Active Math Idea or Waste of Time?

In elementary school, one of my favorite activities was playing the game Heads Up Seven Up.  A simple yet fun game.  The students would put their heads down on their desks, close their eyes, and put one of their thumbs up while the teacher would tap one to three students to be the tappers.  These students would quietly sneak around the room putting down the thumbs of seven students.  Then the students would sit back down and the teacher would say, “Heads up, seven up.”  The seven students who were tapped would stand up and try to guess who put their thumb down.  At the end, the tappers would reveal to the class which students they had tapped.  It was a blast trying to figure out who tapped whom.  I loved it.  However, it wasn’t tied to any curriculum.  While it built up the community within the classroom, it also created opportunities for pranks and teasing at times.  This game was played to waste time and fill empty space.  Although I enjoyed it as a student, it was an unnecessary activity that ate up valuable class time.  So, as a teacher, I try to be sure that everything we do in the classroom serves a specific purpose to better the students in some way.

Today in STEM class, the students learned about angles, angle types, and how to calculate the missing angle in a triangle.  The mini-lesson took about 18 minutes.  The students then spent most of the rest of the class working on their assigned math packets.  To close out class, I wanted to get the students moving, as they clearly had some pent up energy after working so diligently for about 50 minutes.  To review angle types, we had the students stand up and close their eyes.  I said an angle type aloud and they had to put their arms or hands into the shape of an angle of that type.  It was a quick and easy formative assessment regarding the objective covered in class today.  It was a quick and easy activity that allowed the sixth graders to move around and be active while also showcasing their understanding of the day’s lesson.

Was it a waste of time?  Did it help us as the teachers gain some insight into their understanding of the content covered?  Should we have done it earlier in the period or was the close of the class the best time to do it?  The students seemed to enjoy the activity and were able to contort their upper body into very cool angle shapes.  Some students used their arms while others just used their hands.  It allowed us to see what they knew.  One student was unable to show an obtuse angle and so I had him see me in the afternoon during advisory period.  I had him draw out examples of the three angle types and define them.  He was spot on.  He just had difficulty visualizing how to move his body in such an obtuse manner.  The whole activity took about three minutes.  The students tend to get a bit antsy prior to lunch anyway and so getting them up and moving seemed like the right thing to do today.  Would we do it again?  Yes.  It was fun and the students were engaged in showing off their learning.  Our goal was to get the students moving and that we did.  Perhaps it also helped some of those students struggling with the concepts to build up muscle memory and see and feel the angles discussed in class.  While today’s activity might not have been as fun as Heads Up Seven Up, it definitely served a specific purpose in our curriculum.


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