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Morris Family Math Games – Featuring Instructional Coaches Michele and Peter Morris

February 27, 2014

Michele and Pete Morris are two of our outstanding instructional coaches. They just so happen to be married. Interestingly enough, they’re also married to gamifying math instruction. We were so inspired by their fun approach to learning math that we asked them to write blog posts on our behalf about some of their games.

Today’s Edition – Pico Fermi Bagel – A Math Logic Game

by Michele Morris

Without a doubt, my favorite, go-to math game has to be Pico Fermi Bagel. This game can be simple enough to use as a filler when you have five extra minutes, or allows the teacher to probe deeper and spend entire class periods discussing strategy and number sense. I have used this game in grades 3-5 though I will outline the basic structure for a grade 4 classroom and then get into modifications at the end.

Pico- Fermi- Bagel is a logic game in which one player (player 1) thinks of a number and his opponent then needs to determine the number based on the responses given. Once a number is guessed, player 1 responds using a combination of the words “pico”, “fermi” and “bagel” to guide his opponent in the right direction.

“Why a bagel?” kids often ask. Each piece of this name is representative in some way. Pico is the pre-fix for one trillionth, but in this game pico means that one of your digits is correct but in the wrong place value spot. Fermi was a famous physicist and in this context fermi means that your digit is correct and in the correct place value spot. And a bagel? Well, a bagel is a bready breakfast treat that is shaped like a zero and in this game bagel means that none of your digits are correct.

In fourth grade I generally start with a 3 digit number. I think of my number – in this example it will be 657 – and then I write the number of place value spots on the board.

_______   _______   _______

My students guess:

541, ‘pico,’ I say and I write a P next to the number on the board.

874 P

239 B

111 B

487 F

748 P

517 PF

567 PPF

657 FFF

In this case it took my students 9 guesses to determine my number. Some students might have been able to come up with 657 after 8 guesses based on my responses, though the majority of fourth graders will take several tries to get the correct number. I particularly like this game to get kids thinking about the correct way to say numbers and I adapt this with fourth graders to give them practice saying large numbers.

Here’s a video of another case with one of my 5th grade students.

Modifications: For younger students the game can be simplified not only with smaller numbers, but with the format of your response. The teacher can always respond with 3 words, in the correct order, so that students know which digits are “bagel”, “pico” or “fermi”. (For example, with the guess 541 I would have written PBB next to the guess).

For older students I love to incorporate decimals into my numbers. This gives fifth graders practice saying numbers to the hundredths or thousandths; I ask my students to say ‘five hundred forty one and twelve hundredths’ rather than just ‘point twelve.’

Stay tuned to the BetterLesson Blog for the next installment of Morris Family Math Games!

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