Middle school and high school math prove to be an arduous journey to teach sometimes. You are essentially a salesman that is to force buyers to buy something they do not want and see no use in ever needing. It can take all of your energy just to make it to the last class of the day with an ounce of persuasiveness left, the sales pitch all but shattered. I have found that games are often my spoonful of honey to make the medicine go down.

I have devised many complex games and gimmicks to keep students interested (with varying success), but arguably the one that has proven most effective is also one of the most simple: The Whammy Wheel. The premise of the game is simple – I present the class with a math problem relevant to the material we have been learning, then I call on a student to give their answer. An incorrect answer means I call on another student. A correct answer means they get to use my iPad to spin the Whammy Wheel.

The website I use for this game is called Wheel Decide and seems to be designed to help indecisive people decide something by spinning a wheel. However, I use it for gaming purposes. It allows you to choose a color scheme and input as many choices as you want, up to 100. I find the “sweet spot” between 15-20. My favorite color scheme is the roulette wheel, as it makes the Jackpot slot stand out quite nicely. You can also use Facebook to save presets; I have gone through many variations of the wheel, and I save each one.

The main idea of the Whammy Wheel is that there are “prize slots” and “pitfall slots”, which is what makes it interesting. The pitfalls are termed “Whammy!”, after the famous pitfall from the old gameshow Press Your Luck. (Most of my students don’t even know this, they assume I made it up.) Landing on a Whammy ends your turn and forfeits any prize earned during that turn. The prize slots are typically “Candy” and “Jackpot”, but whatever your system/administrator lets you do works. Bonus points, homework tickets, “King/Queen for a day” (privileges, gets to sit in teacher chair, students have to address them as such), and such are all ideas I’ve tried before. All have their merits, but by far, Candy is the most popular. I typically reserve “Jackpot” for a bigger version of one of the other prizes, like a small handful of candy, or I’ve even done $1 bills or golden dollar coins before.

The Whammy provides the real tension (I’ve found the best proportion of Whammies for maximum effect to be about 1/3 of the spaces), but there are other spaces I’ve added before that adds variation and tension to the mix:

  • Spin Again! A filler space used in variation. Does what it says- the user gets to spin again.
  • Spin x2 – User gets 2 more spins (which stack if they land on it again), but if they land on a Whammy, they lose all accumulated spins, similar to Press your Luck.
  • Spin x3 – a rarer space (usually only one of), but same as Spinx2. More risky because of increased chance of Whammy.
  • Pass to Classmate – they must pass the iPad to a classmate, who finishes out their turn, including taking any prizes they receive! Automatically comes with a free spin for the new classmate.
  • Double Down – User gets to spin again, and any Spins or Prize received on the next spin is doubled.
  • Whammy Train! – an odd spot; if a user decides to “hop on” the Whammy Train, they must continue spinning, accumulating spins/prizes, until a) they land on Whammy Train! “arriving back at the station”, b) hit Jackpot, ending the turn, or c) landing on a Whammy!, ending the turn.
  • Party Ticket x1 (or x5) – a mechanic I’ve used in the past to spice up the wheel and add more tension; each class kept a running tally of Party Tickets obtained from the wheel; 25 earned them a medium-reward like a doughnut apiece; 50 earned them a large reward like a pizza party. But, as you’ll see below, it proved exceptionally hard to reach these. I did have a few classes make it, though, after most of a year trying.
  • Double or Nothing – landing on this space meant you had to spin again; on the subsequent spin, if you landed on any Prize space, you doubled your current class’s Party Tickets; landing on Spins meant you could take them and keep spinning, but landing on Whammy! meant you lost all your party tickets.
  • MEGA Whammy! – landing on this unfortunate square cost your class 5 Party Tickets, with the possibility of negative Party Tickets
  • Feeling Lucky?!? – if you decline, your turn is over. If you accept, you spin again, and if you land on Feeling Lucky?!? again, your class gains 20 Party Tickets. Failing to do so lost your class 20 Party Tickets, with negative Party Tickets possible.
  • Set Trap – landing on this square let you change the space to “Set Trap – Xth Period”, which was a special square that only had effect for the Xth Period, wiping out all Party Tickets that class acquired, then resetting back to Set Trap.

So you see, the amount of variety on the Whammy Wheel was enormous, and with Party Tickets in play, the strategy is huge. Party Tickets or not, the game has still been very effective, often resulting in the class cheering and chanting along and booing the Whammies, and almost always results in a fun and energetic class period. Over the years, this has proven to be my favorite review game, and several teachers I have taught with have “stolen” the idea for their own. Really, your imagination is the limit on what you can put on the Spaces, and the inherent chance of the wheel always makes it enjoyable.

I have even  deployed the Whammy Wheel in college in my experience teaching college, and let me say the appeal of candy is universal! The energy in the room is palpable as students watch the wheel spin up on the screen, and I can honestly say I feel my college students studied much more when they had to confront the Whammy Wheel instead of just normal review.

If you decide to deploy the crazy antics of the Whammy Wheel, let me know! I’d love to know that this quirky amusement has been transplanted elsewhere to be used for math education!

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