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Pac Man test “transforms” math for Sky Vista students

Sky Vista Middle School students participate in Pac Man transformation assessment“Rotate 90 degrees clockwise!”

“Translate three down!”

The commands came fast and furious from the “talkers” who were standing on the upper level of the Innovation Space at Sky Vista Middle School.

“Translate 26 up!”

 Sky Vista Middle School students participate in Pac Man transformation assessmentThey were communicating with the “walkers” on the lower level of the Innovation Space, who responded to each command by turning or moving on a giant Pac Man game field. As they moved, the walkers picked up “pellets” (which were slices of pool noodles) just like Pac Man does in the arcade game that debuted in 1980.

However, the talkers and walkers, all students in Erika Setterlind’s eighth-grade math class, weren’t just playing a game. They were actually taking a test on a unit about transformation, or the description of movement.

“Specifically, we focused on rotations, reflections, and translations, which before this year were called slides, flips, and turns,” Setterlind said. “They have to know how to identify the rule and perform the rule.”

“Translation means you can move left, down, up, or right,” Brandon Garcia explained.

“Rotation means turn 90, 180, or 270 degrees,” Navreet Kaur added.

Setterlind said playing a life-sized Pac Man game helped her students demonstrate their understanding of the concepts of translation and rotation and relate them to real-life uses in things like flip books or video games.

 Sky Vista Middle School students participate in Pac Man transformation assessment“A lot of kids play video games, and in video game coding, they don’t understand everything that goes with it. Once they figured out how much detail it takes to get something to move, they said ‘Oh, that’s actually a lot more intense than I thought,’” she said.

The game exemplified the Cherry Creek Schools Core Values of Growth Mindset and Engagement.

“I teach a subject that not a lot of kids have felt successful with,” Setterlind said. “They come into math thinking ‘I’ve always been really bad at math,’ so I think activities like this get them more involved and excited than saying ‘Here’s a worksheet’ or ‘Here’s a problem out of a textbook.’ Anything we can do to get them excited and participating, then I think there’s a little more buy-in.”

Students also feel more capable and confident.

“When you understand it, it’s really not that hard to tell them where to go.” Olivia Miranda said. “I understand how to rotate and what clockwise and counterclockwise is, so it was pretty easy.”

The students also loved the idea of taking a test by playing a game.

“It was awesome!” Brayden Groos said. “I got to jump like a frog and talk like a boss!”

“It was more interactive. You get to move around,” Miranda said.

“You get to interact with other people,” Kaur added.

Setterlind came up with the idea of a life-size Pac Man assessment after using a paper Pac Man test last year. She and her colleagues on the eighth-grade math team created the game board with masking tape in the school’s Innovation Space, an area with movable furniture that allows for flexibility and creativity.

“Sometimes I think that paper and pencil tests aren’t always the best thing, especially when you’re talking about movement,” Setterlind said. “I feel like this unit just naturally lends itself to getting them up and getting them moving.

“It was cool to see the game board come to life,” she said.

Posted 11/11/2022.