This last Friday, my first graders walked into a total classroom transformation. Our whole day was filled with Mario! The day was centered around Design Thinking and Math, with a Mario Kart theme. It started off with the students coming into the transformed classroom with Mario theme music playing in the background, and Mario Kart on Nintendo Switch set up and ready for the kids to play.
The students took turns racing on Mario Kart as they trickled into the classroom. I wanted to give some context for the students that have maybe never played Mario Kart. Plus, it was a fun way to start the day.
Then, we moved into the design process. I had a cardboard box for each student that they were to turn into a car for our Mario Kart math games. The students spent time on Thursday analyzing and finding some potential problems, that they would need to solve in order for the box to be an efficient car. For example, the boxes would need to stay up on the students while they were running around playing the games, the cars would need to be the correct size in order for the students to be able to move around, and the students needed some way to be able to collect gold coins and not drop and/or lose them while running around in their cars. The students then spent time sketching and labeling at least four different ideas of how they could keep the coins from dropping out of their car design.
On Friday morning, the students carried their cardboard box down to our school’s design lab. They spent 75 minutes designing their Mario Kart cars. Their top criteria was to have the car be able to stay on them for the games, and for the coins to be able to stay attached to the car during the whole time. Their constraints were that they had 75 minutes and could only use any materials and/or tools found in the lab (which is actually a lot). The students came up with all types of designs. Some made straps to hold it up and others cut out leg holes that were just the right size to hold up their box. Some used ribbon for straps, others used rope, and some even used tape that they put back to back to make straps. In order the hold the coins, some made compartments out of cardboard and hot glued them to their cars, some made bags and attached them, and others made little compartments inside of their cars. Every student was totally engaged and working hard the whole 75 minutes and honestly could have worked for much longer if they didn’t have the time constraint.
After the students finished their cars, we went back to the transformed classroom. The first math game that we played involved the gold coins that I had set up along our shiplap wall. Each coin had an addition problem on it, as well as, a white card with the coin number. The students were given a packet with three pages of addition problems. They were either Mario, Luigi, or Yoshi packets. This allowed me to differentiate the types of addition problems that each student did. Some pages had three addends, some had missing numbers in the addition equations, some had story problems, and some had four addends.
The students solved a problem in their packets and then found a gold coin that had the same sum as the problem. They then put the coin number in the circle. When they had finished a page, they should it to me (Luigi) or my parent volunteer (Mario) and if they got all the problems correct and found the corresponding coins, they earned a gold coin (gold paper plate).
After about 30 minutes, the students gathered their gold coins, got in their cardboard cars, and headed to the gym with their fourth grade buddies. In the gym, there were posters with the numbers 1-30 across the walls. The students were given three sticky notes with addition problems on them. They had to solve them, put them on the correct posters with the corresponding sums, and then return to collect a gold coin and get three more sticky notes. This continued for about 25 minutes. The problems got increasingly more difficult as they kept coming back for more sticky notes.
Overall, the day was a huge success that got the whole school excited, not just my first grade class. The fourth grade buddies came to gym to play the Mario Kart math game with my students and to remind them addition strategies as the problems got increasingly harder. Before school, our classroom was full of students from other classrooms checking out the transformation and watching the first graders race on Mario Karts. My students were super engaged and ended up doing a TON of math.
I believe in giving my students experiences and unforgettable memories intertwined with rigorous academics. Students are so much more inclined to have a growth mindset and challenge themselves when they are engaged and happy.