Math = Love: Rock, Paper, Scissors Math Tournament

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rock, Paper, Scissors Math Tournament

NOTE: This post has been sitting in my drafts since October 14th.  So, when it says "last week," it actually means "quite a few weeks ago."  :)

This last week of school was a weird one.  Monday and Tuesday were normal.  My Algebra 1 students started factoring quadratic trinomials with a leading coefficient of one.  My Algebra 2 students started graphing basic exponential functions and their transformations.  On Wednesday, my students had a substitute while I took my student council kids to our district meeting.  The speaker at our meeting was Lance Lang, and I really enjoyed listening to his message of hope.  I was inspired to do a better job in my classroom of being a dealer of hope.

On Thursday, my school took two buses full of students to the state softball tournament.  Our girls did an awesome job, and they advanced to the next level of competition.  On Friday, my school, again, took two buses full of students to the state tournament.  Normally, we have around 160-180 students in the school building.  For the past two days, we've only had around 60 students in the building.  This means that there was no way that I can go on with my intended lesson plans.  Approximately a third of the remaining students did not go to the softball game due to their ineligibility.  So, these students have been able to spend the past two days getting missing assignments completed and turned in.  I've worked hard to help these students get their missing work caught up!  Making sure a dozen students are all on task when they are all doing something different is a monumental task!    

Friday morning, we had our students for the first two periods of the day before they boarded the bus for the tournament.  Second period, I used this as an opportunity to measure where my Algebra 2 students currently stand with exponent rules.  We are currently in the midst of our third unit of the year: Exponential Functions and Exponent Rules.  Based on their responses, I'm not going to have to do quite as much reteaching as I thought.  We finished with the exponent exploration with about 20 minutes of class left to spare.

Since it was Friday and game day, my students really wanted to play another game.  One student begged to play "Heads Up Seven Up."  I told him that we couldn't play that because it wasn't a math game.  Of course, he argued that it was a math game because it had a number in the title.  Instead, I offered to let them have a Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament.  Immediately, their interest was piqued.  Of course, I had to put a mathematical spin on it.

Several months ago, I ran across a short video clip on pinterest of a brain break that involved Rock, Paper, Scissors and multiplication.  I thought it was a cute idea, and I filed it away in my brain.

I actually let my students choose any number of fingers from one to five, instead of the one to four mentioned in the video.  So, the premise is simple.  Students say "Rock, Paper, Scissors," and then they throw out the number of fingers of their choosing.  They look at their number of fingers and their competitor's number of fingers, and the first one to correctly multiply the two numbers together and say the answer aloud wins.

I'm pretty sure that this activity is meant for younger students, but my Algebra 2 students loved it.

My plan was for students to pair up and play a round.  The winners would remain standing.  The non-winners (sounds better than losers) would take a seat.  Then, we would continue until a winner was crowned.  My students were not satisfied with this plan.  After all, if this is a tournament, we might as well go all out.

So, a tournament bracket was made.  I quickly googled a website that made brackets.  I typed in all of my students' names.  Consequently, I shocked all of my students with my ability to type without looking at my fingers.  They were amazed.  Apparently, it sounds like bullets are shooting when I am typing.  I guess my students aren't used to hearing someone type over a hundred words a minute.

I took a screen shot of the tournament bracket and put it up on the Smart Board.        

The competition was intense.  Instead of playing multiple games at once, everybody watched as each pair competed.  The rest of the class served as judges as to who answered first.  If I was to do this over again, I would have everybody play a few practice rounds before beginning the tournament.  That would have solved a lot of our problems.

Also - I would change the rules to say that only the first answer you say counts.  I still have quite a few students who struggle with their basic multiplication facts, so this was a nice review for them.  The engagement level during this activity was AMAZING.  I would love to adapt this activity to feature review of an Algebra 1 or Algebra 2 topic.  Ideas?  My Algebra 2 kids are never this engaged, and I would love to harness this power!  

Oh, and the winner received a much-coveted award.  (They got to pick their certificate.)  I'm pretty sure I could get my kiddos to do anything for one of these awards.  The tournament champion was actually a student that I had last year for Algebra 1.  She never won an award in Algebra 1, so she was very, very, very excited to finally win one this year.  



  1. Multiplication facts through 5 times 5 in an ALGEBRA 2 class? You have got to be kidding... Your kids "loved" it because they tricked you into doing this activity that required absolutely no thinking even approaching the Algebra 2 level... You seem like a kind and well-intentioned person, but you don't seem to live up to your responsibility as the teacher. So what if they loved this completely inappropriate activity? Your job is to teach them Algebra 2, not to make them happy... I am going to unsubscribe. I wish you luck but I don't want to read about this kind of waste of time as if it was a good thing for your class.

    1. Talk about inappropriate!

      Sarah my 8th graders struggle with their facts and this would be great on a strange day when only a few students are around or they are leaving on a trip and not expecting to do any work. I would even let them use both hands so they could practice through 10s. I'll try to think of an algebra 1 connection and get back to you! Love adapting little kid games for our kids.

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    4. Clearly Anonymous 1 needs to go back to english class, as s/he seems to have missed the "not everyone's here" and "finished with 20 minutes to spare" preface to the rock paper scissors tournament. I personally wish I had more stuff filed away to be able to handle "on the fly" stuff like that. We had a day like that recently (ice day) where we had 15 kids from 4 different classes, and their willingness to do things was nil. Good job for keeping them engaged.

  2. I for one am glad you shared - not that it will apply to every moment, but those really weird ones that really do happen in the real world, when, for one reason or another, part of the class is gone, you have 5 minutes at the end of class, or you get interrupted by a fire alarm and now have kids for 10 minutes.

    My 8th grade students struggle with this as well... I think I might adapt the multiplication as well - one hand only but add 5 to their number.... BUT... I just finished an exponent unit... what about practicing exponent rules? For example, making one student the numerator, the other the denominator, and having them come up with what the exponent would be... one is x to the (whatever they chose) power in the numerator spot; the other is x to the (other number chosen) power. If student A (numerator) chose 1 and student B (denominator) chose 4, the answer would be x to the -3 power. ??? :)

    Truly, thanks for all you share; this is my first comment and I've been reading off and on since September! You've inspired and helped me in so many ways! I'm an elementary-turned-JH reading-turned-social studies-throw a math class at me PLUS add Common Core this year! Yahoo! ;) Seriously... I really do love my job! Your site helps remind me of the good things we can be doing to teach amazing math content while making it authentic, purposeful, and fun for the students. :)

  3. Brynn and Jen, you seem to have missed that she was writing about an Algebra 2 class (second year Algebra, for students who have completed first year Algebra 1 and Geometry) where they were supposed to be studying exponential functions, as she described earlier... not a middle school math class or a remedial level high school class, where review of basic multiplication facts might be appropriate.

  4. I would like to begin by expressing my disgust with the negative comments left on this post. As teachers, I like to think term constructive criticism is always pinging in our minds. It is necessary to express opinions only if they are going to better somebody/something in some way. Negativity is unnecessary and is probably 95% of the reason why students in higher level courses cannot complete arithmetic. I personally teach high school math courses and know that my kids would benefit from a "brain break" like this. Brain breaks are suppose to be a quick way to allow students to shake off their frustrations not to challenge them. Last but not least with our ever growing technology, it is very easy to complete exponential equations and even parametric functions without ever having to do anything but enter commands.

    Great post! I am so grateful for all the activities you have provided me with as soon as I figure out this blogging business, I will be subscribing and blogging about you.

  5. Anonymous #1 you have never stepped foot in a classroom have you?? Obviously you are anonymous so you don't have to own up to your idiotic comments

  6. WOW! That interjection goes for the AWESOME post AND the anonymous person who was very generous with his/her comments on a great brain break/fact practice activity!!

    Thanks for this post-I'm pinning it for later use hopefully with my 6th graders who still struggle with their math facts!! :)


  7. My idea to make it just a tad bit higher level is to just have the students use two hands instead of 1.

    1. Great idea! I've also created a version that lets students practice with positive and negative numbers. I'll try to blog about it soon!

  8. I really love your blog and have been following it for 2 years now. My algebra 2 kids DEFINITELY still struggle with basic math facts. It's one of the many perks of teaching in a school that serves an underprivileged community. I love all your activities and strive to implement them (or versions of them). Kids get so bored with the normal math routine and I honestly feel like if you can make them enjoy math just a little bit, even if it's a bit off topic, you are improving their chances of success. You are awesome and I can't believe someone so negative would spend all that time dissing a great idea.