A Candy Bar Competition?

Ah, Mondays. I hate them. Alas, it is no surprise that when you spend a long time preparing something for your students, it will go awry. Indeed, it seems inevitable.

Over the weekend, I prepared SmartBoards for all three of my classes. Of course, I go into my classroom and see the dreaded red and orange lights of the projector blinking. No, not just blinking, more like maliciously mocking me. Blink. Blink. Blink blink blinkblinkblinkblink blink blink. The projector wouldn’t turn on.

At least I learned my lesson from last year, when the exact same thing happened a few times, and I knew how to cope. The secret: wing it. Seriously. Trying to “recreate” the presentation will be a flop.

And so I did. And things went okay. Not amazing — but okay.

With four school days down (and about 160 left), I can say that so far I think I’m in a really good groove with two of my classes. The other two are trickier, and I can’t quite get a pulse reading from them. It isn’t that they are dead, exactly. It’s just that I don’t see the students’ personalities yet — they aren’t coming out naturally.

That’s my fault. I haven’t quite given us any time to bond as a class; I dove right into material for a variety of reasons. And now we aren’t having the relaxed and anxiety-free atmosphere I always thought I was so good at fostering. It isn’t that we are all tense or anything. It’s just that everything feels… well… slightly boring. And if math is anything, it is the opposite of boring.

So now I’m wondering if I can think of something to do during class on Friday to help us get to know each other, to help the two classes each become a cohesive set of adventurers working together — in an exciting atmosphere — to solve something mathy…

I’ve been thinking about having a candy bar competition: the class (or maybe break the class into two groups?) works as a unit to try to solve N problems in 40 minutes. If they can do it, they each get a candy bar at the end of class. (Hey, it worked for us in MathTeam, all those years ago when I was in high school. A blatant bribe, yes, but such a community builder!)

And since this is still the beginning of the year, I can find problems which should be “review” for them, but which they need to know well to succeed in the course (e.g. for Algebra II, they need to know their exponent rules from Algebra I; for Calculus, they need to know basic trigonometry).

Argh, this is more work for me, and it might just blow up in my face, but maybe it’ll be worth it? If I do it, I’ll post the results of this sociological experiment.



  1. My theory (possibly biased from my middle school perspective) is that the first week is the wrong time to break out candy bars.

    I do, but only in the second to last week of school, when the students return their textbooks. And I do it without warning, and only for the kids that return their textbooks on the first day that I say they’re due.

    98% of the remaining kids return them on the next day, but they don’t get a candy bar.

  2. Ah, middle school! I actually didn’t break out the candy in my middle school class until the very end of the year, when we were doing probability (“What is the probability of getting a royal flush? A pair? Three of a kind?”) and we started analzying M&M colors.

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