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

Roaming Free in the Maths – Google’s 20% Time by Accident

rolling down a hill

rolling down a hill by woodleywonderworks licensed under CC by A

It isn’t actually 20% of allotted time for Grade 8 Mathematics, more like 17%. Close enough when not dealing with NASA type accuracy.

There has been a lot of discussion about The Khan Academy. It’s made some people very happy and some people sound quite vexed. I personally like it. Is it what is fascinating and wonderful about mathematics? No. Does it help some of our kids progress with skills? Yes, it does.

My grade 8s have the joy of Mathematics five times every fortnight, every Tuesday and Friday an alternating Wednesdays. The Wednesday lessons are slightly shorter than the others. After we finished our unit on Statistics and Linear Equations we then looked at the Mathematics they had been applying to their investigations in its simplest or purest (abstract) forms. They had been successfully applying it, but it then posed a challenge for some when it lacked a context. Quite interesting to go the other way. It is at this point where I like to give students a chance to fine tune their algebraic skills so that they are ready for high school Mathematics and Science. Not just a few lessons, but a regular time in classes to work on their skills, particularly algebra. This is where Algebra on Demand came from.

Every Wednesday my Grade 8s take a break from their unit, currently Probability, and do what they need to. The original plan was the Khan Academy, but this has changed in a very exciting way. It was the students who led me there.

Now my students choose what they do:

  • Khan Academy for skill mastery. Some of my students have their parents and tutors as coaches. Some parents have even joined in.
  • Work from other schools.  Our Korean and Japanese students often have extra Mathematics, needed for entry into schools back home.
  • Interesting Student Led Investigations. These students started using Khan for Mathematics beyond our Grade 8 curriculum. This led to them asking questions which lead to investigations purely out of interest. That’s a win! I don’t ask for written reports. Sitting with them, seeing what they have found and discussing the Mathematics is feedback enough that they are pushing themselves further. Why take the fun away?
Being able to move around the room and check on progress is key. I also really push the idea that I am a resource to be used, as are their fellow students. I did not mean for this to be the Google 20%, but it happened and I love it. The students really like that they get to choose to where to focus their mathematical attention.  I love this class.
Outside of this we are doing what we do in Mathematics in this exciting time of using technology. It is not chalk and talk. It is not just Khan. It is not just textbook. It is not just investigations. It is so many things.
Can The Khan Academy replace a Mathematics curriculum and teacher? I don’t think so. Is it useful? I do think so.

Algebra on Demand is HERE – The Khan Academy

Many moons ago myself and Clint Hamada, @chamada, discussed how we could better prepare our middle school students for high school mathematics and other lucky disciplines that use it.  The Algebra unit was finished and we were moving on, as you do, to the next unit. However, you know deep inside as you move on that some had not mastered the skills or the understanding, that more time would have really helped. Pacing and the differentiation of mixed ability classrooms has many challenges. We wanted to reach all the kids and ensure that they felt they had the mathematical muscles for high school.

The key, I believe, is algebra, the language we use to solve problems. Not so much being able to do a ton of problems, but to understand how it works, why the notation is helpful and not actually awful. If kids can do some algebra and apply some correct notation, then problem solving becomes easier. The different strands of mathematics also become more approachable. Those wily letters confuse students and have for an eternity. The little letter x can cause early heart disease.

Salman Khan explains it best, in his TEDtalk, with his bicycle anedote. This is the problem we were trying to fix, the Swiss cheese gaps of maths:

Salman Khan talks about Algebra (and more) on Demand at TED

Salman: “… imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist. “So I put a big C stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.” But as ridiculous as that sounds, that’s exactly what’s happening in our classrooms right now. And the idea is you fast forward and good students start failing algebra all of a sudden and start failing calculus all of a sudden, despite being smart, despite having good teachers, and it’s usually because they have these Swiss cheese gaps that kept building throughout their foundation. So our model is learn math the way you’d learn anything, like the way you would learn a bicycle. Stay on that bicycle. Fall off that bicycle. Do it as long as necessary until you have mastery. The traditional model, it penalizes you for experimentation and failure, but it does not expect mastery. We encourage you to experiment. We encourage you to failure. But we do expect mastery.”

Watch the TEDtalk to see that The Khan Academy is  now so much more than video tutorials. It has interactive exercises including hints and teachers get detailed data on their students. It’s like the worksheets, tutorials and that was used to create the Algebra on Demand wiki, that my blog is named after, but slicker, prettier, better. It’s really exciting to see it come to life. Salman Khan says that games are coming too, which is all that Algebra on Demand tried to deliver. Clint has set up Google accounts for all of our Grade 8 students and I am using it with my IB Diploma Mathematical Studies students too.

The kids log in with a Google or Facebook account and then nominate a coach. My Diploma kids were first, before our Christmas break, so they have nominated myself and Clint so we can both follow them.  They can nominate their parents and tutors as coaches too.  When our kids move on to the next grade and teacher, they nominate them and the data follows them. Can it move from one Google account to another? I don’t know. This is a question for Salman and Bill Gates and Googlers. When international kids move on, they lose their old school email, so how they keep their data? These emails are the user names we use for Khan Academy Google accounts.

Homework for Grade 8 this week: watch the TEDtalk with their parents.

At first when my Grade 8 kids went on I wanted them to do the exercises on linear equations, but most started at addition, right at the beginning and then followed the concept map routes. Now I am very happy they did that. The Swiss cheese gaps are being filled. An all too common problem in international schools. I went to a lot of schools as a kid across hemispheres and continents. Having a birthday right in the middle of the year meant that changing schools was rarely linear with grade level progression. Grade four was a lot of fun, but there was no maths, grade five didn’t really happen and I missed half of grade six. I still HATE my eight times tables and don’t mind telling my students that. Perhaps I can utilise the Khan Academy too. My boyfriend does. I’ve told other mates about it studying post-graduate courses facing what they believe is the horror of mathematics again. I’ve been a fan of The Khan Academy for some time, but now it’s supersonic with more on the way. Free self paced education for those with access to a computer. Hooray for Salman Khan.  And he used to do evil maths – hedge funds.

Will it replace what we do in the classroom? Impossible. Investigations and projects need a different structure, but I don’t see why we can’t provide a regular time slot to help prepare middle schoolers for high school and beyond.  My work is done and I didn’t even do it. Nice!

Here is the wiki that came about from the early days of Algebra on Demand: 

Now I need a new name for my blog.


Screen shot of the UNIS Portal for #techwoo

Every now and then UNIS asks teachers to run workshops to show how they are using technology to enhance learning in the classroom. I was approached, said yes. Finding the time to put together something worthwhile was going to be difficult with all of the current demands so I teamed up with Emma Collins from the English department. Emma’s Grade 12 students have indvidual blogs. A nice contrast in what was going to be a blogging workshop from my class blog that is teacher managed (for now).

Due to time constraints but also excitement about what we could share our blurb to entice people into our workshop went like this:

Literacy and Numeracy join forces with Bite Size chunks of tech woo. We will  explore how to make independent learning through online woo more effective (or not?).  Numeracy chomps on reflection – a new class blog and Wallwisher with Youtube. If you are interested in improving student writing or want to explore ways to go about digital publishing, then chew on WordPress, and Youblisher (or not?). Want to see folks willing to take risks and make mistakes right in front of your faces (or not?) – we’re the workshop for you.

The (or not?) meant we’d try our best to get through it. To support our colleagues who attend I put together our resources on the school portal. This is a lockdown type of place, so I’ll post some of it here. We didn’t get through everything, but that was due to some excellent questions from our participants.

Some people believe the art of conversation is dying as we dive further into our tech gadgets. I am still talking ’til the cows come home and I dig my tech, but I can see some truth in this. In my middle school classes we play NBF, New Best Friend. Seating is random every lesson and students have to begin by making small talk or discussing their current investigation. My lovely classroom assistant has been sticking questions to the table. Funnily enough I was about to shoosh my class the other day and then I heard many of the students using the conversation starters. I wanted to start #techwoo with NBF, but this didn’t happen as we lost about ten minutes, but the idea was shared and everyone could see the conversation starters on the tables.

Then Learning to Learn, or using resources independently.

Teachers  experienced a Readers Digest version of what I do with the kids in my class. Here is a previous blog post about multiplication tricks and origami foxes.


Class Blog

Screen shots of the #techwoo wiki at UNIS

The class blog has been loads of fun as well as a great way to share information and work, kick off collaborative projects and for kids to reflect in one place. Click Click Click and I can sort the comments and see who has been participating. They know it will count towards their final score for Reflection.  There is a communal understanding that this is a new thing and we’ll get better at it together. Some are ready to be guest bloggers.

Individual Blogs and Digital Publishing

Emma (@collins_emma) showed what her kids have been up to in DP English Literature. Here is one of her student’s blogs. It was cool for me to read some of them as I teach the same students mathematics. She also showed them the world of ISSUU and youblisher. These are groovy, but I am wondering about how to kindle something…all I need is time…

Some examples: ispliterarymagazine (wonderful), fonts (from when we used to print more things at school), the leech (a quickly made example for a grade 7 class)

The last bitesize chunk of #techwoo was wallwisher with youtube videos. 

We shared some wallwishers, like my Grade 8 percentage poems and we had one ready for our session. Due to time lost our participants didn’t have time to post, but I think they really enjoyed that part.  I learnt about wallwisher with youtube through David Miller’s Making the Most of Online Tools through the Scottish Book Trust

I’d like to give big thanks to:

Emma Collins, my #techwoo partner (tweet at her if you’d like to participate in Literary blogs – Hamlet is currently being discussed). If you are here because you are more mathematically inclined, then perhaps you would know someone in your school teaching literature and even, coincidently, Hamlet.  @collins_emma

Clint Hamada, my #techwoo guru and UNIS’ technology facilitator for teaching me many of my tech tricks and his patience  @chamada

David Miller, for our new favourite #techwoo the wallwisher David Miller’s Making the Most of Online Tools @DavidMiller_UK

…and all my tweeps, whether they follow me or not, I get a lot out of them.

There is no way that #techwoo could have run without them

Music was fun

The kids seemed to enjoy the music and mathematics lesson.  No comments on the blog, but it was our last day of classes before UN Day and our Spring break and we are new to blogging. Must try to keep it moving even though I fear I will struggle to catch my breath as we head towards one of our four reporting sessions of the school year.

The feedback received though was from parents the next day at our UN celebrations. One very excited parent told me about her son asking if she’d like to hear some music he’d composed. Then he showed her the sheet music and played some more. It was then he revealed that it had happened in mathematics. My schools arts department is fantastic and so we were supported by a range of them. For me I saw three different ways to compose and all of them had mathematics in them whether that was obvious to the composer or not. The first lesson was a little shakey as I was forgotten and stumbled through. We did compose, so it was a success, but I was a little dizzy due to fighting the flu and medicated. Youtube didn’t want to cooperate, but then students know all sorts of tricks and everything clicked if not in the predetermined order. Mathematics isn’t linear. Life isn’t linear and I am more than prepared to take risks and make some mistakes, some, mistakes in front of my students if it’s what I ask them to be prepared to do.

Before I began each lesson I told them I had never read a note of music before putting the lesson together but wanted to show them order of operations in the real world and music just made sense. My hunch was right so off we went. Our 85 minute long lessons were perfect for the one off lesson.

More than anything it was fun. I still have a handful of kids who dread mathematics, but I am going to win them over. Might be time for another TEDtalk.

They all just sat their first unit test. Questions were written by them in small groups in an attempt to prepare them for mathematics in unfamiliar contexts and also helping them think about how to prepare for a test. It’s not a trick, they should be able to predict content. After about three hours of marking 60+ tests I am pleased to say there was a lot of very good mathematics and thinking on the paper. Poor little things looked stressed leaving, so I emailed them to tell them well done.

Our next unit is data, patterns, averages and predictions. Weather will feature. Perhaps they won’t be so cross when the weather forecast isn’t all that accurate afterwards.

Can you match the graphs to the cities. Wonderful activity from Maths300.

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.

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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