An Assignment of Which I am (was) Proud

So I now teach Precalculus, Physics, and Chemistry, and this is the beginning of year 2.  I wish I had more assignments I was proud of, but last year when I had three preps, I really just stole a lot of lesson ideas and adapted them, so there were very few, if any, that were original.  However, the year before I started teaching all these subject, I created a lot more of my own lessons.  Incidentally, that was also my first year of teaching (causation, or just a correlation?).  I still remember my best activity throughout that whole year.

So I was not a very good middle school teacher.  I had the patience, but I just didn’t have the discipline, and that combination only prolongs the amount of time before the classes reaches a level chaos where learning is impossible.  I tried so many different things, and because the students knew I didn’t start the year being strict, they ate me up alive and nothing worked.  However when we did this activity, the students were so silent, you could hear a pin drop.  We played Coordinate Battleship!

This activity occurred soon after we learned about the coordinate system.  I split the class in half, and pitted one side against the other.  I passed out top-secret battleship maps (Battleship Map A and Battleship Map B are two examples) so that one side received one set of ships and the other side received the other.  The students would then take turns “firing” on each others’ ships, but they had to be very precise with their wording: “Parenthasis, three, comma, negative four, parenthasis”, otherwise there was a “miscommunication” and the missile didn’t launch property.  Teams alternated turns and students went on down the row.  Students had to listen because they didn’t want to “re-shoot” where their teammates had already fired.  They were also required to listen to the other team’s shots because if they couldn’t (as a team) correctly answer whether it was a “hit” or a “miss”, then they automatically lost a ship!  My favorite rule was that while someone was firing, on either team, if you spoke and it was not your turn (or you didn’t raise your hand), then you caused a “misscommunication” on your team (because the military is very strict) and you lost a turn!  This kids ate it up and it was great!!  Everyone was focused and students really wanted each other to succeed.  They would silently help each other figure out how the coordinate system worked and where other members on their team fired.

Most things about middle school I don’t miss, but getting to capture their attention through a silly little game where they are learning mathematics and don’t even know it is one of the little things that I do miss.  Of course, that simply did not happen enough for me to be a super-successful middle school teacher, and so here I am in high school and very glad of it (for now).

Here is a powerpoint that includes all the rules of battleship, the way I ran it; and here is another, shorter version of the battleship instructions (we played it a few times throughout the year).  Later on, when we learned about lines, the students would give me the formula for a line (point-slope form: y=mx+b), and then they would get a torpedo which would hit all the points that it intersected (I figured this out for them, but more advanced students could do this on their own!).  To make it fair, every 5th person on each team would get a torpedo.  They never figured out that if the slope is zero, you get to hit a ton of points…

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “An Assignment of Which I am (was) Proud

  1. I just wanted you to know that you would have been a FABULOUS middle school teacher if you had stayed another year. NO ONE has great discipline their very first year. I subbed for 2 years before teaching. I was a mean sub and my classes were never out of line. But my students ate me alive my first year of teaching high school. It was chaos, madness, and I don’t know if anyone learned anything! So, you are not alone! 🙂

    • I sincerely thank you for the vote of confidence, however, I think I’ll stick with teaching High School for now 🙂 It is good to know that I’m not alone, and it certainly feels good to have that first year over with!

  2. What a great lesson! I love that you required the students to say “parentheses” and “comma” to be able to get a hit — what a great way to motivate students to pay attention to the important details! I will definitely use this lesson in my classroom this year. Thanks for sharing!

    • That’s wondeful! Just as a warning: the hardest thing for me was keeping track of which side of the class was firing on which other side of the class–it can get confusing when you’re going back and forth so quickly. Also, on the templates, you can easily move the “ships” around and create more maps if your students want to play again.

  3. Good stuff, Jonathan. I don’t teach Algebra, but this looks like a fun refresher game for the first day. (Yes, we *still* haven’t started school!)

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