By Chris Kieffer
SALTILLO – Saltillo High School seniors spread throughout their classroom as they took turns playing various carnival-style games.
In the front, left corner of Jenny Simmons’ pre-calculus classroom, a student tossed bean bags into an old pizza box while classmates waited in line to do the same. At the same time, others dropped a marble into a maze made of nails to see where it would stop.
Still more flicked a spinner borrowed from the “Candy Land” board game or selected one of five ducks floating in a bowl of water. Written on the bottom of each rubber creature was either a positive or negative number.
Attached to the various results of each game, players would either win or lose a certain number of tokens. It was part of a lesson about the probability of the possible outcomes from each game of chance.
Before playing, the students worked math problems based on the odds and the number of tokens gained or lost on each outcome to determine whether each game favored the player or the operator. They then played and checked the correlation between their math and the real world.
Later in the week, the seniors designed their own carnival games, trying to both entice people to play and to not pay out more tokens than they collected. Students from another class played those games in a simulated carnival.
Teaching about probability and strategies for solving simple games is not new, Simmons said. What made this lesson one that aligns with the new Common Core State Standards, she said, is its use of real-world models.
“The traditional teacher would probably teach the lesson and write problems on the board and get the students just to answer questions off a sheet of paper,” Simmons said.
As part of the Core, teachers are encouraged to use more examples of where the pupils would use the math outside of school. In each of her units, Simmons tries to model one or two things to show real-world math.
“After they designed their games and let other kids play them, the math meant a lot more to them, and they experienced it on a different level,” Simmons said.