Thursday, March 1, 2012

Systems of Equations Scavenger Hunt

My algebra 1 students are coming to the end of their unit on systems of equations.  So far, they've done so much better with it than my students last year that I've been completely blown away.  They even had very little difficulty with the word problems which still has me reeling.  I set up a ladder game type activity where they did problems in pairs and then came to check answers with me before getting a new problem to work on.  I told them I'd award jolly ranchers (I know, I know.  Bribery is not the solution to student engagement, but it just works so well...) to pairs that got the answer on the very first try.  I thought I wouldn't really be handing out any candy because they would struggle so much with the word problems that they'd never be able to get the right answers the first time.  I went broke.  They tore through my stash of candies.  All students got through the 4 problems that were part of the game and about half got through the additional 9 problems that were on the homework all in the space of one class period!

So this week I've been trying to come up with a summative assessment that really challenges my students.  I'm a little bit bored of tests and I want to try something related to the real world.  I spent an hour earlier this week trolling around the internet hoping to find some good, real world application, performance assessment type activity, or worksheet or project but I didn't see anything I liked.  There are some activities out there on supply and demand, but my students I think are more intrinsically motivated to do math than to learn about economics, so a supply and demand activity that's unconnected to their direct experience seems contrived, and less engaging to my students than pure math would be.  Maybe I could fabricate some scenario when they'd be interested in figuring out a supply and demand problem?  I think that this would be a really cool way to go with a summative assessment for this unit, but I can't think of anything practical, doable and a manageable amount of prep.  I played with the idea of a Settler's of Catan type game (where students trade for resources to build stuff) but this is WAY more prep than I can manage right now.  I'm really torn because after reading so many blogs and articles that stress the importance of showing students how their math knowledge can be used practically in the real world, I really want to plan projects and simulations into my classes but I just don't know how to make it genuine.  I could try something like what dy/dan does and find a cool and interesting real life example, but I haven't found one yet and I don't have the time to keep looking.  I played with other ideas like taking a map of a town or city and plotting the paths of cars and seeing where cars may crash or where the road would be the most worn down.  This seemed doable, but again, contrived and impractical.

Because I ran out of time to work on this, I made a game that's maybe a bit of a compromise.  I made a map of our school and superimposed a coordinate grid on it.  I'll hide envelopes in 9 different locations throughout the school.  Each envelope will have copies of problems in them.  I'll hand each pair of students a system of equations problem and they need to solve it, graph the solution on their map, and go to that location to find another problem.  That problem will send them somewhere else in the school.  This is just a variation of a test, but at least it gets the kids moving around and potentially gives them a spacial understanding of what systems of equations mean.  It only took me about three or four hours to prep this game (uggg...).  And it's not really what I wanted, but I think it will be pretty fun.

Here's the map.  I'm especially proud of this.  It will be really useful to have when we're doing any graphing activity in any of my math classes.

System of Equations Scavenger Hunt Map of SJS With Cartesian Grid

Here are the scavenger hunt problems I'll hide in different places around the school:

System of Equations Scavenger Hunt Cards
Here is the worksheets students will fill out as they go around the school

System of Equations Scavenger Hunt Handout
Finally, here's the answer key.  Of course, none of this is of any use to someone who doesn't work at my school and it won't be of any use to me when I leave this school (which is probably going to be soon), but I did put a lot of time and thought into it so I felt the need to share.

System of Equations Scavenger Hunt Key


  1. I don't know exactly how "authentic" it is, but one thing I did with my Grade 11 class is I designed work orders from a computer repair company that had missing information on them. I told them to imagine their boss was distrustful of the computer repair company and he has assigned them to figure out the missing information in the bills so he can assess whether he is being over-billed or not. I made the bills so the students could fill in some information on their own and then come up with a 3x3 systems of equations to solve the rest.

    Other than that, I've been pretty stretched to find examples where students could develop the system of equations on their own.

  2. I like this idea a lot as maybe a final performance assessment on linear systems. I haven't given them any problems involving three unknowns and it might be an interesting way to see if they can extend their knowledge to a new situation. It could be a perfect way to both challenge my students and to see if they really understood the content of the unit. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of giving them a problem with more than two missing variables and just letting them try to figure it out. Thanks for the suggestion

  3. This is a creative and FUN activity! I have created several "around the room" hunts and the students really enjoyed them. Your concept takes it to the next level! I hope you don't mind me stealing this ?!?!?!

  4. Thank you! I hope you can use it. It's aligned with a map of my school, but if you imposed your school onto a coordinate grid of the same size, it should still work. I'd just recommend being super careful with matching the correct symbols to the correct place. I made a mistake when I taped the envelopes around the school and accidentally made two smaller loops rather than one big loop. PLEASE STEAL. I hope it works for you!

  5. There is a website,, that has real-world problems aligned to common core. There is a membership fee to access the entire site but the activities are really fun. I used one about ratio and proportions with my 7th graders. They enjoyed it.