Ex Boxes

Ex Boxes – Photo by Ryan Dickey. License CC 2.0

When I were a lad things were different.

When I were a lad, an eye pad was a patch taped onto the glasses of the kid who suffered from “lazy eye”; a wii was, well, a wee and an ex-box was all that remained of your cereal packet after your sugar coated breakfast treat.

When I was a lad, we had to make our own entertainment. We used to play a game called consequences.

We’d all sit around a table with a strip of paper, write a boy’s name on the top, fold it over and pass it on to the next person, who then wrote a girl’s name, folded it over and passed it on, and so on, until a short and witty (and probably rude) short story emerged. (Wikepedia explains it here so much better than I could ever hope to do.) Hours of endless fun!

Anyway, I was reminded of this game when a (much younger) colleague came back from a Further Maths Inset course and asked us all to write the equation of a function at the top of a piece of paper and pass it on. The recipient then had to sketch the graph of the given function, fold the top of the paper and pass it on again to a new recipient who then had to write the equation of the function from looking at the graph. Then, and only then, was the original function revealed to (hopefully) be the same as function written at the end.  What a brilliant adaptation of a game I had last played all those years ago.

I played the game with my Upper Sixth A-Level students who soon grasped the idea and got into the game, one pupil deciding it was great fun to give his neighbour – his friend – some pretty complex functions to sketch. (With friends like that …)

Recognising a great idea when I saw it, I stole the concept and adapted it to my own needs.  My year 10s had been working on y = mx + c – the equation of a straight line – and I realised that this would be a great consolidation exercise:

Write the equation of a straight line > Make a table of points > Plot the graph > Find the gradient and y intercept > Write down the equation of the straight line.

It worked really well, allowing the pupils to practise what we had learnt in the week and quickly flagging up any problem areas.  I created a worksheet with the stages laid out to help with the flow of the stages – you can grab a copy of my worksheet here – I think for this task and age group having this bit of structure to the task was useful.  There was genuine excitement at the “unraveling” to see if the final equation agreed with the original.  In most cases it did, and when it didn’t it threw up a great opportunity for the class to discuss where the mistake had been made.

So, perhaps not quite as much fun as discovering that “Morbid Malcolm met Happy Hilary at the school disco …”, but a great idea that works well in the classroom.

I’m off to see what other Victorian parlour games I can adapt for use in the classroom.  Wink murder, anyone?

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