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.