I started this lesson by telling kids they would be working together to create a new game. I asked them if they’d ever played TETRIS. The response was mixed. I don’t know when this game hit its peak, but I remember wasting tons of time on it and practically having a heart attack as pieces didn’t go where I wanted them to and the screen filled up. I wanted to use that sort of hysteria as classroom fuel, so I went over to tetris.com and pulled up some of the interactive tutorials. These are quick, direction-led tutorials that allow you to get a feel for the game. I randomly picked a few students to give these a shot while the class watched.
The first tutorial involves moving a piece from the right wall to the left.
Piece of cake. Then we rotated a piece and cleared a line. But then we had a few pieces coming one after another and had to move rather quickly.
A student came to the front and got started. When she got to this point, the class was screaming at her.
ROTATE! ROTATE! ROTATE!
It was great to see such a need for rotation.
After we discussed the rules and some observations they made about the pieces, I presented them with the new challenge. What if we used five squares, rather than four, to make these game pieces? How would it change the game? How many unique pieces would we need? Students made some conjectures and most agreed that we’d have more pieces than we used in the TETRIS demos.
I gave each student five squares and asked them to build a piece they thought should be included in the game. After about a minute I asked students to get up, leave their pieces on their desks, and do a quick gallery walk around the room to view the other pieces. After they returned to their seats I asked students if they had seen any pieces they would include in the game. I also asked them if there were any they thought should be excluded.
Several students weren’t sure about this one:
But others pointed out that it made sense because of this one:
Then the attention was drawn to this one:
Most students thought this should be excluded. I told them that if they wanted to exclude it, they would have to come up with a new rule to clarify the guidelines for piece production. Here were their first attempts:
“A square can’t be in the middle of two other squares.”
“A square can’t be on a crack.”
“It has to allow others to fit without gaps.”
“It can’t be over half a square.”
With each of these attempts, I tried to show how these statements eliminated viable pieces they had already created. I pressed them regarding how very imprecise their rules were, and encouraged them to think about what each square had to do, rather than what it couldn’t do. From this discussion, we came up with:
Use five identical squares. Put the squares together so that each square shares an edge with at least one of the other squares. Turns or flips are duplicates and should be excluded.
Satisfied with the guidelines, students set off to explore possible pieces.
In the next lesson students will be cutting these out and exploring ways they fit together. Some will most likely find pieces that slipped past the guidelines, like this one: