Starting 7th Grade Math

Good year to all (few?)

I’ll be teaching 7th grade math next year and I’m desperate for approval / ideas.

I’m half tempted to do just exactly what another teacher has done and modify from year to year, but curiously enough half of these lessons are presuming prior content learning from that year that wasn’t addressed and/or making use of manipulatives or tools that I’ve yet to create!


Does my 7th grade math classroom have to be full of so much clutter?

I AM excited that I might have an audience interested in exploring the benefits of game based learning. I am heavily considering making use of my “mathemagical houses” class organization and “6 aspects of society” classroom management plan.

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Pop up quiz

What do you think? Good use of games in the education sphere?

Lately I’ve been working with Edmentum’s suite of content
The classes are almost all organized similarly: this one, after having read through a tutoring, which often includes links to other resources for further enrichment and sometimes a video, neither of which tend to really help ‘pass the test’ (not the same thing as learning), you’ll have a section quiz (five to ten questions about what you’d just read) and then rinse and repeat.

After two – ten of these (depends on the learning platform: Edmentum’s seems to be three for non math content) there will be a FLASH QUIZ: you’ll have to remember some keywords / fill in the blank style within in a certain time frame or OOPS the aliens destroyed the planet or some such.

Many problems here, but most of all THESE ALMOST ALWAYS HAVE BUGS… like programming or compatibility issues. So students get frustrated: not the good kind of frustrated that drives a lot of game design…

A new role at my salaried job involves Peak … or FeulEd whom I’d worked for for two years a year back or so. This, too, seems to have some embedded games in its tutorials: it did it… not “right” exactly, but… better?… these are not a requirement to complete.

….. So what is the RIGHT way to do it?


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Why so Nostalgia?


The above linked webpage is for ‘meaningful gamification’. To be meaningful I suppose we need to be relevant. To be relevant we need to have attendees… and so this companies thoughts on how to have attendee retention or appreciation or acquisition is to have 16 bit style font for their logo.


Over and over again we resort to this nostalgia.


Mind you, this second link isn’t for gamification, it is for actually game design. But to always have to feel inclined to include this iconic aspect of video games…


When you go to a Hamburger convention, do we evoke the elephant in the room of McDonalds? … šŸ˜¦


Gamification is not just about video games: It need not be about video games at all! And yet, here we go, every chance we get, we display this idea of electronic games and 16 bit art. Present youths wouldn’t even have a modern example of 16 bit style games if it weren’t for Minecraft! So when they see this the images it invokes isn’t the same as the images it evokes if a 30 something were to look at that logo.


I suppose that’s the power of art there. However we need to be careful when utilizing this in gamification: if our goal is to impart a lesson while we are utilizing this game based process what role does the 16 bit art take?

I guess what I’m saying is that we need to be aware of who our audience is; what standing we want in the future.


Perhaps continuing to use 16 bit art diminishes, trivializes?, infantilizes the profession / craft.

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A lesson, and a game, are often themed. How do they match up?

In math education, themes are chosen for a variety of reasons: To interest student population, to demonstrate a topic’s use, to challenge a student, analogy for a process.

InterestĀ happens when a student cares enough about something to want to look at it long enough, regardless of what the theme is portraying. Yes, some people DO love horses enough to be interested in a lesson on linear equations if there is sufficient horsey-ness in the lesson. This is often known as a ‘hook’. There IS a limit to how long you can be hooked, although many gamification objectives attemptĀ ‘trick’ the user into continuing the engagement/hook as the objective (teach linear equations) is seemlessly integrated into the interesting theme (along with other gamification techniques).

DemonstrateĀ use of a technique being taught. Exponential models are great for modeling things that grow, or decay (a doubling, or more, process or halving process). Bunny rabbits, investments. It is often humorous to pick a theme and apply that theme to content that provide comical results “presuming my socks decay exponentially, after how many loads of laundry will I be effectively pairless?”

Challange often comes in after a student has learned a subject and now needs to apply it. You’ll have a sales increase theme while customers decrease, try to find the maximum price increase to maximize making monies. You can present a real world project and have students use previous techniques of non-indicated topic, forcing students to know and practice at whim.

Analogy pops up when you have a quick story to situate or help remember a process. Distribution can be shopping bags. You can think of solving simple two step equations as an attack on the variable, who has a scout and a personal bodyguard.

Sometimes a theme can be a distraction: Students will try toĀ doĀ a rule because the theme seems to suggest that it is possible.

More often than not, you are not doing ‘the theme’. You’re not actually engaging in piracy, you are doing the math, naturally. The themes feel more and more like you’re doing them when the themes fit nicely, and sometimes you can LEARN content while you are doing the activity of the theme (a big gamification goal).


Games also have themes. Abstract games CAN do well in the market though some classics are obvious: tic tac toe, checkers, connect four. Heck, sports are an abstract game: we’re not watching basketball players simulate some space opera, or football players simulate trench warfare.

But themes can inspire and hook us into playing the game longer, but they can also mismatch. Monopoly is a decent example and house rules are often designed around player perception of ‘how things should work’. My own game (presently) titled The City: Mafioso has an anti-snowball calming mechanic that represents getting ‘dirt’ or applying ‘risk’ that is later usable against a player but the reasons why that ‘mark’ is being handed out, what it represents, who should get it or how it should work always seems in question.


How do you pick a theme for your lessons? How do you pick you theme for games?

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How many designers are there in central ohio?

I’ve often wondered this. It is possible just a few actually try to publish, but how many are a bit like me, and just design for fun? And how many of them are middle school or elementary kids! šŸ™‚ … and how do we find them and reach out and include them?

I just found this one, thanks to Jim Galvin of The Tutoring Club: Powell.Ā

If you know of more, always feel free to comment or pop me a communique.

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June 29th: Wild Goose Creative Noon to Five

Players and designers welcome!

June 29th, at the Wild Goose Creative, from noon to five come along and talk design or just play games with local game designers!

If you have interest in being a featured artist, please send me a message

This will be updated as things progress so check back for details.

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Team Work Optional

A student, during a certain standardized testing situation in school, was having a hard time.

“Can I ask you a question?”
“You just did, but go on ask another. I’ll be able to answer it in only incredibly vague ways that will not be what you expected”
“Um… ok. So, like… what do they mean ‘flat rate’?”
“I can’t answer that question. You’ll just have to use what you know of the words ‘flat’ and ‘rate’ if you think it is relevant to the problem”
… “Man I can’t do this problem without knowing what it means!… can I phone a friend?” he starts to get his cell phone out
“NO you cannot phone a friend”
“Man why not?” as he continues to start to turn it on
“DROP THAT PHONE OR YOU’RE DISQUALIFIED!!! What do you think this is? Millionaire?”

It is interesting to see how some people apply rules to one game to another. Many times students and individuals are often told rules and then misapply them… deliberately or genuinely.

I was told something interesting the other day about game designs on Tom Vassels top ten list of tips for game designers… I think I heard it there… I watch a lot of videos and blogs on these things… ANYhow: If a player is playing a game they should have an idea of why something is allowed to exist or not exist. That is, the rules of the game should make sense given the construct of the theme or situation.

The kid seriously didn’t understand that he wasn’t allowed to ask for help! … maybe he was just playing the part of the fool. Maybe he was playing a different game or combining elements of another game to this pine. His own mash up?

How many times have people not known what was going on in a lesson? The instructions? The rules of a game? Why? Was it the culture they were brought up in? The culture of the school? Applying past practices and themes incorrectly? Not understanding the nature of this present theme?


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Sand Boxed looking for Quest Givers

In my search to group up the local non electronic game designers, I have come to an impasse…

Let me start with an analogy I give many of my male students these days.


“GTA is a sand box game. It is fun. You can do what you want! Good, bad, exciting, boring. However, there are people that know the game better than you. They have designed quest givers in the game, missions. Work a job as a police officer, or do one of the quest lines. In doing so you ‘achieve’ and unlock other parts of the game that you wouldn’t have had access to without having done these.”

“Guess what? Life is a sand box game. You can putz around and do jack all for a long while and have fun. Unfortunately there comes a point where it is boring. Unlike a game, you can’t go out and buy another life. You eventually need to take a look at some quest givers and try to unlock something new. They give you much needed direction and know the game of life better than you. So what is it? Much about doing odd jobs here and there, or take a quest and unlock the epic mode?”

At the moment I could use a quest giver… a Quest Giver to tell me which quest to take! Or maybe I just need more time so I can do ALL the quests, right?

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On jealousy

I write this blog because someone i know won some sweet swag lately. hearing about all of it made me feel happy for the person, but on the other hand.. i just kept.. i don’t know… thinking…

Jealousy… How does this happen in a game?

Ever play a card game and another player gets the perfect drops? Turn one, a one cost. Turn two, they get and play a two cost… Etc. ok, not all of you have played tcgs, so consider also Scrabble: fist turn, nothing but vowels. Redraw tiles, as some versions allow, and nothing but vowels again.

Naturally these aren’t so bad…. Unless you’re playing for money of course… Or perhaps some other investment. You just bought the game and you were expecting something fantastic and luck ruins it. You spent all weekend planning the adventure and someone happens to roll extremely poorly, over and over and over again…. Or someone gets sick, or their parents call them back home or…

Perhaps you’d spent all weekend painting figures, you spend hours planning your army and the the scenario is rolled or you don’t get the set up that’s preferable and you sit there, staring at the table…. Your artillery is going to easily get rushed and there’s minimal way you’re going to win… Do you keep playing?

This happens in real life. You go to the club everyone says they’re going to … You don’t enjoy it, so what’s wrong? What do you do? Stay because you invested money in it or do you leave because you’re not going to have any fun? Do you keep playing a game because you’ve invested an hour in playing it already, or stop there, pack up and go home? Does jealousy of other people enjoying themselves factor into your decision? Are they enjoying themselves because they ‘got lucky’ or intend to? Or is that skill?

Ok yes there are third options here, but as you can see… Luck can lead to jealousy… Heck, skill can lead to it also. I was playing Hive and I just could not beat someone. It seemed the more people I taught the game to the worse I got, everyone understood how to win in the thing better than I. Success leads to jealousy. I was playing terra mystica and I have a suspicion that I had a solid strategy and my opponent did not… Was he jealous of the race and strategy I chose and that’s why we’ve never played that game together again? …

But does jealousy serve a good role in any systems? Open ended question… Not entirely sure.

When designing a game or a properly run system, do you account for jealousy? How do you account for it? …

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Cross section of games in education

When I tell people that I am interested in gamification of education, I get a mix of responses.

“I love playing quiz games in class!”
“What is he going to do? Teach them math by playing monopoly with them?”

I don’t know that I don’t mean either of these things, but these are what some people view it as. Here are the different uses of games in education.

Educational Distraction
Its time to play mat ball today!

Playing heads up seven up, or various other such games in a classroom has a use: It is a reward to reinforce other behavior. It can also teach proper social skills. But often it is done for ‘worse’ reasons, when a teacher has some down time and doesn’t know what to teach that day.

Quiz game
“I’ll take ‘tedious’ for 1000 Alex”

Very often I see people using jeopardy type games in classes for test review. Sometimes there will be a sort of ‘red rover’ style game where you challenge the other team with quiz questions and when another team loses they have to sit down if they answered wrong.

Lesson based on a game

Here we actually use a game and teach about the systems behind it: What is the mathematical strategy behind ‘skunk‘. Sometimes things can be learned from ‘civilization’ or ‘trivial pursuit’ (wait… isn’t that like above?) too, it is just a matter of the right worksheet / reflection afterwards.

Games that ask you questions

Or not necessarily asks you questions but requires, w/o teaching to you, the content such as graphing lines through cockroaches to zap them. There was another fully immersed environment that had you running around a troubled town collecting items, but along the way you had to answer progressively more difficult questions to move ahead (with no bearing what-so-ever as to WHY you had to answer these questions to move ahead).

Games that trick you into learning… something?

Some of these are really good. Some of these seem that the content being delivered is residual… or maybe I lack understanding of lower grade band education? Some seem tantamount to delivering education in a somewhat more engaging way than a text book almost like a quiz.

Learning as Natural Biproducts

These don’t necessarily start out as games that are intent on teaching you much of anything, but during the process of playing them, you come out better at something, which was, or was not the original intent of the game. World of Warcraft players, if they’re REALLY into it, can learn about rates, percentages, networking, social structures. I learned a ton about space flight and mythological beings and the occult from GURPS, DnD and Vampire the Masquerade in addition to improving my reading and chart reading and in addition to the social aspects of some of the aforementioned. These just come with the game!

Granted, this also requires a change in mind set… an inquisitive frame of reference. A desire to ask why, or to improve (one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other).

Adding Game Elements

Take aspects of games and then add them to the system. I spoke on some of these aspects at a conference in 2012. Scroll down and find Alexander James. OR just read here… When you think about games I think about

Interesting hook, clear victory condition / objective, engaging content, familiar but new content, interactive mechanics, easy to start / hard to master, good components / sound effects and track, knowing how well you are doing (feedback), difficulty level selection / multiple roads to victory, chance to recover, company willing to change content / make new editions / upgrade components if missing, good local support / tournament support / my friends are playing / all the cool kids are playing it, ranking, badges, rewards for doing well, incentives to keep trying, expansions. Oh and playable in about an hour OR solo-able.

Did I just perfectly describe some of the main strategies utilized in modern education?

Game indistinguishable from curriculum

THIS is my idea of gamification. Say you have a system (in my example… education!). Instead of saying “hey everyone, let’s go to school!” you instead say “hey everyone! let’s play school!” You have invented a game that has many or all the needed (?) characteristics from the previous header. Students care about what they are learning because they care about the game. The game is either such that they desire to learn more or such that they are learning as they are playing. The learning isn’t a distraction from the game, in happens during the game, before the play, after the playing. By completing the game, they will have mastered the content the curriculum would normally have asked of them.

I have little idea how to do this. Perhaps continuing to hold the torch aloft will help others see a path to this goal.

Excuse me while I go contribute my few hours this week to the 3 billion hours a week we spend playing games.

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