Zombies, Aliens, and Supervillains: Increasing Engagement in the Math Classroom

*Editor's note: Todd Miller is a Canvas Teacher of the Year award recipient.  

Canvas Teacher of the Year Awards

“Mr. Miller, I still don’t like math,” a student admitted at the end of the year. “But, I really like your class.”

Yeah, I get that all the time. It just goes to show that students can grow, succeed, and enjoy their learning if they’re engaged and having fun. 

Having embraced blended learning, I incorporate a few tools to engage my students, including iPads, Minecraft, and online applications, but my most used tool by far is Canvas. Earlier this year, after spending time working with Breakout EDU boxes, I set off to create an engaging and unique activity within Canvas--digital lockboxes.

Todd Miller photo

While I know I should begin with an objective or an assessment, it’s the theme that will grab their attention, so I always start there. 

As I construct the module, I settle on number of tasks, structure (a linear or open-world story), and content. In order to build perseverance and critical thinking skills, I’ll use math problems, riddles, word scrambles, cipher wheels, etc. The students solve the tasks in hopes of discovering the code words.

Once the tasks are created, it’s time to set up the quiz. When the students enter the code words, MasteryPaths will send them to a victory screen and class rewards, or to a dreaded defeat screen.

Let me walk you through one of my digital lockboxes: Save the Olympics

The students are CIA agents assisting INTERPOL in the capture of the world’s greatest thief. The thief has stolen medals from several event locations of the PyeongChang Olympics. 

Task #1: The students use Google Maps to explore the YangYang International Airport, looking for a specific Korean word.

Task #2: Using Wikipedia, they research curling in order to solve a math problem (and find the code).

Task #3: The students use the medal count to complete a Google Sheet, adding formulas to specific cells. Once completed, the sheet will reveal the code.

Task #4: The students must study the text communication (which I created using an online fake text generator) between the thief and an accomplice, looking for the clue words which will lead them to the code.

Task #5: Using Google Maps and Google Slides, I created a tour of the Gangneung Hockey Centre. The students search the area for the code.

It just goes to show that students can grow, succeed, and enjoy their learning if they’re engaged and having fun. 

My intention for this digital lockbox was to use external tools, such as Google Apps, Google Maps, and Wikipedia; introduce the students to the PyeongChang Olympics, and offer a fun, unique, challenging extension activity.

Whether my students are solving digital lockboxes, creating presentations with online applications, using Minecraft to illustrate fractions, or scanning QR codes to solve math problems, it’s essential that they are engaged in the activity. I want them to have fun because they will stay focused on tasks, persevere through challenges, and collaborate with their peers. At the end of the year, they still may not enjoy math, but they learned a thing or two.

I’ve shared my digital lockboxes course in Canvas Commons:

https://lor.instructure.com/resources/b10daa8f0e6042bb9ecc273e9014fd5b

 

Keep learning,

Todd Miller
Teacher, Arlington Independent School District (Texas)