Education has certainly been inundated with technology during 2020, and most educators have had to rewire their thinking about technology as they look for ways to deliver instruction through virtual learning platforms.
It’s funny to look back at the development of my Strategy Games product as education has shifted over the years. I vividly remember making this collection of games that brings in the eight mathematical practices. It was a really fun publication to work on, and was actually one of my first publications that I offered as a digital download. I had done a lot of things with hard goods, like the Counting Buddy and the Counting Buddy Book, and my Finger Funatics book, but when I decided I was going to produce my first digital games, I knew I wanted it to be strategy games. These games help students develop higher order thinking skills as they anticipate what their partner might do so they can stay a step ahead, and I felt they were a great (fun!) addition to the math classroom!
In those days, “digital” meant a disc. I remember actually burning the discs to make this product at the beginning! I would make the labels, print them on my printer, and one by one, I would stick a disc into the computer to burn the file on to it, then put the disc in a sleeve. Rinse and repeat…hundreds of times.
It got hard to keep up on the discs as the games gained popularity, so we ended up using a disc burner at one of our schools that would burn multiple CDs at a time. We did this for our Numeracy Screener and our Missing Parts screener that we do for first grade. Eventually, even that got to be too much, and I really felt like I needed some help to be able to get these done quickly! I finally went to a service called DiscMakers, and by then we got lots of discs sent to us.
Technology marches on, however, and laptop computers started hitting the market without CD players! I remember getting a Mac and having to get a portable CD player to even run any of my own discs! I realized this trend AFTER I ordered 1000 copies of all three downloadable goods, so, we had to figure out how to change the format.
At this point, we started to transition to a jump drive loaded with whichever product you ordered as something we could sell. It was small, people could use it for other things as well, and it was pretty universal. We were able to give jump drives away at conferences, and it didn’t matter what type of computer you had, you typically had a USB port to plug it into.
Fast forward to 2020. I just got a new computer and I no longer even have a USB port! I have USB C that seems to require 18 different conversion tools to get anything to run! Instead, we have cloud space, and we rarely see jump drives anymore.
The 2020 lens of technology evaluates everything on how well it can translate into a virtual environment. In education, we have the added challenge of trying to figure out how to get QUALITY things into our virtual classrooms while trying to minimize interruptions to instruction that come with quarantines and hybrid situations.
I realized the impact of this new 2020 technology lens this week when I was responding to a question from a customer who purchased the Strategy Games on our Teachers Pay Teachers store. Back in the day, we were careful to put (digital) or (CD) next to anything that wasn’t a hard good, and as time has gone on it just stayed there. So the product was titled Math Strategy Games (digital). The question from our customer was, “I can’t figure out how my kids will play this digitally. It just looks like a PDF.”
That was when it hit me. These days, “digital” is usually used interchangeably with “virtual,” which we expect to mean interactive and suitable for online learning.
One of the biggest challenges I see in classrooms that I’m working with this year is that we can’t have kids playing games together because that means touching manipulatives and not social distancing. Because of this, a lot of the application and what I would call “the fun of math” has been left out of many math lessons.
So, I started to think about how I could take my Strategy Games and update them so that kids can still use them virtually, and implement the eight mathematical practices as they become critical thinkers.
The answer: Google Slides. If I was on a Chromebook, and you were on a Chromebook, we could open up the same Google Slides presentation and play together.
I bring to you four of my favorite games that get kids to think: Rotten Apple, 9-Holes, Across the Pond, and Checkmate. They’re not flashy with all the bells and whistles of some online math game platforms, but sometimes, I think plain is just fine and allows students to focus on using their strategies. We put the game boards inside of Google Slides and put “counters” right on the game board so that students could play like they would if they were sitting on opposite sides of the table. Just make a copy for each pair of students, drop the link(s) into Google Classroom, and they can play!
Visit the resource page for each game to make a copy of the Google Template and watch the video tutorial to learn more about how to play!
Note: the counters won’t move in Present Mode, but students can have the presentation open in Work mode and be able to interact with each other..
So now, when you’re doing a math workshop, you could still have a Math by Myself station, or a Math with Technology station, where students might be on Zearn or Dreambox or a different website that you use, but then you could actually have kids go to Math with Someone to play their games. Yes, it won’t quite be the same – they’re going to have a computer in front of them instead of hands-on manipulatives, which I prefer, but they will still be able to play! They’ll be able to apply the strategies, communicate and enjoy themselves through Google Slides!
Check out these four games and let us know how you’re implementing games in your 2020 classroom within the varying constraints of virtual, hybrid, or face-to-face instruction.