Sunday, March 29, 2020
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A game of Zingo! in algebra I at Alton HS

I visited Tim Young’s freshman algebra class in October, and, because of an illness, I’m just now getting a chance to pass on a fun game he played with his students to get them comfortable manipulating numbers and operational symbols in numerical expressions. The game is known, by Mr Young’s class at Alton High School in Alton, Ill., as Zingo!

Supplies you’ll need

  • Three dice: one 8-sided, one 12-sided, and one 20-sided
  • Zingo! game card, available at the link as an 8½" × 11" PDF file

Instructions for the teacher

  1. Make sure all students have a blank Zingo! game card, and have them put the numbers 1–42 in the corner of each rectangle, like a calendar. (There are 49 rectangles in the 7×7 grid, so the numbers 1–7 should each be placed in two rectangles.)
  2. Roll the dice and write the three numbers on the board (don’t take too long).
  3. Students should combine one occurrence of each number rolled and any math operations they want in order to get a value for the expression that matches an open space on their Zingo! card.
  4. For each roll of the dice, students write their expression in the rectangle where the number in the corner, which they wrote in Step 1, matches the value of the expression.
  5. Repeat steps 2–4 until a winner yells out, “Zingo!” (If kids assigned numbers well or are manipulating those numerical expressions with ease, it should take fewer than 15 rolls of the dice to get a winner.)
  6. The winner is the student who fills five consecutive rectangles in a straight line, either up-and-down, left-to-right, or diagonally, with valid numerical expressions that evaluate to the number written in the corner of each of those five rectangles.

Some game variations

Mr Young doesn’t allow his students to simply put plus signs in between the three numbers. For example, if he rolls a 3, an 8, and a 16, students can’t write “3 + 8 + 16” and put it in the rectangle for 27.

You can make up other little rules, such as not using consecutive minus signs, not using radicals, as in cube roots or square roots, and so on.

But be careful not to make things too complicated. The object here is to increase students’ comfort level when it comes to manipulating numerical expressions, not to make them remember a whole bunch of rules.

When I played along in class, I had five in a row on the second row of my card. I wrote the numbers 1, 8, 7, 18, and 2 in those five rectangles, and here’s how I filled in the expressions:

13-2\times6 = 1
\frac{17-1}{2} = 8
10 + 8 - 11 = 7
2(16 - 7) = 18
15 - (11 + \sqrt{4}) = 2

Common Core standards addressed

This game isn’t technically algebra, since it doesn’t involve variables. But the algebraic thinking, moving numbers and mathematical operations around, is certainly pre-algebra. As such, it’s clear Mr Young was refreshing his “freshman algebra” students on some seventh- and eighth-grade skills early in the school year.

Common Core math standard 7.EE.B.3, for example, says students should be able to “Apply properties of operations to calculate with numbers in any form; convert between forms as appropriate …” That applies here as students change the form of expressions to match the contents of the rectangles on the Zingo! card.

These days, many advanced kids take algebra I in eighth grade. But Mr Young’s class that October morning held about 25 freshmen who were not in that category and were being led, ably, by a teacher who knew they had to learn how to walk before they could run.

Have fun!

We extend our sincere thanks to Alton High School and to Ms Annice Brave, a National Board Certified Teacher and Illinois’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, for their kind hospitality in allowing us to develop this story.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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