Thanks to the efforts of my colleague, the learning specialist for visual arts at my school, my students are highly engaged in their geometry unit which, as they are always pleased to tell me, is really more of an art unit. Even though all the learning outcomes for the unit are math topics, my students are right, this unit really is about art. My job, as their math teacher, is to give them some geometry skills to support the ongoing art project.
The class had a great time creating designs using over-lapping shapes. The art teacher skillfully introduced the concepts of line, composition and balance. Watching my students work more intently than ever before in a math class, I knew the lesson was going to be a tough act to follow. In order to proceed with their art project, students needed to learn how to do transformations of shapes. In order to that, they needed to be able to plot those shapes on a grid and label the co-ordinates of the vertices. In order to that, they needed to learn the notation of ordered pairs and co-ordinate planes. It’s nit-picky work and never seems relevant to the lives of 11 and 12 year-olds. I knew it was going to be hard to compete with the compelling art lessons to which my students had become accustomed.
I decided to try a game of Battleship to engage students in the lesson. To be honest, I was kind of winging it. I had a rough idea of how Battleship works, but I didn’t know the rules. Thankfully, my students are experts. They decided the number and shapes of the boats, they decided how many strikes it would take to sink a ship and they devised their own system for keeping track of the strikes that had hit and missed their opponent’s boats. Their level of engagement was high and sustained: it lasted until I had to dismiss them for recess. It gave me the chance to circulate and check on the nit-picky details like making sure that their axes were labelled properly and they were correctly identifying the co-ordinates of the points.
Once students got the hang of the game, I decided to introduce a twist: they could relocate one of their boats by translating it to the left, right, up or down. They they listened (more attentively than ever!) as I explained how to do this, and then proceeded to play their game. As a class, we decided that they would have to tell their opponent what translation they had done, but they didn’t have to divulge which boat they had translated. When the game resumed, students who already had an idea about the location of their opponent’s boats quickly figured out that they would have to predict the new location based on what they knew about the translation.
I’ve already got lots of additional twists in mind and I’m excited about the possibilities; but mostly I’m excited to see my students having fun while they practice math skills.