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Play a Math Game and Have Fun!

Have you ever heard a child laugh out loud or shout for joy in math class? I have, and it happened many times when the students were playing a math game.

Children throw themselves into playing math games the way they never throw themselves into filling out workbook pages or dittos.

Math games are engaging and easily maintain the interest of the students. I’ve regularly had students beg to stay in from recess so that they could continue playing a favorite math game. That’s never happened when they were completing a ditto or workbook page.

Research has demonstrated that students learn more if they are actively engaged with the math they are studying. Constance Kamii, a world renowned expert on how children learn math, puts it this way, “Children who are mentally active develop faster than those who are passive.”

Active learning is, in short, anything that students do in a classroom other than merely listen to a teacher’s lecture or quietly fill out a workbook page. There are several ways of doing this. Playing math games is a particularly useful and effective one.

Math games:
1. provoke students into discussing, explaining, and thinking
2. challenge and interest students
3. get students actively involved in their learning
4. result in learning
5. provide some immediate assessment

And lastly, but perhaps more importantly, math games teach or reinforce many of the skills that a formal curriculum teaches, plus a skill that formal learning sometimes, mistakenly, leaves out – the skill of having fun with math, of thinking hard and enjoying it.

In the process of playing the game, students may develop initiative, interest, curiosity, resourcefulness, independence, and responsibility. Would that happen with a ditto or workbook page?

Children learn math best when they participate in games that are relevant to them, hold their attention, and require them to “make meaning” for themselves.

Teaching methods that stress rote memorization of basic number facts or algorithmic procedures are usually boring and do not require learners to participate actively in thought and reflection.

Teaching Math at Home

Many parents don’t feel comfortable with math, or they assume it takes special expertise to teach it. Remarks like “I never was any good at math” or “How can I help my child with math? I can’t even balance my checkbook!” are common. However, even parents who feel this way use mathematics all the time. They hand out lunch money, cut sandwiches into quarters, calculate how much paint or wall paper they need to buy, estimate how much a trip will cost, read and interpret graphs, talk about the probability of rain, and decide that it’s time to fill the gas tank. Some of them knit, piece quilts, measure wood for cutting, decide how many cups of spaghetti sauce they need to make for 6 people, and use metric tools to work on their cars. The list goes on and on.

Many adults also feel they aren’t doing things the right way, that they aren’t really using mathematics, because their approaches, even though they work, are not the methods they learned in school. There are, in fact, many ways to do mathematics, and more than one can be right. People who devise their own strategies for finding answers to mathematical questions, far from being mathematically incompetent, are often excellent independent problem solvers. They are using mathematics creatively.

You have what you need to help your child with math because:

1. You have a great deal of important mathematical knowledge to share.
2. Children learn best from the people who most accept and respect them.
3. Learning is more lasting when it takes place in the context of familiar home experiences.
4. Children must see that math is not just a subject studied in school but is used constantly in everyday family life.

The home is an ideal place in which to learn mathematics because the problems encountered there are real, not just paragraphs in textbooks.

Making Math Part of Your Family’s Life

It’s common knowledge that young children whose parents read to them have a tremendous advantage in school. But did you know that you can also help your child learn mathematics by doing and supporting math at home?

Today mathematics is more critical to school success than ever before. Modern occupations now require a firm foundation in mathematics – and that’s true for almost any type of job your child will consider in the future.

How you encourage and promote your child’s math learning, from preschool to high school, can be pivotal to their attitude toward math and their achievement in this subject area. Children are taught math in school, but research shows that families are an essential part of this learning process. In other words, by doing math with your child and supporting math learning at home, you can make a great difference.

There are many ways to make math part of your family’s life. Consider the following checklist of key ideas:

• Always talk about math in positive ways. Regardless of your own math background, let your child know that learning math is very important. Communicating a positive, can-do attitude about math is the single most important way for you to ensure that your child is successful in math. Never tell your child that math is too hard or that you hated it or weren’t good at it when you were in school.

• Make math an everyday part of your family. Find math at home. Spend time with your child on simple board games, puzzles, and activities that involve math. Involve your child in activities like shopping, cooking, and home fix-it projects to show them that math is practical and useful.

• Notice math in the world. You can help your child see the usefulness of math by pointing it out wherever you see it – not just in your home. What shape is that building? How many more miles before we get there? How many glasses of milk are in a carton? How much will you save if you buy a combo meal at McDonald’s?

Parents as Math Teachers

Parents, Children, and Math Games

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce and extend the skills children learn at school. They can also be a dynamic, motivating mathematics instructional tool for homeschoolers. They are one of the most effective ways that parents can develop their child’s math skills without lecturing or applying pressure. When studying math, there’s an element of repetition that’s an important part of learning new concepts and developing automatic recall of math facts. Number facts (remember those times tables?) can be boring and tedious to learn and practice. A game can generate an enormous amount of practice – practice that does not have kids complaining about how much work they are having to do. What better way can there be than an interesting game as a way of mastering them?

Games are fun and create a context for developing children’s mathematical reasoning. Through playing and analyzing games, children also gain computational fluency by describing more efficient strategies and discussing relationships among numbers.

Games offer a pleasant way for parents of homeschoolers to energize the memorization of basic math skills.

Here are some other benefits of using math games in the homeschooling context:

• Meets your state’s grade-level mathematics standards
• Easily linked to your child’s mathematics textbook
• Offers many opportunities for you to discover your child’s strengths and weaknesses
• Meets the needs of diverse learners, such as English-language learners and special needs children
• Supports concept development in math
• Encourages mathematical reasoning
• Engaging (maintains interest)
• Repeatable (reuse often & sustain involvement)
• Open-ended (allows for multiple approaches & solutions)
• Easy to prepare
• Easy to vary for extended use such as making any game harder, easier, or just meeting the needs of your child
• Improves basic skills, i.e., addition and multiplication facts
• Enhances number and operation sense
• Encourages strategic thinking
• Promotes mathematical communication
• Promotes positive attitudes toward math

Teachers Search for Ways to Energize Math

As an independent, elementary mathematics consultant, I work with elementary teachers all the time as they search for ways to motivate and energize their students in math. I just read the following article about Indiana elementary teachers on that very quest. Take a look at how a grant brought together ISU professors and Vincennes teachers.

One of the instructional strategies they are trying are math games, an effective, hands-on way to teach math concepts. No matter which textbook your district uses, games can easily be incorporated into instruction. Some textbook companies are “seeing the light” and have begun to implement games as a part of each unit.

Even if your textbook does not incorporate games, identify a skill need almost all your students have, and give a game a try. I guarantee it will be more of a learning experience for the students and more informative for you of what your students know and can do than a workbook page.

Here are some of the many benefits of using math games in the classroom:

• Meets your state’s elementary mathematics standards
• Easily linked to any mathematics textbook
• Offers multiple assessment opportunities
• Meets the needs of diverse learners
• Supports concept development in math
• Encourages mathematical reasoning
• Engaging (maintains interest)
• Repeatable (reuse often & sustain involvement)
• Open-Ended (allows for multiple approaches & solutions)
• Easy to prepare
• Easy to vary for extended use & differentiated instruction
• Improves basic skills
• Enhances number and operation sense
• Encourages strategic thinking
• Promotes mathematical communication
• Promotes positive attitudes toward math
• Encourages parent involvement

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