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The City Journals

Students prepare for testing with ‘Star Wars’ competition

Jun 05, 2017 03:50PM ● By Tori LaRue

Butterfield Canyon Elementary School students pose for a picture while dressed in “Star Wars” attire. The school implemented a themed review competition to help students prepare for year-end testing. (Nick Hansen/Butterfield Canyon Elementary)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]
Some end-of-year reviews require students to fill out answer sheets in quiet classrooms, but Butterfield Canyon took a new approach this year. Dressed in theatrical garb, students, battled in a “Star Wars”-themed math competition.
“I think kids learn better when kinesthetic learning and other active activities are part of review,” said fourth grade teacher, Jeff Draper, the producer of the school’s first annual “Math Wars.” “There’s scientific research that backs that up, but it’s easy to see the kids like it, too.”
To announce the competition in April, Draper created a PowerPoint with scrolling yellow text, just like the introductions to each movie in the famous film series. Laden with “Star Wars” allusions, the introduction said the students, through the math competition, must defeat the Empire’s ultimate weapon, “the MATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy all the math homework in the universe.”
Third- through sixth-grade teachers, or “Jedi masters” as they were referred to in the competition, gave their students study guides to help them prepare for the preliminary battle on April 19.
When the battle day came, students came to school adorned with light sabers, robes and capes. class teams traveled between classrooms, or “planets,” to compete. Each classroom featured a different type of math for review—from fractions to geometry to measurements. Students were asked review questions and were eliminated based on a time and accuracy.
The winning teams from the preliminary round went on to the “Math Wars” final round on May 4. The competition date wasn’t picked by accident. May 4 has long been a pseudo holiday among “Star Wars” fans because of the easy pun associated with the date. The iconic phrase “May the force be with you” can easily be substituted for “May the fourth be with you.”
May 4 assemblies were held of each grade who participated in the competition. Teams who placed in the preliminary rounds took their seats at tables on the gym stage. The other students sat on the floor and watched and were invited to check their own understanding by writing the answers to the competition questions on personal whiteboards.
Anna Kelsch, a fifth-grader, made it into the final competition and was all smiles even when her team was defeated midway through the round.
“It was pretty cool after all,” she said. “I like math, but you really have to practice a lot, so it’s nice to have teammates who can help you and be supportive of you when you practice for tests.”
Administration members gave trophies to reward the winning students, but Principal Nick Hansen said each student who participated was really a winner.
“We’re all just having a fun time while reviewing,” he said. “And it’s nice to have a way to look back at all the math concepts you’ve learned throughout the year.”
While there’s no way to measure if Math Wars had an impact on students’ end-of-year testing scores, Draper said he feels like the program was worthwhile in engaging students in their learning. He’s already taking notes on how to elaborate the program in future years.
Next year, Draper wants one student to dress up as Darth Vader and hand out the awards to the winners from a dinner platter.
“He’ll be Darth Waiter,” Draper, said, smiling at the pun.

Draper is moving to Daybreak Elementary school next year, and plans to initiate the program there, as well. Butterfield Canyon also plans to continue the newfound review method.