This year, I learned about How to Start a Math Fight by Jon Orr. One of the ways he suggests to start a fight is an activity called Headbandz. It is taking the idea of the popular game Headbandz and using it for a mathematical purpose. I was able to purchase 8 headbands for a dollar at my dollar store so that every student had their own headband. Very cost effective way to bring forth a worthwhile strategy. I wanted to try something different with box and whisker plots for my sixth graders. A couple weeks ago, I did the activity by just telling the kids that “before we put our cards on our heads, we are doing a challenge today. You may not have seen anything like this, but remember you must only use yes or no questions to figure out what was on your head. Once we raise our cards, you will have an idea of the figure that is on your head.” I was very curious as to the language they would use. It was absolutely amazing too. I gave them 10 minute to ask questions instead of the usual 5 and no one was able to figure out what was on their head. One of the truly amazing pieces of headbandz is that in 5 to 10 minutes the students see 16 different representation of a box and whisker along with different types of number lines. See below:
Through this initial activity, the students used this type of questioning:
1. Does my number line count by 5’s?
2. Do I have a box (amazed they used this word instead of a rectangle) with lines coming out from the sides? (this lead into great discussion about the difference between a line and a line segment.)
3. Is my left segment shorter than my right segment
4. Is the line in the middle of my box between 10 and 20.
5. Is the dot on the line to the right at 30?
These are the ones I could hear them saying, but the struggle was awesome and every student could ask questions. Even after 10 minutes I had to bring them back and discuss the activity. They wanted to keep going because some were getting close to the answer. We talked about what made it hard and why? For most of them, they couldn’t figure out which question to ask and it was difficult for their partner to know exactly what they were talking about at the same time. I told them that they would be learning about box and whiskers over the next couple of weeks. Again, I can’t state enough that they saw 16 examples in a matter of 10 minutes.
Fast forward now ten days. Yesterday I gave them the same activity and only 7 minutes. I wanted to give 5, but lost track of time because the students were having so much fun. We had over half of them solve what was on their head and that was cool. I gave them another one to solve to see if they could get two in as some were done in 3 minutes. WOW!
I asked “What made it easier to figure out what was on your head?” It was the vocabulary they had built and that everyone in the room had an understanding of that vocabulary. The questions they asked this time were:
1. Is my Q1 less than 20?
2. Is my Q3 between 40 and 50?
3. Is by maximum 40?
4. Is the median between 20 and 25?
5. Does my number line start at zero?
What a difference in the questions. Is vocabulary important? YOU BET IT IS! The students were able to pin point the exact locations of the parts of a box and whisker plot based on the vocabulary they were using and that is what impressed me the most. They also were able to connect the vocabulary they said to the parts they saw ten days ago because they had to struggle through an activity where they did not have the vocabulary, but they had the visual. I believe this experiment was a success and I plan to try this again next year with them if I have the opportunity. Starting your class period with a math fight definitely gets the conversations going and the brain moving. I have used this activity thus far with expressions, equations, and exponents. Expressions was excellent to build the vocabulary of coefficient, constant, and terms. I even went as far to include like terms that the students had to simplify their expressions once they found out what was on their head. We even did this with visual patters from the website visualpatterns.org by Fawn Nguyen.
If you want to download the document I created, feel free. The vocabulary the students learn from this activity is awesome.