Reflections on Wii Olympic Math

Last week I submitted my lesson plan about using the Wii, and Mario and Sonic Winter games, to teach a combined unit on decimal operations and central tendency.  Reading that post first will put this post in context and is probably important to have this post make sense.  You can read that post here and then come back for my reflections on the whole process.

Due to time restraints, I was not able to create the introductory iMovie trailer to describe the project, nor to have the student do the project about designing their own event.  I know that this component is important so I will have it ready for the fall when I use this activity again.   I decided that for this run it was more important to have the students learn the basic skills rather than have them focus on the bigger picture and come out of the unit unable to perform the basic skills of the unit.  Teaching is all about time, and although I was able to start this early by looking ahead in what was to come, there was still not enough time available to include all the components I wanted.

The students pulled together to cheer on their classmates.  It was refreshing to see how they cheered on every student even the one coming in fourth. My room has 8 tables so we designated 4 tables as front tables and 4 as back tables.  The students kept track themselves of which tables needed to be up and who had not had a chance to go, without any arguing or students trying to take extra turns.  Many students wanted extra turns but no one took one, which really impressed me.  It was also great to see some students who do not excel academically shine in their use of the Wii and this pride translated into them being more willing to try during the math components.  I had students who do not have regular attendance show up every day during the Wii Olympic math and students who are usually late for class sprinting to ensure they were ready to go.  It was also exciting to see those students who had no experience with the Wii become more proficient and begin to take part in discussions about the Wii.  The team building and excitement that this unit inspired made me decide to start out my new classes in the fall with this unit to try to help foster class cohesion.

I learned something very important about the integrating of technology into a classroom as well as I started this project.  I learned that one should never only include the technology in the first day of the unit, the content needs to be there as well.  The first day I worked on activating prior knowledge and demonstrated how to use the Wii.  We then started gathering our first set of data by playing the team bobsled.  It took the whole class to gather the data with 32 students so I told them that we would use our data the following day.  Needless to say, my students went home and told their parents we did nothing but play the Wii all class, true but out of context, so I had some angry parent phone calls that I needed to return.  The parents were all fine after I explained the purpose of the Wii but the initial contact was not very happy due to their students playing video games in class.

The unit itself went very well.  There were a few occasions when a mode was presented in the data and only one occasion of an outlier when I elected to not have a student fill an extra seat in a run to allow the time to be much slower than all the rest.  I was a bit concerned that once we left the team events we would have 30 or 32 pieces of data to work with, but with scaffolding all students were able to work with the measures of central tendency.  All four classes decided they would rather work harder with many pieces of data if that meant everyone had an opportunity to try all events, than work with fewer data points because fewer students got to try.

One of the most wonderful unexpected things that happened in this unit was that the unit ran itself.  The students took charge of making sure the game was ready, making sure everyone had turns, making sure that all parts of central tendency were calculated that it freed me up to work with those students who needed extra support.  I was able to just check in with those students who needed reassurance but was also able to sit and work in a small group with those students who were struggling to ensure they understood what they need to do.  By the end of the unit, all students were able to demonstrate at least a basic understanding of decimal operations and central tendency.

Some issues that came up due to the nature of the data revolved around the concept of mode.  There were very few times where mode occurred and it only every had the number show up twice.  This created the misconception for some students that mode meant a number that happened two times, even though they could tell you it was a number that happened the most.  As a result, these students would write down the number that happened twice as the mode for a set of data totally ignoring numbers that happened more frequently.  I know it isn’t possible to force the game to create modes with higher frequency so I will have to address that concept through my entrance or exit tickets in the fall.

Overall, I believe that this unit plan did the two major things I wanted it to do.  The first thing it did was to combine units together to allow more time for students to consolidate their knowledge about the concepts in questions.  Many students need more practice in order to be able to consolidate their learning and combining units together made it possible to provide those students with the time they needed.  The second thing it did was to excite students about learning math, students were engaged, on task, and accomplishing what I needed them to do with little fuss or complaints.  Using the Wii allowed me to provide my students with a context for why these skills could be important outside the mathematics classroom.  One thing I did not expect was the sense of class that this activity produced.  The students all worked together to accomplish something and encouraged each other resulting in the ability of the class to do more.  As a teacher the idea that your class can become more than the sum of its parts is an awesome one.  To experience it was really awe-inspiring.   It has made me excited to start school again in the fall even as this school year draws to the close.  I can’t wait for the improved version of this activity.

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