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I've been teaching high school math for over 20 years. I write about my experiences here and also share activities that I have done with my classes that have been successful (and some that have been not so successful).
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Low Prep Math Review Game "Sticky Points"



(We did this in March 2020 during the last day of class before we shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic)

How I got the idea for the game

I was looking for some math review game ideas and I came across an elementary teacher's blog where she discussed a review game called Stinky Feet. She calls the game Stinky Feet because she allows the winning team to take their shoes off for the rest of the day. That's not going to work in a high school classroom!

The idea behind her game is to write (some positive, some negative) point values on the back of sticky notes and put the sticky notes on the board where there is a large drawing of the outline of a foot. 



She gives the students a question and whichever student (or team) answers correctly first, gets to choose a sticky note from the board and they are awarded the point values written on the back. The team with the most (or least - depending on how you want to play) points is the winning team.

I liked the idea of using sticky notes, but I am not about to let my high school students take off their shoes.

Scroll to the bottom to read how to make this game work for virtual students.


You will need a lot of sticky notes. This many notes lasted for 50 minutes for 6 groups who
had 16 calculus questions to work on. Play the activity until you run out of time,
you run out of sticky notes, you run out of questions, or the students run out of steam.


I adapted the game.

I changed the name to "Sticky Points" since, without the component of taking off their shoes, the word "stinky" didn't fit.

Also, instead of making it a speed competition, I opted to give each group the entire set of questions on a sheet of paper and allowed them to work at their own pace.

I prefer to let the students work at their own pace because if you give all the groups the same question at the same time, then everyone has to wait for the slowest group to finish before the students can work on the next question. Also, when they work at their own pace, I give them lots of opportunities to correct their mistakes.

In general, I do not like to do games with my students where speed is a factor. Read my blog post about Why You Should Not Reward Speed in Math Class here.

Prep work

Choose your questions. (For my calculus class, the topic was Separable Differential Equations. I also have a set of questions for Conic Sections and Vectors that I used in my Honors Precalculus class.) Put the questions into a worksheet. You can leave space for them to show their work, or not.  You could easily use any worksheet or set of questions that you already have available.

Make the answer key. I had just a list of the questions and their answers all on one side of one piece of paper.

Just as the original blogger suggested, on the back of the sticky notes write point values: some positive, some negative. I did multiples of 10. (-10, +10, -20, +20, -30, +30, etc). I did more positive points than negative points. I did mostly -10 and +10 and even the occasional +50 to make it exciting.

Write in pencil on the sticky notes. Also, try to use a dark color sticky note. I wrote in pencil on yellow sticky notes and you could see through the paper. So I chose a dark green color.

Have a reward for the winning group. I gave candy, but you could also give a sticker or a homework pass.

Put your students into groups. I prefer groups of 2 students, maximum of 3 students. Sometimes I let the students choose their partners, other times I use the random name picker from flippity.net, but if I have technical difficulties or just want to go old school I will use a deck of cards to give them a random partner.

How the game is played

I stood at the board and held the answer key. As each group finished a question, one person came to show me his or her answer. 

If they got the question right, they could choose a sticky note from the board. They are awarded the number of points that are written on the back.  I keep track of the points on the board.

If the group got the question wrong, I let them go back to their table and try again - I am a proponent for giving students multiple opportunities for success.

I had the students discard the used sticky notes on a spare desk.

I had the discard pile on a spare desk. One option is to let the groups
keep their discarded sticky notes at their desk.



The game ends when you run out of time, you run out of sticky notes, you run out of questions, or the students run out of steam.

After you stop the game, count up each team's points and award the prizes!

Let's continue the conversation. Join me in my Facebook group.

Reflection

I will definitely play this again. It was nice to see how motivated the students were to get the questions right - not that they wanted to be the fastest team but they wanted the opportunity to get some points. In fact, the fastest team won't always win because they could pick a bunch of negative points!

We only had about 40 minutes to play the game, but my students (all 12th graders) wanted to play longer. (Edit: in 2021 we had about 55 minutes to play and the students ran out of steam after about 45 minutes.)

This activity was fairly low-prep. I had to spend a few minutes writing the point values on the back of the sticky notes. Putting together the questions took the longest amount of time, but you could easily use any worksheet or set of questions that you have available. 

You may be interested in some prepared Sticky Points games I have:
👉separable differential equations,  (version A for regular calculus; version B for  AP Calculus)
👉vectors.

During the activity, I wish that I had a teacher's assistant because it was a bit stressful to try to check the student's answers, keep track of each team's points, and watch the sneaky students who were trying to look behind the sticky notes to see the point values before selecting it all at the same time. One option is to have the students write their own point values on the board. Or maybe they put their sticky notes under their team name and you record them when you get the chance.

Recommendations:

  • Write in pencil on the back of the post-it notes. I did the first one in permanent marker, but it was too easy to see through the paper. Duh.
  • As was recommended by the original creator, if the goal is to have the most points, have about 75% of the post-its with positive points and 25% with negative points. If the goal is to have the least amount of points, do the opposite.
  • I did all multiples of 10 to make it easy to add and subtract.
  • I had the list of questions printed on one side of one sheet of paper; there wasn't any space for the students to show their work. Next time I might consider giving them space to show their work or give them individual whiteboards that they can bring up to the front of the room.
  • Play music while they're doing the activity. I often play music while my students are working. It lifts the mood. I made a Spotify playlist with some of my students' favorite songs; but frankly, it has mostly my favorite 80s hits.
  • Update March 2021: I had some students that were virtual. I emailed them the list of questions at the beginning of class (set up the email draft in the morning then hit "send" once they logged into the Google Meet)  Each virtual student partnered with a student that was in the classroom. After everyone signed into the Meet, I set up breakout rooms and put each partnership in the same breakout room. I did not monitor the Meet.

The final scoreboard for one of the classes.



Go here to read about another activity I do in my classesRaffle Ticket Review Game

How to make this activity digital

(UPDATE: May 15, 2021) I posted about this activity in a math teacher Facebook group. A handful of people asked how to make this work with a class that is entirely virtual. Cathelyne Joseph had a wonderful solution. She created a "game board" in Google Slides

She says, "all the students have to do is remove the square covering the points and they'll see the number of points. The students would be in breakout rooms with their teams. You can have a runner come to the main room (in Zoom) and they choose a square and you remove the square to reveal the points. Another way, you can have them use the "I need help" feature and you go to them in the breakout room and share your screen and then they choose. I think the latter might be easier."  Thank you Cathelyne!


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