Integer Fishing

As an ESL teacher I end up teaching all subjects. During my middle school days (ah, the good ol’ days) I had a self-contained classroom of newly arrived 7-9th graders. Those were some fun times, but also some tough times for this grammar guru. Don’t get me wrong, I love math, social studies, science…all of the subjects. Grammar is just the one that comes easiest to me. In the end I approached all of the subjects, especially math, the same way I approach grammar: with games! Integer fishing is one that I originally created using plastic eggs, dice, and white boards. With the arrival of Corona Virus, I knew that a digital version was needed. Enter Google Sheets with scripts and conditional formatting. Then I kept hearing about teachers at Microsoft schools who couldn’t use Google Apps, and I could relate (my college has Google for students and Microsoft for professors–try to figure out that combination!). Enter macro-enabled Excel. Today I’d like to share with you one of the games that I’ve made using these methods and give you a template with a macro-enabled button for “rolling” a number cube.

Before I get to the digital version of the game, let me tell you about the physical game. To make the game you’ll need several items: an egg carton (I used an 18 count), plastic eggs in two colors (one for positive and one for negative), a six-sided die, a positive/negative die, and a twenty-sided die. Write an integer between +20 and -20 on the bottom of each egg (put positive numbers on one color and negative numbers on another) and place in the container. When you’re ready to play, pass out one container, the dice, and a whiteboard & marker to each set of students (I usually have students play in pairs, but you could do up to four in a group). The first player rolls all three dice. The +/- and D20 dice tell the student the goal answer, this is the number he/she wants to be at when his/her turn is over. The D6 die tells the student how many eggs he/she must turn over. The student turns over eggs one at a time, adding the integers together as he/she goes (the whiteboard is very helpful for this purpose). The object is to have the final total be the same as the goal number the student started the turn with. After turning over the required number of eggs, the student’s score is the distance between the goal and the final total (so if the goal was -4 and the student’s eggs added up to +1, his/her score would be 5). The game starts out difficult, because other than knowing if an egg is positive or negative, the student does not know the values of each egg. As the rounds progress, students start to remember the value of different eggs and the students are able to use their knowledge of integers to help them.

Now I’d like to share with you how I created the digital version of the game, but first a look at how it is played:

For most of the creation process, the steps are the same in both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. When creating the activity I started by typing out the directions for students. I wanted it to be very clear how to play the game. I then created color-coded recording spaces for students to keep track of the game rounds (we used to use a white board for this). This was nothing more complicated than selecting the cells I wanted them to use for each purpose, filling the cells with a particular color, and then labeling the group. The real fun came when I started creating the fishing hole and the catch basket. The fishing hole was simple, I simply selected a group of cells, colored them blue, and set the text to be white and centered. The magic started with the catch basket.

I used a random number generator (Google) to get 12 numbers between -20 and +20. I typed one number into each cell, selected the cells, made the text a dark brown, and then colored the cells a dark brown. This essentially made the numbers invisible. My next step was to enter the conditional formatting. I described how to do this in detail in my blog post about mystery picture activities (there’s even a video). Just as a quick reminder, here are the steps to conditionally format cells based on the contents of another cell:

  1. select the cell you want to change
  2. click Format
  3. click Conditional Formatting
  4. under Format rules, Format cells if… choose “Custom formula is…”
  5. add the custom formula: =$[column of the cell you are referencing]$[row of the cell you are referencing]=””  (ie: =$A$3=”X”)
  6. choose the color you want the cell to turn (I chose white so as to reveal the brown letters)
  7. click done

Unfortunately, you have to format each cell individually, but it didn’t take me too long and the end result is worth it. When I finished, each blue cell in the fishing pond corresponded to each brown cell in the catch basket. When students make an X in a blue cell, the corresponding brown cell turns white, revealing the catch value.

The magic continued with the addition of the Catch Goal and Number of Casts buttons, but this is where I needed my husband (a software engineer) to help me. I do not program and to create the activities two different programming languages were required. Sheets required JavaScript and Excel required VBA. All I did in this process was to insert an image and label it, from there the expert took over. He inserted a script for Sheets and a macro for Excel. I’ll spare you the long explanation of how he made it all work (because I don’t understand it). The good news is that he did and says it wasn’t difficult (so if you do know how to program you could do it yourself).

The final result was the game that you saw demonstrated above. The demonstration video was made with the Google Sheets version, but the play is the same with the Excel version. The Google Sheets version is for sale in my Teachers pay Teachers store, but the frustration of being a Microsoft school continues for all. It turns out that macro-enabled files are not supported on the TpT platform and I was unable to upload the Excel version. But the GOOD news is that since the game was already made, I decided to use my blog to disseminate it–for free! And, because I feel the pain of not always being able to use Google Apps, I included a template as well. The template includes the macro-enabled dice roll button. To use it simply open the file, do a “save as” so you don’t mess up your template, and design your game. The Roll button will randomly generate numbers between one and six, just like a number cube. I hope you and your students enjoy the game as much as I and mine have. Happy gaming, everyone!