The “Balloon Pop” review game

This is my students’ favorite review game. I’m pretty sure I originally got the idea from Elissa Miller, but I’ve been working on the rules with my classes for the last couple years. I think that last year we developed the definitive version.

Teams start with four balloons. Not pictured here are the fun and usually clever names they come up with.
balloonpop2A question is projected on the board for each team to answer. I usually give a time limit of around two minutes, but go longer or shorter depending on the question and my goals.
balloonpop3After time is up, I call on a random student from each team to come and show me their answer. While the chosen students come to the front of the room, the answer is displayed for the other students.
balloonpop4Each team that gets the question correct must take another team’s balloon. I usually limit students to about 20 seconds to decide whose balloon to steal, otherwise they’ll spend all day making their choice. I also randomize the order that groups steal balloons to make it a little more fair and interesting. In the example, Groups 3, 7, and 10 appear to have answered incorrectly. Group 7 appears to have made some enemies. And Group 1 took a balloon from Group 3, while Group 2 took one from Group 5, etc. A student once told me that this game ends friendships. What more could you ask for?


Play continues until the period ends or we run out of questions. The winner is the team with the most balloons.

Unlike the physical version I was inspired by, this version takes place entirely in a PowerPoint (the blank template is at the end of the post). Some notes about the file:

  • I use Extended Desktop and project the PowerPoint to my projector, leaving the actual file open on my computer monitor. This allows me to move the balloons around without restarting the slideshow.
  • I always edit the file at 50% magnification, because…
  • balloonpop5There are four balloons on the sides of the score slide that you can quickly copy and paste into each group’s box. Hold down CTRL and drag while you have something selected to quickly make a copy of it.
  • balloonpop6When you’re making your questions and answers, the answer is on a text box to the right of the question. Again, editing at 50% magnification will make it easier to navigate without scrolling so much.
  • balloonpop8Click the “Score” button on a question slide to go back  to the score slide.
  • balloonpop7Click the numbered buttons on the bottom of the score slide to go to each question. They turn green after you’ve clicked them once because I got tired of forgetting which question we were on.
  • Click anywhere on a question slide to show the answer.

Click here to download my blank balloon pop template (.ppt).


September 2015 Problem Calendars

After an inexplicable absence during the last school year, problem calendars are back in 2015–2016. My plan is to fill in the missing months and fix all those pesky errors. As always though, if you find errors… please let me know!

I made a few changes in the content of the questions. In particular, on the unit conversion questions I got rid of the information like how many feet are in a mile. I’d like to help my students be more resourceful this year, and that is one step in that direction.

There are no explicit instructions about process being more important than the answer on these, so you’ll need to stress that in class. I remind students that everyone already knows the answer to each of the questions, and that one of the things we’re practicing is explaining our reasoning, thinking, and process. That means, for example, that you have to show all your steps when solving an equation on these, even if you could do it in your head.

Algebra 1 (.docx) Algebra 1 September 2015
Algebra 2 (.docx) Algebra 2 September 2015
Geometry (.docx) Geometry September 2015

Simplifying radicals war

We played this game in, like, October. It’s based off of someone else’s hard work—probably this post, but, you know, October.

I’m presenting my version of it though because I did a little work to find what I think is a better rule-set. One of the problems that you run into if you use the “normal” values for cards (jack = 11, queen = 12, king = 13) is that the majority of the numbers you get (around 60%) aren’t able to be simplified. In my version, 61% of the possible numbers can be simplified, while also having enough variety to keep it interesting. (It’s possible to make almost all of the possibilities simplifiable, but you have to use only 2, 4, 8 and that’s a little boring…)

Here are the rules. It’s based on War and involves two players:

  • Remove all 3s, 7s, 10s, and jokers from the deck.
  • Jacks count as 4. Queens count as 8. Kings count as 12. Aces count as 1.
  • Each player starts with half the deck.
  • Each player draws a card. Use the two cards to form the radicand by concatenation. So if the two cards drawn are 5 and 2, the square root is \sqrt{52}. A king and a queen makes \sqrt{128}. Students will need to agree on a method for determining which number comes first.
  • Both players try to simplify the radical as quickly as possible. I’m not usually into speed-math, but sometimes it’s okay, I suppose.
  • Whoever simplifies the square root first gets to keep both cards. The goal is to collect the whole deck.
  • If the square root isn’t able to be simplified, players take their cards back and try again. You can also play by switching the order of the cards if the first order didn’t work and only taking the cards back if neither order works.

Click here for a copy of the slide I used in the classroom. It’s the same as above, but with some pictures. It’s kind of ugly…

How I’m using Plickers in my classroom

Twitter was all abuzz about Plickers this summer, so I jumped on the bandwagon. I didn’t see a way to add pictures to the questions, so I came up with this system.

First, I put the question I want to ask in a PowerPoint file. Right now, I’m keeping all of the exit slip questions in one file with the hope that I might actually manage to re-use them next year.

The naming scheme at the bottom of the slide is my attempt to stay organized in my plan book and on the Plickers website (again, for use next year).

On the Plickers website, I plan a question with the same name as the slide. I’m also including a short description of the topic in the question name. For the possible answers, I don’t put the actual answers. Instead, I put the common misconception that each distractor represents.


For my linear pairs question, this means I include an option for students who think they are complementary, one for congruent, and one for the strange phenomenon I’m seeing this year where students think you can just divide 180 by 4.

When it’s time to use the question in class, I display the PowerPoint on the projector. I don’t show students the graph, but now when I look at the results on the website (or my phone as I’m scanning), I see this:


I’m liking it so far because:

  • It makes it super easy to see what the (likely) misunderstanding was because I don’t have to re-do the problem to see what “A” means.
  • Students don’t see what each distractor represents.
  • I only see the information I care about (the misunderstandings) when I view the graph.
  • It lets me put whatever I want as the material for each question, including tables, pictures, good-looking mathematical equations, etc.

The drawback is that students don’t get to see the graph update in real time. But they haven’t seemed too distraught over that. As I was writing this, though, I figured you could probably still display the live view, if you made your internet window small enough to only show the graph… like this:


I still don’t think I’ll do that though, because I like to focus on our exit tickets as “show what you know so I can help you if you need it” and not competition to get the right answer.

Other information without a home: I taped a Plicker card to each student’s interactive notebook and put them into the system using that number, so I get feedback on which specific student missed what problem. I totally recommend doing that if you’re using ISNs. It’s nice that they don’t have to go hunting for their card since their ISN is (theoretically) always with them.

Triangle sort

Pretty standard activity, but I liked this one a lot. First I wrote each of the sets of numbers below on sticky notes.

Non-triangle Right triangle Non-right triangle
8, 9, 17 5, 12, 13 9, 10, 15
8, 12, 20 6, 8, 10 9, 14, 15
3, 6, 11 3, 4, 5 5, 12, 15
6, 7, 16 9, 12, 15 8, 12, 13
8, 12, 21 9, 13, 2√22 4, 2√55, 16
1, 6, 7 5, 10, 5√5 4√2, 6, 9
6, 11, 19 2√2, 2√2, 4 5, 4√10, 14
4, 6, 12 √57, 13, √226 √5, √10, √14

A bad picture of some sorted sticky notesWhen students came in for the day, I chose a sticky note for them (woohoo, differentiation!) and told them to wait for further instructions. When class began, I told them to figure out if their set of three numbers represented the side lengths of a non-triangle, a right triangle, or a non-right triangle. Once they were confident in their answer, they were to put the sticky note in the appropriate location on the window.

Once all the sticky notes were placed, I looked to see if they were all in the right spot. If there were any mistakes, I had everyone grab a different sticky from what they had before, and check whether it was correctly classified. Then we repeated the process until all were correctly classified. Students were encouraged to work together to make sure they knew how to categorize three side lengths—and they actually did!

This was on an otherwise-individual work day, so after students had placed their sticky note on the window, they worked independently on other work. I definitely recommend doing it that way if you’re going to be mean like I was and insist on 100% accuracy without giving any hints as to which sticky notes are incorrectly categorized. Also I used my super-sticky Post-its, which are awesome and withstood an entire day of sticking and unsticking.

Operations on Rational Expressions Partner “Game”

Sometimes when I call these types of things a game my students get a little cranky. I think it’s because they can see through my lies. This isn’t a game. It’s just a fun worksheet (for certain definitions of fun). I like it because students traditionally struggle with both simplifying rational expressions and doing operations with them. This worksheet gives students practice doing both, and forces students to work together to make sure they actually understand what they’re doing.asdf

I split students into pairs and give each pair one worksheet to share. Then they spend an hour working like the perfect little angels they are. They know if they did everything correctly because the answer that zeta gets for #1 will be the same as the one phi gets for #1.

Student: Help! We didn’t get the same answer! Is that okay?

Teacher: Oh noes! Better work together to figure out who made a mistake where. Isn’t this a fun game?!

I use a custom paragraph style to make it easy to keep the answers in the same document as the problems. To hide & show the answers (in Word 2013) you should:

  1. Find the Answers style on the style ribbon at the top of your screen.
  2. Right-click and select Modify.
  3. Change the text color to white (to hide) or not-white (to show) using the color box in the middle of the pop-up window.
  4. Click the Ok button.

If you don’t have the style ribbon, it’s hidden away in some menu somewhere :). You could also just delete the answers. Or print it out and then white-out over the answers.

Click here for the Word file.