Sunday, September 12, 2010

Compare and Contrast with SET

As a department we've decided to focus this trimester on two thinking skills: Classifying and Compare/Contrast. All this really means is 1) It's going on our common assessment and 2) We're planning to throw those two things at the kids whenever possible. My kids are fresh off 7th grade life science, which is all about classifying (angiosperm or gymnosperm? eukaryote or prokaryote?) so they're pretty strong on that. Asking them to actually create their own criteria usually throws them off for awhile but they get the hang of it pretty fast.

Compare and contrast is a different beast. I'm not sure why, but it's something we've always struggled through. This year, I'm using the game SET to introduce it.

SET is pretty common in math classrooms, they even have a resources for teachers page. I'm sure Sue VanHattum has a few extra decks around her living room.

In the interest of not spending $96 on 8 decks of SET I used Keynote '08 to make a version. I'm just going to color print and laminate them. I'm not a designer in any way so if you're interested in making a better version I fully support that and will post yours.

I was too lazy to figure out how to make the squiggly character so I made rectangles instead. I also changed the colors.

Edit: Scribd is pretty much the worst thing ever so if it's not showing just click through and it'll work. I had to zip the keynote file because I can't figure out how to get or dropbox to share them. Here it is if you want to edit.

Mine prints out in landscape automatically.

Here are the rules for the uninitiated. It's the simplified version. Normally there are different shadings (striped, solid, outlined).

  1. Nine cards are placed face up on the table.
  2. The students take a look and yell out "Set" when they see a set. 
  3. The student who yells set has a few seconds to pick up his/her three cards.
  4. That player gets 1 point. 
  5. Three more cards are laid face up on the table.
  6. If everyone agrees there are no sets on the table (really rare, but students have a hard time seeing them at first) then three more cards are put out. These are not replaced when depleted.
  7. Play ends when the deck is depleted. Most points wins.
If you're playing the full version, 12 cards are on the table.

What's a set? Each card has three features: Shape, Color, and Number. In order to make a set, each feature must be the same on every card or different on every card. If you go try out the Daily Puzzle it makes a lot more sense.

I had written out a whole tutorial but found these screens here, which are much better. These are a set:

These are NOT sets:

Remember, I'm not using shadings.

It helps if students go through three questions:
  1. Are they all the same shape or are all different shapes?
  2. Are they all the same color or all different colors?
  3. Are they all the same number or all different numbers?
So here's the flow.

First day I introduce the rules and just let them play. Although the box says it's suitable for ages 6 and over, the thinking behind this is difficult at first so it'll take awhile for kids to get it.

Second day we play a little more. Then I formalize it. I like to use a comparison matrix for compare/contrast. Venns don't really do it for me although bubble maps are alright.1  After a little play I put this on each of their tables:

Mid-game they stop and take one set (3 cards). They put one card over each spot on the top then fill in the boxes for each attribute. The far right box they write a sentence, "Card 1 has a squiggle, Card 2 has a........All of the cards have different shapes."

After the game is finished I ask them to shuffle the deck and pull out three random cards. They fill out the comparison matrix again and use it to decide if it's a set or not.

I'll update this post when I actually do it. I'm looking forward to it. I really just want something I can point at. When I want a kid to compare/contrast something I want to be able to just point to the SET deck or say, "Remember that card game we played?" and have that memory do the work. It turns out "something I can point at" drives a lot of my instructional decisions.

Update: Here's a full version in pdf and keynote. I wrote a followup post too.

1: The problem with Venns is they're not forced to compare specific attributes. I get things like, "Dogs bark. Cats like tuna." umm...ok.


  1. I like launching the game with the puzzle on the Set website. It really helps the students get the idea of the matching conditions.

    I've also had good luck with asking the question how many cards in a deck to get them thinking about ways to make combinations, and as a prelude to any probability questions.

    My dream is to design a more mathy set of Set cards, with real geometric properties they'd compare.

    Looking forward to the follow up!

  2. I also use Set's daily puzzle with my maths classes, to get them into a 'logical thinking' frame of mind at the start of a lesson. It works really well with an interactive whiteboard, as you can get them to come and tap the sets, and it explains the error if it's not correct.

    Edit: Scribd is pretty much the worst thing ever so if it's not showing just click through and it'll work.

    Sadly true. It was great until about six months ago, which is when they started trying to figure out how to make money out of it, and packed it full of annoying animated adverts between each page.

  3. I think you left a real set on the top of your "not sets" image. (It's the same as the last set of your "these ARE sets" image). Should you crop that off to avoid confusion?

  4. No more extra sets of Set in my living room - I gave them all away for birthdays.

    Having your students make their own decks of Set cards allows them to make up their own symbols, and to compare and contrast more deeply, as they try to figure out what cards they still need to make.

    My local grocery store had half-size index cards (3x2.5), in lots of colors. They could have background color be one of the features, or they could use all the same color. We left out shading too, except for one student, who really wanted to make a full deck.

  5. I like the classification chart you have going there. The algebra 1 teachers are working on classifying numbers tomorrows and I've been trying to think about how to approach that with my algebra 1 support class. Just stream-of-consciousness here, but I wonder if they could do this with set cards and then play a version with different types of numbers. Instead of colors, link decimals or digits or rationals.... hummm. You got the synapses going, thanks :)

  6. @John look forward to the more mathy set cards. Clearly I can't offer design help though.

    @John We're a decidedly low tech school. Most of us are still on overhead projectors. Our department is lucky and has enough LCD projectors to swap around so we're usually ok, but no IWBs. That sounds pretty fun though.

    @Jerzy Thanks for spotting that. Fixed.

    @Sue Making our own was part of my super secret plan but I wasn't sure if I'd have the time for it. Usually when I say "this will take two days" it's really the whole week. If I do, I'll definitely let you know. Plus it would be worth it just for the off chance of catching students playing Set at lunch.

    @mythagon Yeah, it definitely seems like Sue's idea of the half-index cards would come in handy here. Basically you could spin it off into anything.

  7. "I really just want something I can point at."

    Thanks for crystallizing that thought for me. I realized I tried to do the same thing last year by having my students go through multiple experiences to become familiar with a piano keyboard, which I continuously referred back to when teaching waves (high frequency vs low frequency, analogizing the visible spectrum as only one "octave" of the keyboard). I never really thought of it as a "technique". Keeping that idea in my pocket will make me more mindful of planning stuff explicitly as "something to point at" in the future.

  8. @Frank somewhere in my vast store of edujargon it might be called "anchoring." But I don't really know. I heard this story in my ed program (maybe apocryphal) that a science teacher had a car engine in the middle of his room. He taught the entire physics curriculum based around that engine. True or not, it's stuck with me.