathematics lesson.

Cool Maths – Deadly Maths

Before I start to go on about what my kids are doing in my grade 8 class, a link…

Professor Marcus du Sautoy is behind this:

It ticks so many boxes of what I am trying to get my kids to see.  Maths is everywhere, and in a pleasing way. My hope is that some of my kids run with this and even enter. I haven’t read the fine print, but maybe I can meet Marcus if I enter and get a symmetrical object named after me.  Maths in Hanoi, chaos theory, surely!

Hanoi Traffic
Hanoi Traffic by mr clearview licensed under CC by A NC SA

Marcus du Sautoy is someone you should follow, @marcusdusautoy, if you teach or even like mathematics. Google him and you’ll find amazing things you can use from television to websites and he’s involved in Manga High.

My grade 8s are almost ready to submit their latest assessment task. I rejigged the old Pythagoras investigation as I do each year. This time, however, it was more of an overhaul. The biggest change was to drop the very popular approach of getting students to ‘find’ the relationship all by themselves (with some guidance *ahem*).

Instead they were shown the theorem and how it worked. Part of their job, this time, was to prove it geometrically and with data. Some students also looked into algebraic proofs. Still, that isn’t anything new. What was truly cool about Pythagoras and his precious right angled triangles were the blasphemous irrational numbers he found in his calculations. Rumours surround how he died, how he was murdered. These numbers upset all of the Greek Gods and that’s a lot of anger.

Day 85/365: We Love Diversity

Day 85/365: We Love Diversity by Kugel licensed under CC by A NC SA

Pythagoras and his apostles were burnt inside their school is one legend. There are so many more too. Students were fond of the one where he was chased to a field of beans and couldn’t go any further, so they cornered him and the rest is history. Pythagoras and his followers did not eat beans, they represented testicles. Student: “I don’t think I would have run into the field of beans either.”

Students enjoyed looking up the stories of his death and about Pythagorean beliefs. They were told very little and I learnt some new things too.

To introduce this part of the task I asked students to name some mathematicians. As ever lots of dead ones were mentioned. Then I asked for some that were still alive and expected silence…

Silence was not what I got. I was so impressed with my class of budding mathematicians. You may not agree with all of these, but I don’t want to edit out what the kids contibuted.

Ngo Bao Chau

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs

TED Talk peopleRobert Lang and Kashima and Margaret Wertheim

Professor Rose – teacher of Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

Mr. Khan

Professor Du Sautoy (“Manga Maths guy”)

Dr. Dan (he visited us not so long ago and led some cool probability activities)

8BD and Ms. Griffin (I supplied 8BD, they threw me back to me)

Grigori Perelman 

Andrew Wiles

The last two were mine because they proved theorems too, just like Pythagoras did so many years ago.  When they succeeded in their task they were offered a reward of $1,000,000. Perelman said no thank you. He was in it for the mathematics. Not that Wiles wasn’t. He loves mathematics, really loves it. Pythagoras wasn’t offered any riches, they killed him. There are of course some million dollar prizes still for grabs

We very briefly discussed Fermat’s Last Theorem. They understood the concept, particularly as we have just been immersed in the Pythagorean Theorem. Andrew Wiles was a similar age when he read about in a library and was inspired to prove it, because he understood it.

So my students set out to show that perhaps a death sentence for being right was a little harsh. Poor clever Pythagoras, a band of barefooted dedicated apostles and a whole new number system to explore, but it only led to his death.

Athenian Temple by Jonathan Burr licensed under CC by A SA NC

Interested in why irrational numbers angered Zeus and all of his buddies? You are already online. Telling you everything ruins the thrill of deadly mathematics.  

And on a final note for this incredibly enjoyable task (there will be a little MYP speak at the end) at parent-teacher-student conferences tonight I had a parent say that they were enjoying the mathematics and learning something new too. They even had a question. Excellent, they are discussing maths at home.

For the MYPers out there: This is assessed using criteria C Communication and D Reflection.

The famous mathematicians lead in was from Charles Lovitt, a great sharer of resources, lessons and ideas from a workshop last week.

Trees for the wood…

Today I had a different kind of “I want to do better” meeting with a student after school. Yesterday a student emailed me asking if she could take a test again. This stems from the handful of students who decided to go back and review work they decided needed some more practice. When a feeling of mastery takes over their mathematical souls, they would take another version of the first test. To me, this is fair and the MYP is about progress, not averaging scores.

Head in Hands

Head in Hands by Alex E. Proimos licenced under CC by A

This however was a request to go from a 7 to an 8, out of 8.

She had scored in the highest band of the criterion.

She had displayed a thorough understanding.

She took her test home.

She showed her parents.

Not good enough. You are so careless.

Look at these mistakes.

These mistakes you shouldn’t make.

So she (they) asked for a retest, because her fantastic test was a disappointment to her parents.

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