Math Pictionary

I did an interesting activity with my students this week: math pictionary. I used the site, which enables you to upload custom words to be used in the game. For ours, I used some common math terms as well as some key terms that we’ve used so far in Algebra 2 like end behavior, difference of cubes, and cosecant. Like many good ideas, math pictionary came to me five minutes before class started. Luckily, it was simple to set up and pretty much ran itself after I inputted the custom word list.

Aside from being really fun and engaging, playing the game in a math context also got me thinking about how students are visualizing what we’re learning. What does their pictorial representation of a given term say about how they’re thinking about it? Plus, when it’s their turn to draw, they’re given mere seconds to determine how they want it to look. What they elect to draw and how they do it may also speak to their “first impressions” of the term, which can be revealing in its own right. Each of their drawings were a sudden, in-the-moment representation of a mathematical idea. This could also go for the students who are guessing. Based on what is drawn, the terms that students are guessing may be indicative of how students have oriented themselves to those terms. (Through all of this talk of math and drawings, I can’t help but smile and think of Ben Orlin. His warm-hearted and funny book Math with Bad Drawings is an absolute gem.)

There are definitely implications for my teaching here. Students capturing ideas through quick drawings can be a useful alternative for them to communicate their mathematical thinking…and for me to get some glimpses into how they’re understanding content. It invites in students’ creativity and perspective. Interpreting their sketches — however loose and informal they are — is a unique and worthwhile form of assessment. And in a remote setting, everything helps! For example, when given the term tangent, a kid drew a right triangle that was intended to be in the first quadrant of the unit circle (I think). They labeled the horizontal leg of the triangle “cos,” the vertical side “sin,” and the hypotenuse “tan.” Because tangent = sine/cosine, I took this to be a possible error in the student’s knowledge of tangent.

During the game, while managing zoom and gauging interest in my last-minute choice of an activity, I only caught a few of those types of interesting sketches. If I played again, I think I could pick up more. Plus, when I do this again, I’m wondering if there would be a way that I could get creative with the word list so my assessment targets the nuances of a specific concept. For instance, could I get them to draw and guess specific cases of end behavior?

Here are several of my students’ sketches and the terms they were attempting to represent.

end behavior
vertical line test


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