Report on a Math Tournament

**This post contains the materials and advice you’ll need to run a distanced math tournament with your district, division, school, province, state, classroom, family, coworkers, neighbours, etc., etc., etc.**

Honestly, the more math love, the better! (IMHO)

In mid-October, I designed a math provincial math tournament open to all middle school teachers in my home province of Saskatchewan, Canada. After writing up a blog post that served as a formal invitation, the tournament (which I affectionately called the Saskatchewan Mathematics Invitational Tournament–or #SMIT2020 for short) has been running for just over a month with over 80 classrooms from across the province playing Federico Chialvo’s delightful game MULTI. (see here for more information).

The response from the tournament has been amazing–better than I could have imagined. Teachers sent stories of students asking about their game first thing in the morning, debating productive moves, asking students in the other class questions, practicing with one another, asking deep questions, and creating side games to play their friends and family. Teachers connected with colleagues province-wide, forming connections in a unusually disconnected time, and some old friends were reunited over some friendly competition.

Since then, several people have asked for the materials to run their own version of the tournament. After clearing this idea with the game’s creator, I’ve decided to provide the logistics I’ve used to run the tournament. They aren’t pretty, and others probably have nicer, more streamlined ways to do this, but I was working with a limited technological savvy and an overactive ambition to get playful math to classrooms as quickly as possible.

Some parameters:

  • Please use the slide template linked to this post that includes watermarks directing people back to both Federico’s and my work. If you adapt the format to be more user-friendly, please include similar references to our work.
  • Please encourage tournament participants to buy the game (the print & play version is only $5). This little gesture supports Federico as he designs joyful math experiences for youngsters–an exploit near and dear to my heart. (This encouragement can start with keeping the FAQ slides in the Google Slides set).
  • Please encourage playfulness and reasoning over competition and dominance. The tournament has no winner, because I believe the spirit of connectedness requires us to refrain from crowning a champion.

The details:

All the necessary templates are available to you in this Google Folder. You can make copies to your own Google Drive and then alter them to fit your context. Below, I describe how I used them to organize the tournament.

The Sign-up Form:

The initial intake to the tournament was done with a Google Form. All fields were mandatory, including fields for school and community. It’s fun for the kids to see where the opponent is from. I closed the form on a set date, but I left my email in the case that anyone wanted to enter late. The more the merrier! After I closed the form, I exported it to an Excel file, and that became the master file I used to correspond with participants and keep track of games.

The Slides:

The slides are the core component of the tournament. They begin with introductory slides that link to official instructions for the game, describe how to make each move, and answer some FAQs. After those, the rest of the slides each contain a single game of MULTI–complete with all the draggable pieces necessary to play the game.

The key piece here is that the slides’ permissions needed to be set so anyone with the link could edit. That way they could move the game pieces to make moves. Therefore, the possibility exists that games are accidentally deleted (didn’t happen, but I suppose it could) or moved because new blank slides are accidentally added (did happen. I cleaned it up every so often). Each slide contains two text boxes, where I manually input the teacher’s name, grade, school, and community. This was tedious, but necessary so teachers could find their home slide if it were to shift by accident.

I organized my tournament on three separate slide decks because I was worried about lag if too many played at same time. In hindsight, the asynchronous nature of the game meant this was not an issue, and in the future I will run on a single slide deck.

The Back-up Slide Deck:

This is a slide deck that contains a blank game. To create a new game, simply copy that game board slide into the tournament slide deck. (There are more details about copy-pasting in the Back-up Slide Deck file). Manually enter in the participants’ information, and you are ready to alert the participants that their game is waiting!

The Excel File:

This was automatically exported from the Google Form. I kept the first page an unordered list of participants, and created a second tab to keep track of the matchups. I went through and paired up all the participants based on 1) Grade level and 2) geography. When possible, I wanted classes playing classes of similar grades but from different communities across the province. As I paired up participants, I copy-pasted their row of info into the second tab, leaving empty rows between the matchups so I could easy make sense of things. I also deleted the timestamp column that Google Form autogenerates and replaced it with a “Slide Number” column. That way I could keep track of which slide people are playing on.

As more classrooms asked to be included, I simply created a row for their info in the first tab of the Excel file. After the initial intake, this was done manually. Once I had two new participants, I copy-pasted their info to the second tab and set up the slide.

The Stock Email:

Every time a new game was started, I sent out a stock email. It included brief instructions on gameplay, troubleshooting, and how to communicate with both the opponent and myself. All you need to do is input the specifics of your tournament to the copy of the letter in the Google Folder. Once you do this, you only need to change the slide number that the participants are playing on each time you email new participants.

To send an email, I copy-pasted the two email addresses of the participants from my Excel File into the BCC line in the email message. Then copy-pasted the stock email text, double-checked I sent the correct slide number, and clicked “send”.

The Email Inbox:

Just a note on efficiency. Every SMIT-related email was flagged with the same colour of flag in my inbox. That way I could track new game requests and handle any troubleshooting issues that arose in an organized manner.

Some issues:

I ran into three main ones.

  • First, a couple participants needed to drop out. That was fine, I just reshuffled the games and sent email alerts to the impacted participants.
  • Second, a couple times there were minor rule discrepancies. When asked via email, I sent an email to both parties clarifying the rules and reminded them to use the Presenter’s Notes section to communicate.
  • Third, some participants played slowly. I sent emails asking if they needed help, and a couple times I set up a fast-paced class with two games to play at once.

One teacher mentioned that it helped her class to practice the game a few times before making moves on their official game. This levelled the participation threshold so every student could contribute to the thinking. Again, the digital copy of the game is very affordable.

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If you decide to take on the challenge of a MULTI math tournament, please include me in the fun! You can leave comments on this blog post, fill out my contact form to get in touch, or Tweet me, @NatBanting!

Pandemics aside, I think we all could use a little more math play in our lives!

NatBanting

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