Google’s 15th Birthday

First Period

Near the end of today’s AP Calculus lesson, I fired up a new web browser and intended to type We just discovered the product rule and were applying our newfound knowledge to this:

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 2.31.02 PM bagpcw9ccd

I accidentally ended up at and saw this:

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 2.35.25 PM

Well, we had to play. So we did. 🙂 And if you’ve already played a bit yourself, you’ll know it didn’t take long for us to get hooked.

It also didn’t take long for me to start wondering about how this could be turned into something mathematical. I mean, student engagement (with the game, at least) was instantaneous. Could I somehow leverage that into an engaging activity?

I think I can. In fact, I think I can turn this into something worth exploring in Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Precalculus, Statistics, and even Calculus. All I really need: more data.

Second Period

During second period I work primarily on organizing/building/developing curriculum for our math department (all two of us!). I also oversee a few students’ independent study coursework (mostly in AP Statistics, plus a few in Honors Precalculus… highly capable students whose schedules didn’t work with the time we regularly offer the course).

I grabbed a few kids as they walked in the door and pointed them toward Google on their laptops. As they began playing, I started working on a data collection handout and formulating how I might turn this into an activity.

About ten minutes later we had this handout.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Partner up
  2. Go to (though after September 27, you’ll probably have to go to instead)
  3. Play a few practice games
  4. Once you’re familiar with the game, decide who will smash and who will record (of course, in fairness to your fellow man, you really ought to alternate these roles every few games)
  5. Learn the attack styles (All Out Attack, Delayed Attack, and Over the Top). Details for all of these are on the handout (link above, image below, video far below).
  6. Select an attack style, and attack!
  7. While the smasher is smashing,the recorder will do his or her best to record the total number of candies that have spilled out after each of the 10 swings.
  8. Ideally, students will play a game with each attack style (there’s room for one of each in the data table), and then trade roles.
  9. (Since the numbers scroll/animate almost continuously—if you’re not terrible at the game—it’s pretty difficult to accurately record the number of candies for All Out Attack. I asked students to make their best estimate and most seemed able to handle it.

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 2.44.59 PM

I then printed a few copies, and a few bits of data started rolling in.

Third Period

A full lesson in Precalculus (third period) meant no room for messing around with Google’s birthday doodle. Too bad. Maybe next week (if the doodle is still accessible, which I believe it will be).

Fourth Period

I carved out three minutes at the end of Algebra 1 (fourth period) to introduce the game to students, distribute copies of the handout, and invite students to play with a friend or family member at home. I have no idea if they’ll take me up on this. I imagine quite a few students will play this evening and tell me about their highest scores on Monday. And when I ask if they recorded any data… This.

Fifth Period

We were supposed to work on corrections for our Chapter 2 Assessments. But we didn’t. We can do that Monday.

Today? Today was a day for data collection.

I thought students would need laptops since… you know… keyboard… space bar. As it turns out, Google’s one step (well, maybe more than one step) ahead of me. The game works on smartphones!

Me: “Okay kids, if you have a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, take it out. Go to And in the name of mathematics, hit that piñata!

Students, without hesitation: “Okie dokie.” (Paraphrasing.)

2013-09-27 11.30.32 2013-09-27 11.30.47 2013-09-27 11.31.00 2013-09-27 11.31.11 2013-09-27 12.06.09 2013-09-27 12.06.17 2013-09-27 12.06.32


I have no idea if this will be useless, but I made this video at lunch to introduce the problem. I was pushing to get it ready in time for my eighth period Precalculus class, so it’s pretty simple.

Eighth Period

We wrapped up our lesson with about ten minutes left in class. I played the video (above), asked students to pair up, take out a device, and get cracking. They obliged.

Now It’s Your Turn

Find a class, friend, spouse, neighbor, or stranger.

Play the game. Use all three attack styles, several times each

Record the data.

Send it to me. (There’s an awkward google form here, or you can just email me photos of the completed handout: mjfenton at gmail dot com.)

What’s Next from Me?

If I even get a little bit of data, I’ll turn this into an activity or two for every class I can in the 7th through 12th grade sequence. I can already think of a few tasks for Algebra 1 through Calculus, but would love to hear your ideas if you have any. What should we do with all of this data? Drop a line in the comments and let me know.



  1. Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Precalculus, Calculus: For each method I want to plot the points in Desmos, fit a model, discuss rates of change (at appropriate levels of complexity for each class), make predictions using our models for what the high scores would be for each method if Google allowed us 20 hits, 30 hits, 100 hits.

    I suppose this is possible using just one data set for each attack type. But I want to find the average number of candies for hit 1, hit 2, hit 3, etc., for each method.

    Statistics: For each method, create parallel dot plots, histograms, and/or boxplots for the total number of hits after 10 candies. Discuss shape, center, spread. I’m particularly interested in seeing whether some of my predictions (e.g., that the “over the top” method will generate the greatest spread because it’s the one that is hardest to hit in the “sweet spot” and the one I missed most often) are correct.

    Does that help at all?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s