Rotation Reflection

This year, at my new school, there is a weekly course that every middle school teacher teaches that lasts for a mere forty minutes. In this course, called “Rotation”, a teacher can teach, well, whatever he or she wants to. It’s kind of fun, and kind of a pain in the butt, since it’s effectively another (mini-sized) prep. But anyways, I am teaching a Rotation called “Puzzles and Games”.

The goal of the course is pretty simple: we play puzzles and games. The challenging part is to 1) find games that can be learned and played in 40 minutes and 2) remember that I have rotation on Mondays and come up with something to do Sunday night. Yeah, I’m really proactive about this.

So far I’ve been doing this for about six weeks, give or take due to Monday holidays. This is the calendar of events so far:

Week One: Shikaku (four corners). This is a Japanese logic puzzle that I have written about previously. I like the premise of starting a puzzle by asking kids what the goal of the puzzle is. Went very well, except for one whiny kid who wanted to know–constantly!–when we would start playing games. I was able to use the SmartBoard to solve the online sample puzzles on Nikoli, and have kids come up to place their rectangles. Much fun was had by all.

Week Two: Nim and Tic-Tac-Grow. If you don’t know the rules of Nim, please don’t tell me about it because then I will have to stop being your friend. However if you’ve never heard of Tic-Tac-Grow, it’s because I made up the name though not the game itself. The rules are straightforward. You start off with a normal 3×3 tic-tac-toe board, but the goal is to get 4 x’s or o’s in a row. How is this possible? everyone will ask. Simple. After you place your x or o, you also place a square that somehow adjoins the grid. You can decide whether or not “adjoining” means on a side or if it also includes on a corner. This also went well, despite my use of interlocking centimeter cubes for Nim. Many were more interested in building little structures from the cubes instead of playing the game. I decided I was okay with that.

Week Three: MasterMind! In which we play a real, live, branded game. I taught them the rules by using a computer game online. Warning: most games you find through a Google search have been taken down due to copyright issues, but there are still one or two up and running. I also had three versions of the board game, which wasn’t quite enough for my group of ten. This turned out to be wonderful, since they had to play in groups of three (and one group of four). The groups of three were the best, with one person making the code and two people working together to break the code. It was great because they had to talk about what they were doing instead of just randomly guessing. I recommend the three person MasterMind game for all future MM endeavors.

Week Four: Bloxors. Super fun. I had to do basically nothing for this one. Just reserve some laptops and set up a bit.ly web address. They were off and running all by themselves. I told them to skip the tutorial, but I did tell them some of the tricks when they got to appropriate levels. Hint: the space bar comes in handy sometimes. I got my co-teacher (and apparently her husband too) hooked on this game.

Week Five: Set. Showed them the computer game individual version online at nytimes.com and then had them play with the actual card game. Had to move around and wrangle in kids who were grabbing at cards faster than their teammates could check them, but otherwise it went great.

And that’s it so far. Today, no Rotation since we have a Fall Holiday. Which is probably the reason I’ve actually written a new blog post.