Games in the Math Classroom

Photo: Close up of student playing Heads Up!

“You use it to solve problems.”

“It has buttons”

“There is one one on your phone.”

A small group of students shout out clues to help their teammate guess a word. The teammate tasked with guessing the word stands, holding the back of a mobile phone to their forehead, the screen clearly displaying the word to the group. Meanwhile, since the phone is connected to an Apple TV, the entire class can see the word projected on the white board behind the standing student rushing to guess the word before a timer runs out.

Photo: Student Playing Heads Up! with Projection

Student playing Heads Up! math-style.

Quickly, the standing student blurted, “Calculator!” His team hoots and applauds as that word ended their turn.

This is a scene from math teacher Jennifer Fairbanks’ classroom as the students prepare for an upcoming test. It is her riff on the game Heads Up! popularized by Ellen DeGeneres on her eponymous television show. Heads Up! is a card-based game in the digital form of a mobile app. Fairbanks uses her own phone, having created her own deck of cards tailor-made for algebra class, that serves up vocabulary words for the students.

“I used it as a surprise and didn’t really tell the kids what we were going to be doing,” Fairbanks said.

During class, the students were focused, competitive, and boisterous, as Fairbanks posted the score after each group took a turn. By the second round, the kids were clearly engaged and having fun, all the while preparing for an exam. While one group may have tallied the highest score, everyone was a winner in reviewing math vocabulary.

Photo: High School Math Teacher Jennifer Fairbanks

Math Teacher Jennifer Fairbanks

Always a game lover, Fairbanks regularly modifies or employs games in her math classroom for concept and unit review. In any one year, students could play over 20 different game-like activities in class.

“I always build in a day of review before a test, so the kids get to practice,” Fairbanks said. “I try not to pick something where speed is an issue. I’ve tried to get away from that because I do not want the fastest or smartest to always get it right or win.”

One of her favorites is Zap, a review game she discovered online. Zap is another group based activity that involves cards. The first team to answer a math problem correctly selects a number between one and sixteen, which corresponds with a card. Some cards have positive consequences, some have negative consequences, and some have off-the-wall humor.

Photo: Team Playing Heads Up!

A Heads Up! team shouting clues.

This added element of randomness makes winning unpredictable. The first team to solve an equation selects a card only to be rewarded further by doubling their points. The next turn might see the first team finished pull a card that sees them get zapped and lose all their points. Yet another team might just pull a card that requires all teammates to get up and complete 10 jumping jacks or sing “I’m a Little Teapot.” Students must work to solve the math problems but the action keeps the students on their toes.

Fairbanks has been so successful in curating an inventory of games that she has begun presenting to other math teachers outside of Hopkinton. This fall, she presented at the ATOMIC Conference in Connecticut and she will be presenting again this spring for Math Educator’s Day at Milton Academy and in Atlanta for Twitter Math Camp.

“I love it. I love sharing. Teachers should take the risk of incorporating or modifying games in their class. It’s worth it.”

Science & Engineering Fair Participation Surges

Note: This post originally appeared on HPS Digital.

This week, the library hosted the annual high school science and engineering fair. This year’s fair grew markedly in both size and scope from the previous year.

The total number of projects rose to 28 this year with 13 from freshmen, one of the highest totals of recent memory. Even more exciting for the participants, 12 projects will continue on to the regional science fair March 10. Of that total, half of the projects advancing are the products of underclassmen.

Photo: Participants in 2017 Regional Science & Engineering Fair

Students advancing to
the regional science & engineering fair.

Principal Evan Bishop noted the level of achievement on display, “The quality and amount of the projects is impressive considering the students do this work outside of class. We have double the amount of projects this year.”

The growth and success of the program continued to include some of the high school’s best and brightest students. It even brings back a number of past students.

“I am just so impressed and proud of these projects and the communication skills of these students, solving real world problems. It’s exciting. It’s also exciting to see the number of former graduates come back and participate as judges. I think it really speaks to the kind of community we have here,” said Principal Bishop.

Included in the group advancing will be this year’s top finishers which look similar to last year. First through third place proved a shuffled version of last year’s places with an added team.

Photo: Top Three Places for 2017 HHS Science & Engineering Fair

Top three placed project winners
(From left to right)  Kate Woelflein,
Emma Beale, Himanshu Minocha,
Freya Proudman, and Brian Best.


In first place, Himanshu Minocha developed a software application as part of his project Campus Safety Warning and Notification System Using 3D Geofencing.

In second place, Brian Best built upon his project from last year with Music Math: Does Music Follow a Zipfan Distribution?

In third place, the spoils were split. Tied were Freya Proudman continuing her work in the behavioral sciences with her project Young Women’s Optimism for Their Futures and the team of Kate Woelflein and Emma Beale who investigated The Effect of Global Warming in Spider Silk Proteins.

After finishing second as a sophomore, Minocha continued his evolution as a software developer, “I have been building applications since seventh grade. This year I wanted to build a heavier application that would do more complex computations and build upon the computer science knowledge I have gained,” Minocha said.

Last year’s winner and this year’s third-place finisher, Proudman captured the spirit of all the participants, “I think science fair is so special. It’s such a joy to share your research with others. It allows you to explore what you’re passionate about in science. It’s a really wonderful opportunity.”

Photo: 2017 HHS Science & Engineering Fair Mentors

Some of this year’s mentors
(From right to left) Tricia Noblett,
Kristen Baldiga, and Val Lechtanski.

High school chemistry teacher and mentor, Kristen Baldiga celebrated both the students and those involved in making the fair reality. “People have been able to dedicate their time and really step up. It really makes me proud to be in this department,” said Baldiga. “This is really a testament to the work Devon Grilly has done the last few years.”

The science and engineering fair would not be possible without contributions from the science department, the generous support from the Hopkinton Parent Teacher Association, Bose Corporation, Perkins Elmer, as well as the many individuals willing to donate their time and energy to helping the students explore science regardless of economic status.

Innovative Smartphone Photography Course Grows

Reflecting on her experience taking Smartphone Photography at the high school, senior Sadie Morgan explained, “If you commit to the class and really do the projects, you can end up with really cool stuff from it. You learn so much that you can use in the future. It is cool. I now use one of the editing apps whenever I do smartphone photography and certain tips on composition.”
Photo: Sterling Worrell

Photography teacher Sterling Worrell.

Last year, Sterling Worrell created and began teaching Smartphone Photography, a hybrid course, in the high school art department. The course focuses on the fundamentals of photography, specifically creating with the tools and technology available using mobile devices. It is one of the school’s more innovative efforts that integrates technology and teaching in new ways that capitalize on changes forge new possibilities. Since the beginning, the course and students have featured at major educational technology events in the commonwealth, including Learn Launch’s 2016 Across Boundaries Classroom of the Future and Massachusetts Computer Users in Education (MassCUE) fall Global Connections, Digital Learning conference. Looking back on the inspiration for the course, Worrell said, “Two things: I was looking forward to the challenge of utilizing mobile devices in the classroom, instead of banning them like so many teachers do. Also, there are just a lot of bad pictures taken with phones. So I wanted to teach students how to treat their phone like a camera.” Worrell has been teaching film and digital photography for years, making this course a natural progression. “This is taught like a photo course. It is almost all about how to take good images. The focus is on the type of technology and learning how to use the tool to create the images. Each kind of camera has different pros and cons.”
Photo: Paige O'Connor editing photographs

Paige O’Connor reviewing photographs with fellow students.

Freshman Paige O’Connor underlined the importance of capturing and making high-quality images. “The angles and composition of you place your subject is so important,” O’Connor said. “I enjoyed just learning how to compose, how to compose, and bring the audience’s eye to the actual subject of the image, as opposed to all of the other things that might be in the picture.” Course alumnus Morgan had previously taken film photography and explained some distinctions, “This was different in that you can see right on the screen and take as many pictures as you want. It was a cool course to take because I got to learn different functions that were on my phone that I didn’t know that were there and basically how to take good photos.” With such a sharp technical focus on how to take a good photograph with a phone, Worrell can be more flexible in the course. While there are tasks to develop keener vision, like lessons in composition or light and shadow, students drive the goals and inquiry of the course. One significant and consistent development is student interest in how to skillfully edit their images. This has become a theme in every iteration of the course so far.
Photo: Sadie Morgan in art class

Sadie Morgan inking a drawing for art class.

“It is a different kind of platform that you are working with. Everything can be so easily edited on a smartphone. There is such instant gratification with smartphone photography,” Morgan said. “We learned the best apps to use for editing, the best ways to edit without overdoing, so you can make a nice photograph. You learn to edit yourself, instead of just using Instagram filters.” The hybrid nature of the course means that class meets three times face-to-face in traditional classroom sessions and two sessions are conducted completely online. It is a format that the high school has employed for several years now, a blended learning experience that also includes flexibility in scheduling. Worrell helped pioneer the approach in Hopkinton beginning over six years ago. Worrell has been an avid advocate for hybrid courses and sees multiple benefits. “It gives students the chance to be more efficient. They have more freedom to do what they need to get done during a day. Another thing is if I present something online, the student that already knows it can move on and the student who might need more time can review it as much as they need. No one has to be limited to the speed of my presentation.” Online sessions provide lesson content delivery based on course themes and broader opportunities for student-to-student interaction. Using the learning management system (LMS) Canvas, students access project tasks, review photographic works from professionals and fellow students, as well as engage in virtual critiques which compliment the face-to-face ones that are at the heart of any art course.
Photo: John Thornton edits photographs

John Thornton editing photographs for class.

Current student and senior John Thornton has found the hybrid schedule to be truly beneficial. “It’s given me the first and last periods free which has given me a lot more flexibility with my schedule, especially with applying to colleges and managing my other classes. I can actually do more,” Thornton said. O’Connor added to the benefits of the hybrid aspect, “It’s good because you can do a lot on your own with more independence.” The course also attempts to develop responsible and effective use of social media to find and reach audiences for student work, although negotiating the division between personal and school presences online poses a challenge. The pros and cons of personal versus professional accounts on social media channels remains a theme that is discussed in the course. “We use VSCO as our portfolio but we don’t spend as much time on the sharing of work on social media,” Worrell said. Still, considerable amounts of student work are made public with the possibility of reaching broader audiences. In fact, the culminating project for the class is ambitious with Worrell challenging students. “They have to use photography to make the world a better place, to bring awareness, and try to provoke change around their topic of choice. Then get it to their target audience,” Worrell said.
Photo: Student editing photographs on smartphone

Student reviewing photographs from a recent shoot.

The project requires students to research and speak through photographs about a concern of interest. It can be personal, local, regional, or even global. Students are asked to bring attention to the topic and use photographs to provoke others to act. It is driven by the challenge of empowering young artists to institute change through their work. The project yields thoughtful results. Morgan’s final project examined human obsession with media and digital devices. “It is a common theme in pretty much all the work I do,” Morgan said. “It is so prominent in people today. It is a problem that I have too. So I wanted to get that across, that it is important to disconnect, and see the world a little bit.” O’Connor’s “The Bystander Effect” project responds to the stormy topic of bullying. “I wanted to show the effects of bullying and its bystanders. So I have someone covering their eyes, ears, and mouths,” O’Connor said. “If they didn’t see anything, they pretend nothing happens. If they didn’t hear anything, they can pretend nothing happens. If they didn’t say anything, they can pretend nothing happens.” Thornton’s The Faces project takes on an even more politically charged topic. “It’s a collection of portraits of queer students at our school. Because of a lot of contemporary media, we can’t have “coming out” stories anymore. So, I wanted to show more than that narrative about this community.” Photo: From "Overconnected" photography project by Sadie Morgan Photo: From "The Faces" photography project by John Thornton The course serves as a gateway to a more formal study of visual imagery, its ability to communicate power and provoke. Worrell sees additional benefits as well. “It definitely is attracting kids that are not usually taking art classes.”
Photo: Group of students reviewing photographs

A group of students reviewing photographs after a class shoot.