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Family Math Night Collaborative Project: Space Invaders

Family Math Night Collaborative Project: Space Invaders

I’m excited to share with you my latest Family Math Night Collaborative Project: Space Invaders. Here’s a photo of the final result. (There are actually 3 aliens to choose from in the lesson plan. This is alien #1).

Here’s some of the background information I include in the lesson plan:

In 1978, Tomohiro Nishikado, a Japanese video game developer, released his video game Space Invaders. It was such a popular game that it helped catapult video gaming into a global industry. The pixelated aliens in the game became a popular icon.

Pixels are small single-colored squares that make up images in computer graphics. These pixels are displayed as a bitmap, a rectangular matrix of dots. These pixels, sometimes called dots, are each assigned a specific color and are arranged along the horizontal axis (x-coordinate) and vertical axis (y-coordinate) of the matrix.

Computer graphics have come a long way in the last decade and look much more sophisticated today than they did back in 1978. But back when graphics were first being designed on computers, they had a “boxy” look. That’s because the screen displays (screen resolutions) were not as good as they are today.

Note: For the purpose of this activity, each pixel does not need to be represented by a single color.

Some of you may know that I always put together a video of my collaborative projects describing in detail how to do the activity and offering additional tips.  I’ve included the video below for you.

If you’re not familiar with my Family Math Night Collaborative Projects, take a peek at some of the previous ones I’ve done.  I include one of these projects at each of my Family Math Night events and leave it behind as a “gift” to the school for inviting me to host an event.  They’re often one of the most popular stations at the event.

Family Math Night What Do You Notice? Posters

Family Math Night What Do You Notice? Posters

Last night I held my first Family Math Night event.  It was fabulous.  I had 31 student Station Facilitators – the most ever.  And every one of them did an amazing job.  Here’s a photo of them right before we opened the doors.  Can you find the principal in there?


But what I really want to share with you are my upcoming What Do You Notice? posters.  You get to see them before anyone else.  Except for the first one which I used last night.  🙂


As you know, I love the open-endedness to these posters.  They work just as well with Kindergartners as the do fifth and sixth graders.  Even the parents get pretty involved.  After each event, I post the poster on the Resources section of our website.  Click here if you’re interested in checking some of the others out.


So here’s the one I used last night.  It involves patterns in color and number, multiplication, division, algebra…  I included a Challenge! question for those who wanted a, well, challenge.  By the way, those crayons are real.  I thought it would be a fun one to do at the beginning of the school year.
Here’s a fun one that involves money.  Those soccer balls and bikes are real, too.  The wheels on the bikes even rotate!  At a high level, it involves simultaneous equations.  However, kids can use logic to figure out the cost of each item.  Kindergarteners can count bikes and balls and wheels.  And if they notice a dollar sign – fabulous!
 This next one happened as a result of my scrounging around my math closet for – I don’t even remember what.  I ended up finding these from way back.  Can you tell what I was trying to mimic?  I’m excited to see what the kids come up with.  I hope someone notices fractions!
 Then I got into another 3-D mood.  And since I’m focusing on our Gellin’ with Geometry kit this year, I thought this would fit right in.  In the design of the boxes, uh, rectangular prisms, it was important that I use grid paper so the relationship between the numbers and the boxes could be made.
 And, finally, those prisms were a nice segue into 2-D.  Again, using grid paper was important to the relationship.
Participants who write something on a post-it and put it on the poster get an extra guess in the estimation jar.  It’s a good little motivator to get them to give it a try.  Here’s a mom with her son who decided to add her thoughts to the poster.
As always, we’re here to help you host a fabulous Family Math Night event.  If you have any questions as you begin to plan, do not hesitate to contact us.
The Estimation Jar – Number Sense in Action

The Estimation Jar – Number Sense in Action

I was cleaning up the Estimation Table at my last Family Math Night event when I noticed a slip of paper next to the Hershey’s jar.  Taking a closer look at it, I realized I was looking at the thinking behind someone’s guess as to the number of Hersheys in the jar.

estimation table slip

This piece of paper is priceless to me as an educator.  It allows me to clearly understand the steps this child took to arrive at his/her answer – an answer that turned out to be exactly two Hersheys kisses off!

It starts with a multiplication problem:  4 x 27.  It’s hard to see from this photo, but if you counted the number of Hersheys that can be seen on the side of the jar, I’m guessing this student got ’27’.  Then, if you look at the number of rows of 27 that could be made from one side of the jar to the other side, I’m guessing that that’s where the ‘4’ came from.  From there, the student knew s/he had to multiply the 27 Hersheys by the 4 rows.  Since, from this point forward the student uses addition, I’m going to guess that the student either wasn’t comfortable with double-digit by single-digit multiplication or simply did not know how to do it.

So, instead, s/he used number sense by breaking down 4 x 27 into a simpler problem:  (27 x 2) + (2 x 27) which s/he wrote as (27 + 27) + (27 + 27).  From there it was simply finding the answer of ’54’ and adding that twice to get 108.

This is an amazing example of a student that has a clear mastery of number sense – breaking a multiplication problem down into a more manageable addition problem.  It’s also a great example of the distributive property of multiplication, although there’s a good chance the student has no idea what ‘distributive property’ means.  It doesn’t really matter; it’s the concept that’s important.

And this is what I love about the estimation jar – it gives kids an opportunity to practice number sense within the context of something fun…candy.  And because there’s a sense of excitement and anticipation over who will get the closest and win all the candy, kids want to participate.

From now on I’m going to make sure I include scrap paper at all of my Estimation Tables.

Family Math Night Activity: Building a Honeycomb

Family Math Night Activity: Building a Honeycomb


I’ve been wanting to try out an idea I had for our Family Math Night events and, since we were trying out our newest kit, Gellin’ with Geometry, it was the perfect opportunity.

My idea was to have a project that all the participants contributed to so that at the end of the event, we would have one big something to share.  In keeping with the geometry theme, I decided to include a station where participants could made one honeycomb cell.  As the cells were completed, we could begin to put them all together.

What a success!!  It was one of the most popular stations.  And the result was phenomenal.

It was so much fun doing that I wanted to share it with others.  So I put together a short video describing the process and the math.  BTW, this activity can easily be done in a classroom setting, as well!   If you’re interested in the lesson plan and other great STEAM projects, click the image above.