Math = Love

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Absolute Zero Card Game Review

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Elizabeth Mays, the creator of the Absolute Zero Card Game (affiliate link) to ask if I would be willing to review the game on my blog. If you've been around my blog much at all, you know that I love math games and puzzles, so I jumped at the opportunity.

A few days later, the package containing my Absolute Zero game (affiliate link) arrived. Inside, I found a small plastic case that was just slightly larger than a standard deck of cards.

The back of the case gives details about the goal of the game: "The first one with nothing wins!" You can also check out for more details. 

The first few cards in the deck share information on the deck's contents and the rule cards for the game. As a math teacher, I love that the same deck of cards can be used to play several different games! 

The cards in the deck are color-coded according to their sign. All of the positive cards are black, and all of the negative cards are red.  It felt almost shameful to shuffle these nicely organized cards!

As I mentioned before, this deck of cards can be used to play several different games. The Absolute Zero Game is appropriate for middle school through high school.  It could also be used in upper elementary classrooms if the students are already comfortable working with negative numbers. The other versions of the game (Addition War, Multiplication War, and What's the Difference?) are more appropriate for elementary classrooms.

Bonus: If you buy this game for your own kids, it can grow with them! There are K-5 versions provided in the instructions that only use the black cards. As your child learns about negative numbers, you can start to play more advanced versions of the game. 

Not sure if this game is appropriate for your students? Check out the rules for the game. The creator has posted a copy of the rules online here. For the rest of this post, I will only be referring to the rules for Absolute Zero, not the more elementary-specific versions of the game

Let's take a look at the rules for this game.

There are several things about the rules of this game that I love.

1. The game can be played with anywhere from 2 to 4 players. So many math games that are out there require an exact number of players. This can be tricky to implement in the classroom. I've had to stop what I was doing to play a game with a student because the game could only be played in pairs when we had an odd number of students in class. Yes, I enjoyed my time playing the game with the student, but it's not always ideal.

2. The game has built-in levels of difficulty. For the easiest level of the game, each player is dealt 3 cards. To increase the difficulty, increase the number of cards to 4 or 5. If you have multiple groups of students playing this game, you can easily differentiate between groups by having some groups deal three cards and other groups deal four or five cards. The only important thing to keep in mind is that each player in the group should be dealt the same number of cards.

3. The game is designed by a math teacher, and it shows. I love how game play encourages different strategies. When my husband and I played the game (we are both math teachers), we found ourselves going about reaching an absolute value of zero in completely different ways. Our conversation naturally turned to math as we discussed these varying strategies.

4. The actual rules of game play are simple. I can't tell you how many games I've bought with the intention of using with my students that sit in the cabinet and collect dust because the rules are just SO complicated.
  • Deal each player 3, 4, or 5 cards depending on your selected difficulty level. 
  • Place the remaining cards face down in the center. 
  • Flip over the top card to create a discard pile. 
  • On your turn, you can either draw a card from the deck and discard a card from your hand OR pick up the top card from the discard pile and discard a card from your hand. At the end of your turn, you should have the same number of cards you were dealt at the beginning. 
  • Play continues in a circle until the numbers on the cards in one player's hand add up to zero. 
Still confused about the directions? You can watch a quick 1 minute video that shows one round of the game being played here.

5. The rounds are relatively quick. The game moves so fast that your turn has come around again before you know it. There's no time to get bored with this game! 

There are special rules for scoring, but I will be honest with you and say that I have ignored them when teaching students how to play this game. If I was going to spend a large chunk of class playing this game with my students, I would introduce the scoring rules and use the free printable score sheet provided online. If I was just going to use this game as a station or early-finisher activity, I would probably ignore the scoring rules altogether.

Here are the scoring rules:

When my husband and I played a few rounds, we did play with the absolute value scoring rule. Knowing that I would be greatly penalized if I lost with a bunch of positive cards or a bunch of negative cards definitely changed my strategy. There were several rounds where I ended up being dealt three negative cards. I found myself trading for the cards in the discard pile just because they were positive and would bring my score down in case my husband ended up beating me to absolute zero first.

You can watch a 2 minute video about how scoring works here.

I used this game as an early-finisher activity for some of my classes who were ahead of my other classes. My students really struggled with reading the directions for themselves to get started with the game, so I ended up giving them a quick tutorial of how the game worked before they got started.

I do not believe this is a fault of the game's written instructions but of my students' direction following abilities. I find that I have to do this with EVERY SINGLE GAME. As a kid, my sister and I spent many a Saturday afternoon deciphering the instructions of a new board game that we had purchased at a garage sale that morning. Many of my students have never had to read game directions for themselves. They are much more familiar with computer and mobile-based games where you are walked through the directions in a tutorial level.

My husband and I were able to quickly teach ourselves how to play the game based only on the written directions on the card. If you think your students will struggle, you might show them the instruction video linked to above before allowing them to start playing!

Here are a few action shots I took while some of my students were playing. 

I told one group of students that I had received this game in the mail, and I was supposed to see what my students thought of it so I could report their thoughts back to the creator. One student piped up, "You can tell the creator that it's an okay game for a MATH game." This was not the glowing recommendation from my student that I had hoped for. Luckily, the story didn't end there.

The next day, we had a few minutes left at the end of class, and I once again let my students who were finished with everything pick up a game off of the table to play. This same student who had described it as just an "okay game" decided that she was going to play Absolute Zero for the second day in a row. A few days later, I overheard this student once again talking to another student. They were comparing the games in the pile and discussing which one was their favorite. One student boasted that Otrio was the best game in the pile. The other student, however, began to try to explain why the Absolute Zero game was the most fun game in the pile. She even broke into a quick explanation of the rules.

So, there you have it: this game is both math teacher and student approved!

I think the game has great potential for classroom usage, and I think it's a fun strategy card game to just keep around your house. Or maybe that's just the weird opinion of this math teacher and her math teacher husband...

The game is well designed. Game play is smooth. The mathematical elements of the game are spot-on without seeming too math-focused. My only complaint lies in the plastic carrying case that the game comes in. After being opened and closed several times by students, the box no longer stays shut. This isn't a huge problem. A quick rubber band around the box will fix the issue.

Want this game for your classroom? You can pick up a copy (or two or three!) at Amazon (affiliate link).

Friday, February 23, 2018

Five Things Friday: Volume 11

It's Friday once again which means it's time to compile another post with some of the smaller goings-on in my classroom that deserve to be compiled and shared. I didn't plan it this way, but 4/5 of this post has to do with my chemistry class.

1. In Chemistry, we're currently practicing classifying compounds as covalent, ionic, or both. Yesterday, we practiced this skill by classifying common, everyday compounds.

2. I'm super pleased with how my students' atomic theory timeline projects turned out. We didn't have time to cover every theory in class, so this project helped round-out our understanding of atomic theory.

3. We pulled out my sticker collection recently in the name of learning how to create electron dot diagrams. I'm currently on a sticker buying ban for good reason...

My kids complain about how easy it is for me to draw dots on the SMARTBoard and how time consuming it is to draw their own dots. When you pull out stickers, the complaining goes away!

4. Have a few extra odd minutes at the end of class? Try an online game of Think Fun's Rush Hour.

5. My chemistry students have really taken to using our mole map as a tool for conversion problems. If I was only a science teacher (instead of a math teacher who teaches one hour of science each day), I would definitely have a giant version of this on the wall! 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Things Teenagers Say: Volume 53

Well, we finally got a snow/ice day here in Oklahoma! To celebrate this unexpected day off, I'm sharing a new volume of Things Teenagers Say.

Check out previous issues of Things Teenagers Say:


You don't drink pop?!? You're not American!


On Tie Dye Day for Spirit Week...
Someone should have worn a tie that said DYE on it!


Do you think when you're pregnant, it's heavy?


Valentine's Day is for people who are dating.


What if someone named their children Mr. and Mrs?


It smells like an herb in here.


Student 1: Can I have a bite?
Student 2: Well, your ex-boyfriend already took a bite, so why not?
Student 1: Which one?


I don't know how to hula hoop, guys.


I've always felt kinda put-off by the rabbit.


Student: I forgot to get this signed.
Me: That's okay. Get it signed this weekend and bring it back on Monday.
Student: Unless I can forge his signature.
Me: Please don't.
Student: Oh, I can't forge his signature. He writes like those old George Washington type people with the fancy handwriting.


It's okay. We all have shirts that are too big for us. Big shirts are comfy shirts.


My brother tried to do a British accent, and it sounded like an Australian duck dying.


When I have twins, I'm going to name them "Greater Than" and "Less Than." The one that weighs the most will be "Greater Than," and the one that weighs the least will be "Less Than."


You've got to help me, help you, kill her.


After answering a call in class that turned out to be a robocall...
Next time someone calls you randomly, just ask "Do you have the drugs?" They'll hang up right away.


While playing Absolute Zero (affiliate link)... 
Student 1: You're such a cheater!
Student 2: No, I'm just sneaky.


Why do your glue sticks look like they came from a hospital?


There's a potato chip in my notebook!


Mrs. Carter, you look like you went to a funeral today.


Mrs. Carter is not in a bad mood, she's just being sassy.


Student: What does M T B O S stand for?
Me: Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere
Student: Good job! (Said while reading my twitter feed...)


Student 1: What's the vertex? I'm aching in anticipation to find out the vertex!
Student 2: Vertex? I thought it was pronounced vortex!


Can we host a memorial for Slope Dude?


It's not stealing. It's borrowing forever without asking. I have excuses for every situation.


When I have twins, I'm going to name them "Greater Than" and "Less Than." The one that weighs the most will be "Greater Than," and the one that weighs the least will be "Less Than."


If I had a British accent, I would never shut up.


Student: How'd you get this? (my OKC Thunder Teacher of the Game Plaque)
Me: I went to the game.
Student: Did you get free tickets?
Me: Yes.
Student: Did you get to touch Russell Westbrook's butt?
Me: No.


Student: So, what are you and Mr. Carter going to do for your anniversary?
Me: Stay at school late for parent teacher conferences.
Student: Afterwards, they are going to go home and eat carrots.


You're a bad word, so shut up!


So the box that says "test space" isn't for testing your marker? Because that's what I used it for.


Everyone loses their train of thought when they see me!


You have a lot of math posters on the wall!


What do teachers do when they are not at school?


Student 1: He really wants to see a mushroom cloud.
Student 2: All you have to do is burn a mushroom. Then, you'll see a cloud.


My graph is sophisticated and color-coded.


I'm going to start a twitter account called math equals hate and tweet about Mrs. Carter.


Can I borrow a tippy tappy thing?


Your husband is such a doll.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cover the Heart Puzzle from Puzzle Box, Volume 3

It's time to update y'all about the happenings of one of my favorite places in my classroom - the puzzle table. Even though Valentine's Day was LAST week, I've got a bit of a Valentine/Heart themed puzzle out for my students to tackle this week. 

I found this puzzle in Puzzle Box, Volume 3 (affiliate link), and I've decided to call it "Cover the Heart." The puzzle was created by Tanya Grabarchuk. The only thing I did was create a version of the puzzle with physical pieces of the puzzle for my students to move around. This puzzle book (and the entire series for that fact!) are chock-full of puzzles that can easily be adapted for classroom use. 

The instructions are pretty simple. Arrange the five pieces to entirely cover the heart shape below. You can rotate pieces and flip them over, but you cannot overlap the pieces. 

If you've already tried the Cover the Duck or Cover the Camel Puzzles with your students, you will be excited to hear that this puzzle uses the EXACT same pieces! It was nice to be able to just print out another puzzle board and not have to laminate any new puzzle pieces. 

Speaking of other puzzles, did you hear that I created a new page on my blog solely dedicated to puzzles?!? You can find links to every single puzzle I have ever blogged about here

I did run into one snafu with this puzzle that I was NOT expecting. Some of my students thought that the heart that they were supposed to be covering was the heart in the middle of the shape instead of the overall heart shape. I guess I need to figure out a way to clarify the instructions to make it clear exactly what part of the shape students should be covering. 

You can download the file for this puzzle here. Special thanks to the Grabarchuk Family for providing me a free copy of this book! If you've been enjoying using the puzzles from the Grabarchuk Family's books, I highly recommending supporting them by purchasing a copy of one of their books from Amazon. Each Puzzle Box book (affiliate link) contains 300 awesome puzzles that you can use with your students or for your own puzzle solving enjoyment. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Equivalent Fractions Card Sort

My Math Concepts students are currently working through a self-paced review of all things fractions. One key skill for my students to wrap their minds around is the idea of equivalent fractions. Proof this skill is important: I still have students in my Algebra 1 classes asking me to explain why we replaced 2/4 with 1/2 in our equation.

To give my students plenty of practice with this skill and time to discover some of the patterns between equivalent fractions on their own, I decided to type up a set of cards to be used as a card sort.

My deck of cards consisted of every single proper fraction (51 of them) that can be made using the sets of fraction tiles from EAI Education (affiliate link). Each student has a set of these tiles thanks to a generous grant from my school district's education foundation. They have proven to be an amazing resource.

In groups of 2 or 3, students worked together using their fraction tiles as a reference to place the cards in piles where each fraction in the pile is equivalent.

Two of my three groups did this efficiently and only with minor mistakes.

My third group really struggled with staying focused on this activity and taking it seriously. After an entire class period, they had not finished the activity. Since we're working through this unit at our own individual rates, this meant that this group could not move on to the later activities until this card sort was finished.

It was interesting to see each group take a different approach to matching up the equivalent fractions.

Some groups were very methodical. Others took a more haphazard approach.

Overall, I think this activity was worthwhile. I wanted to have them make more connections to what makes various fractions equivalent to one another, but this didn't go as planned since one group did not finish in the allotted time.

In the future, I would make several tweaks to this activity. I would have students assemble the equivalent fractions along a number line made of masking tape on the floor. I also would take the blank fraction cards and have students create their own equivalent fractions to add to each group.

Interested in the file for this activity? I've uploaded it here.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday Must Reads: Volume 31

Happy Monday! It's President's Day here in the US which means a day off at my school. And, let me say that this day off is much needed. We haven't had a single snow day this year, and I've really missed having a few unexpected breaks during the school year. This was originally supposed to be a professional day for us, but we get the day off since we attended a PD day during the summer that counted for today.

Once again, I'm compiling a list of the great ideas I ran across on twitter and in my RSS reader this week. I hope you enjoy this week's "Must Reads."

Liz Mastalio shares an awesome graphic organizer that I will definitely be stealing if I ever have to teach exponent rules again! My students used to never know when they were done simplifying. I can't believe I never thought to give them a checklist!

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My school struggles to get a good turn-out for parent teacher conferences. We're always looking for ideas that will get parents in the building. Liz Mastalio tracks how many students/parents came to conferences by breaking them down by their house. LOVE this idea!

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I've been super-impressed with the immigration project that Rick Barlow has been having his students complete. Check out more information on Rick's blog!

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Maria Dunlap modified a slope activity that I posted on my blog last week to involve tooth picks, and it made the activity at least ten times more awesome!

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Texas Math Teacher shares a creative way to help students estimate square roots that aren't perfect squares.

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As teachers, we often complain that our students are out of touch with the reality of the world around them. Ron King's Million Dollar Project works to tackle this problem by opening students' eyes to the realities of paying for college, buying a house, buying a car, budgeting for vacations, and researching charities before donating to them.

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Nico Rowinsky shares a photo of an awesome bulletin board. I love this idea of showing off students' struggles instead of rewarding students who completed the task quickly on their first try.

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Kim Spek has blown my mind by sharing a step-by-step tutorial for creating a fabric hexaflexagon!

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Illustrative Math poses an interesting question: which inequality would your students say doesn't belong?

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I love this idea shared by Erin Schultz of creating a Demos Wall of Fame.

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Team Maths shares another awesome resource by Don Steward. These arithmogon puzzles give students critical practice working with integers! Be sure to check out Don's entire post here.

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Need a fun practice idea? Check out this activity from Erin Dunn. Students earned a cup for each equation they solved correctly. The final challenge? Build the tallest tower possible.

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10ticks shares a fun area-based algebra puzzle for your puzzling enjoyment.

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I know Valentine's is now a distant memory, but I can't keep from including this creative Valentine that Kassia Wedekind's daughter received from her preschool teacher.

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Shera Higbee brings out the creativity in her students by posting a student-created math pun on the board each day.

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Planning for next month's Pi Day? Jacqueline Tishler shares the idea of engaging students with a kahoot on pi facts.

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David Butler shares a heart-shaped puzzle he created for his wife for Valentine's Day.

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Have some popsicle sticks laying around? Check out this idea from Maria Dunlap.

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Molly Hamilton inspires me. She created a twitter account just to share some awesomeness that her students created. How cool is that?!?

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Cassandra Valenti engaged students on Valentine's Day by having them graph some cardoids by hand.

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Steve Phelps shares some candy-based fun for your statistics lesson.

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Jessica Silas wins the award for coolest use ever for a clinometer.

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Caitlyn Gironda shares a great real-world application of geometry by examining food deserts.

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Mark McCourt shares an interesting geometry problem from John Mason.

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Parmenter Math shares an awesome heart-themed WODB.

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I love this question approach from Jae Ess where students are given the answer and have to create their own math problem to equal it.

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Allie Webb shares a real-world example of compound inequalities.

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Mariel Mates wants to encourage crafty math teachers to knit or crochet their own pi day scarf that has rows of colors corresponding to the digits of pi. I'm not sure I will pull this off for this year, but maybe next year will be the year?!?

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Until next Monday, keep up the awesome sharing!