Month: September 2008

Total 17 Posts

Math Basketball

I was digging through the dy/dan mailbag today and found a note asking me to explain what I have often referenced on this blog but never clarified. I swear, there isn’t any activity my kids enjoy more than basketball review. Here’s how it works:


  1. You bring in a set of questions related to the previous two week’s instruction.
  2. You put up a question.
  3. A kid stands up with an answer, either correct or incorrect:
    • If it’s incorrect, the student sits down, reworks the problem, and you wait for another student to stand.
    • If it’s correct, the student takes two shots with a miniature basketball into a lined trashcan. You award points according to a) the student’s distance from the trash can, and b) the competitive mode you’ve selected below.
  4. Repeat.

Competitive Modes

I have used four, each with their own recommendations. Listed in descending order of popularity:

  1. Class v. Teacher. The students take two shots for every right answer. The teacher takes one shot for every wrong answer. Highest point total wins either extra credit (for the class) or bragging rights (for the teacher).
  2. Class v. Class. One side of the class versus the other. Seed them by mathematical and athletic ability. Highest point total wins extra credit for their team.
  3. Free Market Capitalism. Everyone for him- or herself. Good for the final minutes of class. A student receives as many extra credit points (or pieces of candy) as he or she can score.
  4. Class v. Arbitrary Point Total. If you’re averse to classroom competition, let the class play as one, studying and shooting to pass an arbitrary point total.

Other Release Notes

  • Have the students turn in a paper with all their work on it. I make a big deal about this so everyone works the math through even if they don’t all shoot. Toss these papers after the last student leaves.
  • Encourage shy students to answer math questions and pass off the ball to another student if they don’t want to shoot.
  • Once a student successfully answers a question, she can’t answer again until the rest of her team answers, though she must still work through the problems.
  • Student conference is way out of bounds. If the idea is that everyone works hard on the math, allowing one student to source all the answers would be counter-productive. If I catch anybody whispering answers, I give the other team a shot.
  • Introduce an extraordinarily difficult and extraordinarily valuable shot halfway through the term, a 20-point shot through an open window, for instance.
  • In between the math review, toss in some extraneous nonsense. Name that flag, for instance.

    You can find these slides anywhere “basketball” is listed in my Geometry supplement.

Best Post Of The North American School Year To Date

I subscribe to eighty-something education blogs which push me several dozen posts per day and yet my reader goes these through long, arid stretches — nothing but conference session recaps, pie-in-the-sky tech idealism, policy wonks talking over each other, endless unedited malformations from people (teachers) who probably oughtta know better — where nothing manages to connect even loosely to my practice, where nothing manages to connect even loosely to my experience as a teacher.

Todd Seal’s post, No Idea, cut through all that blogospheric flotsam tonight like an arc torch and left me nodding my head, mumbling “yeah, uh huh, yeah,” at my iPhone as I waited in line for my wife to make a return at Urban Outfitters. Wherever you can find it, right?


When I close that door, I’m on my own. I’ve got fifty-three minutes with a group of thirty kids who want entertainment if they want anything. I need to take those kids wherever they are and help them improve by the time they walk out the door. I need to give them at least one new idea today and one reason to come back tomorrow.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

The stuff that makes you believe in blogs again.

What Color Are You Thinking Of?

“Okay, think of a color, any color,” I said. It was advisory and we were supposed to discuss Rachel’s Challenge, the recent all-school assembly.A program for which I have no end of conflicting opinions and unresolved questions, such as (i) is there something fundamentally cheap, exploitative, and contradictory in attaching explicit footage of the Columbine massacre to a feel-good message of being nice to people and Pay[ing] It Forward? (ii) is that message worth more, less, or the same amount of my time after the girl who wrote it up in a school essay was murdered? (iii) if a student hasn’t assimilated these basic elements of kindness by high school, can a school assembly scare her straight, so to speak? can the Rachel’s Challenge wristband? can the supplementary posters? does that kind of change last? (iv) what do the passages of the assembly celebrating Rachel herself (eg. Rachel was posthumously awarded a national kindness award, her father has met the last two Presidents, etc.) have to do with anything?. One moment later I called on Jen.

“Jen, what color are you thinking of?”

“Blue.” she said.

“Okay.” I pointed at Mara right next to her. “What color is Mara thinking of?”

Jen shrugged.

I’m not sure this moment did anything for my kids but it helped me understand why high schoolers find it so easy to tear the meat from each other’s bones so often.

Show and Tell: Disassembled Icelandic Skateboards

Some visual material my classes and I have enjoyed recently:


  • The opposite of sucking on helium.
  • High speed skateboarding down Claremont Canyon in Berkeley, CA.
  • A shockingly elegant skateboard reel, the first thirty seconds of which are required viewing for my graduate course in vodcasting. The silhouette photography makes the rest of it eminently watchable alsoSorry, but I have to make sure you understand how valuable it is that my RSS reader has pushed me a skateboarding reel which my students — some of which students will insist they have seen every skateboarding reel released to DVD or YouTube — have never seen. Or how much classroom management capital it buys me that I can point to a specific shot — sincerely — as my favorite, that I can ask them — sincerely — for their favorite. Wish my ed classes had included some coursework in “Pedagogically Profitable Ways To Kill Time.”.
  • Mushrooms and mold growing very quickly.
  • A UK schoolgirl breaks a Guinness World Record for balancing the most snails on her face at one time, remains unkissed for decades, inspires several of my students to take up snail hunting.


  • We’ve been on something of an Iceland kick lately.
  • Plus Dubai, and the Burj, the tallest skyscraper in the world.
  • Brittny Badger rips appliances apart and puts ’em under glass. Probably tore the wings off flies as a kid too. (I mean, maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. Is it so wrong to suggest she did? Just tossing it out there. Maybe the voting public picks it up. Maybe I clean up the next news cycle. Can’t hurt to try.)