Hero Ball – The Creation of a Classroom Favorite

Hero Ball - The Creation of a Classroom Favorite

Hero Ball – The Creation of a Classroom Favorite

Whether as a tutor or a classroom teacher, one of the most unique and rewarding aspects of being an educator is the opportunity to come up with creative ways to engage students. In doing so, we routinely draw upon influences like our own school experiences, our personal passions, and collaborative efforts with our peers.

In my early years as a classroom teacher, I created a Frankenstein’s monster of a review game that combined curricular content, classroom technology, my obsession with basketball, and MTV’s amazingly absurd Rock N’ Jock B-Ball Jam. The resulting activity still serves as one of my favorite ways to gamify otherwise bland content with elements of kinesthetic activity, friendly competition, and strategic thinking.

What’s more, year after year, the students have enjoyed the unique opportunity to blend learning and play in an effort to parlay the experience into a reinforcement of content knowledge.

The Inspiration

Back in 1991, MTV televised its “First Annual Rock N’ Jock B-Ball Jam”. In the game, a collection of athletes, movie stars, comedians, and musicians divided into mixed teams to play 5-on-5 basketball. However, the game itself played out less like an NBA game and more like an exhibition from the Harlem Globetrotters.

There were players wearing microphones, antics galore, and a very loose interpretation of the actual rules of basketball. Perhaps the most memorable piece of the Rock N’ Jock experience was the mid-game addition of the 25 and 50-point baskets that would be rolled out towering above the ten-foot regulation hoop.

All of the sudden, despite no shortage of all-star-caliber athletes,  players like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Dean Cain (now a regular on the Today Show) from TV’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman were one lucky heave away from totally turning the tide of the game.

This notion that anyone on the court could be a hero was something that stuck with me. When I have created games for my students, I strive to create a similar atmosphere. No student should feel afraid to participate in an activity for fear of failure or ridicule; conversely, every student should have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and contribute toward a team effort that is never totally out of reach.

The Foundation

Gearing up for a unit assessment early in my career, I took a plunge into the SMART Exchange – the official resource-sharing site maintained by the company behind the SMART Board interactive whiteboards. After surveying numerous teacher creations for a framework with which to build by review game, I found what I was looking for.

The SMART Notebook software the company provides with its boards includes a set of basketball-themed images for coaches to use in diagramming basketball plays. User “P. DuBose” used these images to create an interactive review lesson for students entitled “Math Hoops”. The rules were simple:

  • Form two teams
  • Each round, a student drags one of the dozens of basketball icons onto the court and taps/clicks it to reveal a question.
  • If the student gets the answer correct before time is up, they spin a spinner to determine their score.
  • If a student gets the answer wrong, the other team gets a chance to answer correctly and spin.
  • Highest score wins

The spinner included scores ranging from one to three (the same scoring range as real basketball shots) as well as two extra spaces. “Miss and Rebound” allowed the player to spin again while “Miss and Turnover” resulted in the other team stealing the spin and its points.

The game was a good start, but it was missing something…

The Result

“Math Hoops” was well put together and visually appealing. However, the game-play itself was lacking. In the end, it ultimately boiled down to a trivia contest with a scoring spinner. The basketball correlation was loose at best.

I decided that if I was going to bring my love for basketball into the classroom, I was going to add some much-needed kinesthetic and strategic flair to the proceedings. Nearly 20 years since its demise, Rock N’ Jock B’Ball would live again in my classroom!

Rifling through my supply closet, I pulled out a trio of plastic basketball rims that had come packaged with several years’ worth of “Hoops!” wall calendars. I mounted them to a bulletin board, one pair directly one over the other and the third offset by itself. Underneath I added a recycling bin. Using some painter’s tape, I marked out three, ten, and fifteen foot “foul lines” on the floor. I then wrote “1X”, “2X”, and “5X” respectively to the taped lines.  The arena was set, so I added my review content into the “Math Hoops” template and scheduled the game’s debut. Hero Ball was born!

Hoops Wall Calendar

The game itself played out similarly to the rules of the original “Math Hoops”, however the real-life baskets added an extra, tangible element to the competition. After a correct response, students would still spin the spinner, but they then would take a trip to the foul line to earn their points. The scores varied according to difficulty:

  • Top hoop – 10 x Spin
  • Lower hoop – 5 x Spin
  • Offset hoop – 2 x Spin and an extra shot
  • Recycling bin – no bonus multiplier
  • Foul lines – scores multiplied according to marking on the tape

Not only were students itching to get their chance to shoot at this (admittedly) ridiculous looking carnival-game of a bulletin board, they were talking and strategizing about the right shots to take (mental math anyone?).

I’ve probably played the game a hundred times since its creation and it never disappoints. Every game comes down to the wire with that big game feel as students try to get in as many questions as they can before the class bell rings. Some years I even break out my iPad and play the role of arena organist to add to the atmosphere.

Kids wind up engaged, seeking to clarify content they don’t understand in preparation for their turns (and the forthcoming assessment). They cheer each other on waiting for the next incredible shot to turn the game on its head.

Most importantly, the gameplay adds an extra layer of motivation for students to come to review day prepared. The only way to make it to the foul line and help your team is to have a working knowledge of the content.

Rather than a review day full of “I don’t knows” and shoulder shrugs, students start to reposition their studying efforts to the days before review basketball rather than night between the review and the assessment.

Who is going to win? Who is going to step up and make the impossible shot?

In the end, the answers to these questions (like the game itself) don’t really matter, but the unit content sinks in just a bit deeper than it used to. Hero Ball has given students enough of an extrinsic bump to turn studying from a day-before-the-assessment activity into a multi-day process.

To me, that’s a win.


About Sheldon S

Sheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Sheldon has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting websites.

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