When I first started to work on the use of games in the classroom, I was amazed at what I began to see happening! Here are a few of my discoveries about games where children can learn and practice math:
• Many of the games lead students to talk mathematics.
• Games forced students to justify their reasoning.
• Games put pressure on players to work mentally.
• Games did not define the way in which a problem had to be solved or worked out.
• Students began to explore and learn new strategies by working and talking with each other as they played.
• A game could often be played at more than one level allowing the teacher to differentiate instruction.
Teachers who observe and interact with children while they are playing math games can diagnose a wide variety of their mathematical strengths and weaknesses. In assessing learning through math games, teachers’ concerns are not just confined to the children’s levels of factual knowledge. Rather, they may also note, record, and analyze the following:
• reasoning and problem-solving skills,
• the forms of children’s responses,
• the processes that children employ in solving problems and arriving at answers,
• children’s patterns of persistence and curiosity, and
• their ability to work with peers, adults, and a variety of resources.
In addition, the recording sheets that children produce while playing games can be placed in assessment portfolios, where they can be of great value to children, teachers, and parents.
Finally, games provide children with a powerful way of assessing their own mathematical abilities. The immediate feedback children receive from their peers while playing games can help them evaluate their mathematical concepts and algorithms and revise inefficient, inadequate, or erroneous ones.
Good games evaluate children’s progress. They provide feedback so that teachers, parents, and the child know what they have done well and what they need to practice.
Calculators can be quite helpful for settling questions about answers, executing complex calculations, or keeping track of players’ cumulative scores. Use your judgment as to whether calculators will speed up or defeat the purpose of the game.
Many of the games include recording sheets. Recording the problems solved while playing a math game can leave a mathematical trail that is of great value to children, teachers, and parents. Children can feel a sense of accomplishment as they look back at all of the math work they have done; teachers can use the records for assessment; and parents will appreciate this “evidence” that their children are actually doing mathematics and not just playing games.
Many people think that a quiet room is one in which learning is taking place. I strongly disagree with that tenet. When children are playing games, they need to be able to talk with each other. This talk can be very constructive if children take responsibility to make sure that all players in a game understand the algorithms, concepts, and facts being used within the game. Sharing strategies with each other helps everyone see different ways to play. The bottom line is: Teach each other and learn from each other.
Competitive Versus Noncompetitive Games
Most of the games on these CDs have been designed as competitive games where the high scorer wins. All can be transformed into games where the high scorer is not the winner or into noncompetitive games.
For example: Children can roll a die. If the number rolled is an even number, the player with the highest number or score wins the game. If an odd number is rolled, the player with the least number or score is the winner.
Many of the games can be played in such a way that players keep track of their own individual scores over a period of days and try to better their previous day’s scores. Children can enjoy keeping graphs of this information themselves.