Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gamifying the Unit Circle


Precalculus students must be able to evaluate trig functions quickly and easily in order for them to be able to handle later trig topics better. To assist students in that respect, throughout the years I have made sure that students compete in groups against one another in a game called UC Bowl. Below is a description of the game and how it is managed in class.

The Details!

  • The class was broken onto three competing teams.
  • Each team was allowed to have an ID sheet along with a UC chart.
  • Everything else including calculators had to be stashed away.
  • And each team was given a small whiteboard to write down final answers to shouted out problems.
  • Each rounds will involve a different team member acting as the scribe who would write the answer and quickly raise the board when prompted by me.
  • I am standing in the from of the room with a TI calculator and a rubber-head hammer as a gavel.
  • The TI calculator runs a Trig UC program written by a former colleague of mine (Thank you Eric Kamichke.) The calculator draws random Trig or Inverse Trig questions for students to answer as quickly as I allow for time-wise in any given round.
  • I hit announce the problem to be solved, hit the rubber hammer, the students begin solving the problem, I give a warning to write final answer, and then I hit the hammer once again to have the scribe raise the boar immediately.
  • Delays in raising the board results in a zero earned by the group and a word answers leads to a zero as well. Right answers are awarded one point each.
  • The scores are tabulated to keep track of the scores.
  • Between rounds pauses are taken to allow group members to reflect and discuss amongst themselves.
  • The winning group earns sweets and cool treats that vary from year to year.
  • Below is a sample of images showing some of the items listed in the above bullets.

Table Set Up for a Group in UC Bowl

Table Set Up for a Group in UC Bowl
Scoreboard for UC Bowl after six rounds!

Scoreboard for UC Bowl after six more rounds!
Scoreboard for UC Bowl after five more rounds!

Final Scoreboard for UC Bowl after the last four rounds were played!
Closing Remarks!

  • The engagements was wonderful by all teams.
  • The competition was fierce and even one team emerged as the wild posse team. The members dancing whenever they score points.
  • The team that came last had a good comeback in the second class day that the UC Bowl was conducted and they still have chances to redeem themselves.
  • The importance of UC and knowing values of trig and inverse trig functions began to sink in as an important part of learning trigonometry.
  • In later edition of the game, the trig ID sheets with its UC chart will be removed to allow students to do everything in their heads.

Final Note: Please, use the comments area to share your thoughts on this activity and what kind of games you engage your students in math to make their learning fun and competitive in a healthy way. Thank you


  1. Are the teams given enough time to arrive at an answer or does the first answer close off the time? This way students are rewarded for being right and not just for being fastest. Making sure enough time is allowed increases the communication and reasoning within the group. I'd add rotating the pen so each person is engaged at least to write down answers. I'd also pause every once and a while and pick a person or pair from a team to explain how they arrived at the answer. This keeps personal accountability up and allows the learning to be spread more in the class and extends the learning. I like that you have teams, a clear goal in the game and formalized the answers. Nice idea and would be a class I'd enjoy being a part of.

  2. 1) Thank you for your valuable comments.
    2) Yes, the students are given enough time varies depending on the difficulty of the problem at hand.
    3) I definitely like the idea of rotatiting the pen.
    4) This activity is not geared for graded assessment and as such individual accountability is not sought after. But, the cool thing that happens naturally is how students coach each other and tutor one another to get the ideas across.
    5) Indeed team spirit does build up in such games.
    6) Thank you for the kind words and the support.