On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized. I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so I’ll describe MY take on the observed lesson:
I had 6 students that day who were split into three groups of two, to move through three stations with about 10 minutes at each station. The kids had defined the stations the day before, but without clearly defined educational objectives. To begin the class, we did that together.
Station 1 was to play ** MetaSquares ** and “Think Like A Computer.” One person would make a move on their iPod to make a square and the partner would mimic that move. The goals were to see if the computer worked the games the same way to block or win the game, and to try to figure out the computer’s strategy to determine how to beat it.
Station 2 was to connect the two iPods at that station through the** Whiteboard ** app and give each other problems–basically a drill station. They wanted to show it, though, because it’s “cool” to connect their devices and draw on one and have it show up on the other.
Station 3 was to record the number of rolls it took to get 6 of a kind in ** Motion-X Dice**. We had done this before, just collecting data and then looking at that data. Today’s twist was to predict how many rolls it would take and then calculate the variance between their prediction and the actual count.
When I was observing Station 1, “Think Like A Computer” the iPod did NOT make the same counter move on the student’s first move, so the kids had to decide what to do. They decided to keep the “mimic the other person’s move” going.
Imagine their surprise when the iPod got the same score on both iPods on the same move, even though the iPod’s moves didn’t match. Imagine their shock when it happened a second time. The third time, one iPod made a combined square and thus got 9 points more. While both students won at the same time, with the same score, one iPod had the 9 more points.
In the follow up discussion, they decided that on level 1, (their current playing level), the iPod’s goal was simply to make squares, and not block the player, so that’s why they could a.) win and b.) the iPod’s scores were similar. They hypothesized that on Level 2 (where the iPod begins blocking) that the device’s moves might be more similar since it would be blocking the exact same moves. However, they didn’t have time to test out that theory.
I love that the kids’ perception is that they come to math class and “play on their iPods.” I love that they are dissecting and analyzing not only their strategies in their games, but also the algorithms of the device. I enjoy hearing their hypotheses and questioning them, often causing cognitive dissonance (sometimes for me, too!) I love the AH-HAs they have as they work within the structure of the questions both they and I pose. I watched the surprise on Chris’ and his colleague’s faces when the students verbalized the explicit differences between levels 1 and 2 in the game. My kids were so much more specific in their understanding than a typical response of “the game gets harder as you go up in levels.” They clearly knew that in Level 1 the iPod was simply trying to make squares. In Level 2, it begins to show awareness of the player’s moves and block them making a square.
I cannot wait to ask them how in the world a “computer” can forecast their moves AND have an intention to block that “only thought of in their own head” move. How can the computer know what they are thinking? How can it tell what they are planning to do? And, more importantly, how can they counteract that knowledge?
How can we teach students to think with logic and analysis intuitively?
I believe devices like iPod Touches and strategy games not only do so effectively, but are crucial to helping students learn to survive and THRIVE in the world in which they live!