Pockets of Time

I’m a little worn out after my last couple of posts, so I’ll aim for something more cheerful today.

Several years ago (okay, maybe closer to 20 than several) my mom went on a trip with a friend to Monterey. She stopped at a game shop, picked up this little gem, and brought it home for me and my sisters to play.

set_box_ over25

The game consists of 81 cards. Each card has four attributes (color, number, shape, shading) and each attribute has three flavors (red, green, purple; 1, 2, 3; squiggles, ovals, diamonds; and open, striped, solid). The goal:

Find a set of three cards where each attribute is either all the same or all different on the three cards.

If that explanation isn’t sufficiently helpful (it usually isn’t enough for my students), then check out the online (semi-creepy; I usually mute the audio) tutorial here.

At any rate, I have since played untold thousands of games of set, first with the physical deck of cards, then using the (free) online daily puzzle, and more recently on the iPad app. Partway through my first year of teaching I began playing the daily puzzle with nearly all of my classes nearly every day of the week. This year I’ve begun using the iPad app (since it offers a few additional ways to play, including a basic mode where the shading component is simplified by using only the solid cards). Regardless of how I’ve accessed the game, here are a few of the benefits to my students, at least as I see it.

  • When we start with Set at the beginning of class, nearly every student is engaged.
  • It’s a great way to develop spatial reasoning (probably a weak part of my courses, aside from this game/puzzle).
  • With a little bit of thinking it can be turned into a competition between classes.
  • After teaching the kids how to play, it lasts only 60 seconds (for basic) or 90 seconds (for advanced).

This last point is really what inspired me to write this post, as I’ve been searching for short, engaging activities to weave into my classroom this year to fill out the pockets of time at the beginning or end of class. While I’ve been using the Set Game to start class for years, the online puzzle only offered one game per day, so repeats in a given class period were off limits. With the iPad app, I can pull up as many puzzles as I want, so when students are finished with an assignment and there are two minutes left I can fire up the app and challenge them to another game.

Two other great ways to fill those extra minutes (whether they fall at the beginning, middle, or end of a period) are Andrew Stadel’s Estimation 180 and Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns. They’re not quite as short as a game of Set, but in just a few minutes I can have the students doing something far more interesting (and mentally profitable) than sitting quietly while they wait for the bell to ring.

So here’s my list o’ questions to you:

  • Have you ever played Set? If so… Cards, online, or app?
  • Do you use Estimation 180 with your students? If so… How long do you spend on a typical estimation challenge (start to finish)?
  • Do you use Visual Patterns with your students? If so… How often do you use them and how much class time do they take (once your students have become familiar with the concepts/format)?

And if you just answer one question, make it this one:

  • What do you do with your students when your students finish an activity or assignment and you look up at the clock to realize you have two minutes left?

P.S. If you’re interested in hearing the three ways I play the game with students in class, just holler in the comments. I’m happy to share, but this post needs to be done and I need to be in bed.

Comments 4

  1. Hi Michael. I played SET for the first time just this past summer at the Math Teacher’ Circle training in Palo Alto. (Our t-shirt from the training are the cards in SET.) LOVE the game, except I seem to be the slowest one to see a “set” of anything. I want to show blind people how to play it so I can have a chance.

    I do Estimation180 with my 6th graders. That’s our daily warm-up. Just last week, I randomly assigned 2 VisualPatterns to each student as their weekly PS (problem solving).

    I haven’t had too many class periods when there are extra minutes this year. But I have two boxes (single and double digits) of “Make 24” on my desk.

    Thanks so much, Michael, for the mention here too.

  2. I’ve played Set, card version, my wife has a deck… but I haven’t done it in many years, maybe even a decade. Don’t like it. I can never see the sets as fast as other people, and even by myself, I’m always second guessing whether there’s something there or not. More frustrating than fun. But then, this is coming from a person who doesn’t play games much at all – whenever I’m losing, I feel bad, and whenever I’m winning, I feel bad for the other guy, so kind of lose-lose all around. I have to get my “fun” teacher cred elsewhere.

    Regarding the other questions, I haven’t used those other web resources in class, and I suspect the last 2-5 minutes of a class tends to happen one of three ways:
    -I’m taking up some work (either a quiz or a couple questions on the board) and run out of time, or divert into how this relates to something else we’ve done, or both…
    -They’re all working on exercises or something else as I’m going around and answering things individually. In the case of the class where they’re not fond of maths, they tuned me out ten minutes ago anyway.
    -I do a song. Once a month, maybe.

    But then I haven’t actually self-analyzed how classes wrap up. I do say “have a good next period/lunch/afternoon” most of the time though.

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