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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Solve Crumple Toss

I'm convinced that whoever is doing the work in the classroom is the one doing the learning. This means I try to minimize the time I spend doing dramatic performances of math problems, and maximize the time the students are working. My goal for every lesson is to expect the class to sit and listen to me for less than 20 minutes, leaving at least 25 minutes for them to work.

So we face a situation at odds with itself: kids need to practice doing math problems, but sitting and doing math problems is boring. To resolve the situation, I have collected an arsenal of structures that are a step up. Logarithm Wars is an example. Solve-Crumple-Toss came from a colleague, who is a master at thinking of these structures (thanks, Jen).

You need 6-8 problems that have somewhat lengthy solutions, not quick ones. Today I used this for proving and solving trig equations. Each problem gets its own 1/2 sheet of paper. Make copies and chop them in half. I usually allow 3-4 problems per student.

To kick things off, pass out 1 problem per student, and place the remaining problems where students can easily pick them up. When they have completed a problem, they bring it to you for checking. If there are errors, you give them some hints and send them back to their seat to fix it. If it's correct, the student crumples the paper, stands behind a line on the floor, and throws it at the garbage can for a bonus point. I actually use two targets: the recycling bin for 1 point, and the garbage can (which is smaller, and farther away) for 2 points.

It works pretty well. The athletic kids get to show off their skills, it requires students to get up and move around a little, and there's an incentive for getting a few done, and done correctly.

If you are lucky, you will have a student ask if they can get a running start and take off from the line. This can be very entertaining, and I love having my Flip for these moments:


  1. damn, these are the things I have the most trouble thinking of. Just simple twists which take some boring drills and make them a bit more fun. There should be a book of "101 ways to make inclass work more fun" (for those of us with less time and talent than Dan).

    Lately I've been going outside as my classroom is next to an egress and a nice sunny grass covered hillside. They like that and they're getting vitamin D!

  2. AMAZING. We have a 9 hour revision day on Saturday. It's for socioogy but I don't see why this can't work just as well for that.

  3. Is that for your exit exams? The OWLs, I believe they are called?


  4. I'm in the UK, these are A-Level exams. The ones before university. They're super important so the kids are stressed at the moment but want knowledge. Finding fun ways to do things helps relieve the stress but meets their knowledge needs.

  5. So they are more like entrance exams?

    (I knew they weren't called OWLs, like at Hogwarts.) :-)

  6. The O-levels are the Hogwarts OWLS.
    The A-levels are the Hogwarts NEWTS.

  7. Sadly my Harry Potter knowledge isn't good enough to confirm or deny in the NEWTS vs. OWL debate.

    But, I *did* use Solve Crumple Toss with my students and it was glorious. At the end of a long revision day we completed a 45-minute tournament. It was intense and the final 5 throws were particularly nail-biting as it took one group into a 1-point lead meaning they stole the prize and each took home a 25p trophy!

    Fantastic stuff. Thanks for the tip :)

  8. I'm glad you liked it and were successful with it, Laura. I feel a ridiculous amount of satisfaction when I hear stuff like that.

    Also, that Kevin is a bigger Harry Potter nerd than I am.

  9. I love it.

    It reminded me of a game we played in my class. I wanted to play Scholastic Bowl with the kids, but we didn't have buzzers. I split the kids into two teams and put a garbage can in the middle. I provided them with scrap paper which they made into balls. I'd give a toss-up question and when a team came up with an answer, rather than buzzing in, they'd have to get a ball of paper into the trash before answering. They loved it.

  10. I just did this yesterday with inverse trig functions and it went over really well. We had about 25 minutes to get through the problems and I saw students who normally tune out working diligently on the problems just for a chance at a shot.

    I have many basketball players in my classes and everyone seemed to have a blast watching them shoot and miss. Thanks for the great idea!

  11. I'm thinking about using this with my Algebra 2s as a practice activity tomorrow. On Thursday we tried a round of Speed Dating, but there were too many different skill levels and solving speeds in the room to make the activity run smoothly.

    One reason why I think that Solve-Crumple-Toss might work better for this unit (still on Completing the Square) is that SCT seems to provide more room for everybody to work at his or her own speed.

    Any thoughts or observations about this would be appreciated!

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  12. Kate,

    You said in this posting that you were giving the students points. What did the points go towards? Were they participation points? Did they go on the final grade? Just curious. Great game.

    Justin Barber

  13. Hi Justin - I make one assignment every marking period called "Bonus Points" with a max of 10. I don't know if you're familiar with, but it allows you to mark an assignment as "extra credit", so the points get added to the numerator but not the denominator when it calculates their average.

  14. So today in Algebra 2 we were reviewing over complex numbers, completing the square, and polynomial division. My twist was that before we started the solve-crumple process I gave each group (I have 7 groups of 4 in my class) a problem to solve and agree on, so that they were "experts" on that problem. Instead of each student coming to me for verification and help, they were going to each other. It was insanity, but I can say that I heard 95% of the loud conversations I was hearing were math-related, which I count as a win.


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