## Math Games for First Graders

I think that every topic in mathematics is fun if you master it and understand it. Since fun has always been a part of my teaching philosophy, I have found that math games are an enormously engaging and effective way to help children on their way to understanding and mastery in math. The greatest benefits of math games are the way they improve students’ basic arithmetic and problem-solving skills.

By the end of first grade, students should know or be able to do the following:
• understand and use the concept of ones and tens in the place value number system
• add and subtract small numbers with ease
• measure with simple units
• locate objects in space.
• describe data
• analyze and solve simple problems.

I have taught first grade for many years. If I could pick one math skill that I think is the most important skill for first graders to master, it would be the ability to know (without counting on fingers) all the addition facts to 10. Counting on fingers is a good beginning strategy, but children need to have all the facts in long-term memory and be able to recall them automatically.

What are all the facts that add to 10? (10+0, 9+1, 8+2, 7+3, 6+4, 5+5, 4+6, 3+7, 2+8, 1+9, 0+10)
What are all the facts that add to 9? 8? 7? 6? 5? 4? 3? 2?

The following game is one of many that help children master these basic addition skills, while having fun:

What you need:
2 players
Add-em Up game board for each player – each player writes the numbers 2-12 horizontally at the bottom of their papers.
2 dice
Counters – paper clips, pennies, etc.

Players place a counter above each number.

Player #1 rolls the dice and adds the 2 numbers. He/she may then remove the counter over the sum from the game board or the counters over any 2 numbers that add up to that same sum.

Example: Player #1 rolls a 3 and a 4. He/she may remove the counter above the 7 or the counters above any combination for 7, such as 1 & 6, or 2 & 5, or 3 & 4.

Players take turns rolling the dice and removing counters. When a player cannot remove counters that match the sum rolled or a combination, he/she loses that turn.

Play continues until neither player can remove counters. The player with the most counters removed wins.

## Math Games Develop Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is one of the most important skills for children to develop. It requires the ability to observe, take in different pieces of information, analyze information, plan and analyze possible solutions, and choose the appropriate action.

Strategic thinking is a way to solve problems. Every day we have to solve the problems. Every day, we need solutions. Problem solving is an essential skill in our professional, family, and social lives.

Games like bridge, chess, and backgammon are ideal for teaching strategic thinking. But learning bridge is more than fun and games; students who play, practice math and reasoning skills and show improvements on standardized tests.

However, games such as bridge have complex rules that can take time to learn and master. Instead of using complicated games, there are many math games at every grade level that are much easier for children to learn and play. All of the math games are focused on providing engaging activities to entertain strategic mathematical thinking both inside and outside of the classroom.

If you are a teacher or parent, I encourage you to have a look at the assortment of games. You will find many that will pique your interest and and help you develop strategic thinking and problem solving abilities in your students/children while having fun!

## Math Games and Math Homework

The finding by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel declared math education in the United States “broken” and called on schools to focus on teaching fundamental math skills that provide the underpinning for success in high tech jobs.

The panel said that students must be able to add and subtract whole numbers by the end of third grade and be skilled at adding and subtracting fractions and decimals by the end of fifth grade.

One of the ways that we, as teachers, have traditionally given students more practice on their math skills is homework, and yet, eighty-four percent of kids would rather take out the trash, clean their rooms, or go to the dentist than do their math homework.

So how can we help our students with their math skills and make math homework more engaging? Math games!

More and more in my teaching career, I see that children no longer memorize their addition facts or multiplication tables. With the math curriculum as extensive as it is, teachers cannot afford to take the time to ensure that students learn the basic facts (sad, but true!). Parents are partners in the process and will offer greater opportunities for their children to succeed in math if they support the learning of the basics at home. Games fit the bill wonderfully!

Games offer a pleasant way for parents to get involved in their children’s education. Parents don’t have to be math geniuses to play a game. They don’t have to worry about pushing or pressuring their children. All that parents have to do is propose a game to their child and start to play.

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce and extend the skills children learn at school. 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 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?

## Math Games and the Last Few Weeks of School

The Big Test is over. Yeah! The long Memorial Day weekend is past, or soon will be. Sigh! You’re way beyond burned out and thinking mostly about summer. You can’t figure out how you’re going to get through the next few weeks.

I have a great idea! Give a math game a try! Games can help children learn important mathematical skills and processes with understanding.

Besides that they:

• support concept development in math
• meet math standards
• offer multiple assessment opportunities which will help with report cards
• are great for diverse learners such as English-language learners
• encourage mathematical reasoning
• are easy to prepare
• are easy to vary for extended use and differentiated instruction
• improve basic skills
• enhance basic number and operation sense
• encourage strategic thinking
• promote mathematical communication
• promote positive attitudes towards math

Pick a skill set you know your students need to practice, and then find the right game that will offer practice with that skill set. The students will be engaged and quite willing to involve themselves in the repetitive practice needed to hone their skills.

## The What and Why of Math Games

As a veteran elementary teacher and math specialist, I’m a big believer in using math games to teach math in the classroom.

What is a math game? The most effective math games are those in which the structure and rules of the games are based on mathematical ideas, and winning a game is directly related to understanding the mathematics.

Why play math games? I will classify the intrinsic advantages of math games under three categories:

Learning

Much of mathematics teaching revolves around giving students practice in newly acquired skills and reinforcing and revisiting already introduced skills. Games provide a way of taking the drudgery out of this practice of skills, and making that practice more effective. A game can generate much more practice than a workbook page, ditto, or flashcards. When playing a game, students don’t mind repeating certain facts or procedures over and over.

In terms of gains in test results, research indicates that games are an effective way to retrain and reinforce children’s skills with basic number facts.

Playing games demands involvement. Successful mathematics teaching depends on the active involvement of the learner. Piaget, Bruner, and Dienes suggest that games have a very important part to play in learning mathematics. Dienes even suggests that all mathematics teaching should begin with a game.

Ways of Working

Children need to talk about the math as they are learning it. Math games demand mathematical communication. This can be encouraged by having students work with a partner against two other students. Not only will there be meaningful conversation between the two partners, but between the four players.

To play effectively the partners must co-operate. Thus playing games provides opportunities for children to work co-operatively – an important life skill.

Games put pressure on students to work mentally. The ability to do math in your head is a skill that I don’t believe we spend enough time on with students. If you think about it, when presented with a mathematical situation, most people would first try to do it in their head. It takes awhile for students to gain confidence in their ability to do math in their head. You must show them a variety of ways to do math mentally, which will give them tools they can use, but it also builds their desire to think more creatively on their own.

Within the normal classroom situation there few opportunities and little incentive for students to check and justify their work. Games offer a strong incentive for players to check each other’s mathematics, challenging moves which they think are unjustified. I encourage children to ask their opponents to “convince me” or “prove it”.

Probability is one of the mathematics standards that is only slightly addressed. Games bring probability to the forefront. Students are offered many opportunities to think about probability through games.

Engagement

Probably the most powerful reason for introducting games into the mathematics classroom is the enthusiasm, excitement, and total involvement and enjoyment that children experience when playing math games. Students are highly motivated and totally immerse themselves in the games, and, in the end, their attitude toward math grows increasingly more positive. Games offer children the opportunity to experience success, satisfaction, enjoyment, excitement, enthusiasm, active involvement, and gain confidence in their mathematical abilities.

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.

## Fun and (Math) Games!

Saturday School A Success At Lincoln Elementary reads the headline from Madison, Wisconsin. Even on a Saturday, and even on a day that felt like summer, dozens of students at one elementary school spent the morning in class.

Every Saturday since the end of January, about 100 students have gathered for about two hours a week to get a little extra work done and to do so while having a little bit of fun. It is easy to assume that kids would want to be anywhere but school on a weekend morning, but this program is proving to be different. Instead of traditional instruction, students learn through playing games.

It seems somehow sad to me that kids are allowed to have fun with math only on Saturdays. Why isn’t math engaging, challenging, and fun all the time? As a veteran elementary teacher, I do understand that teachers feel like they don’t have enough time to teach all of the content within the course of a school year. Why on earth would they ever want to add more material in the form of math games when they can’t seem to finish the assigned math textbook? Turns out that making time to incorporate math games in the classroom can lead to rich results. I’ve been using games to teach mathematics for many years, and here are some of the significant benefits of doing so:

Benefits of Using Math Games in the Classroom

• Meets Mathematics Standards
• Easily Linked to Any Mathematics Textbook
• Offers Multiple Assessment Opportunities
• Meets the Needs of Diverse Learners (UA)
• 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

Pick a skill that your students need to practice. One of the big ones is subtraction at any level. Kindergarteners through 6th graders find subtraction to be a challenge. Here’s a great double-digit subtraction game:

500 Shakedown

What you need:
2 players
2 dice
paper and pencil for each

Each player starts with 500 points.

Player #1 rolls the dice and makes the biggest two-digit number he/she can. Now he/she subtracts this number from 500.

Example: Player #1 rolls a 2 and a 4 and makes 42. Now he/she subtracts 42 from 500.

Player #2 rolls the dice and does the same. Players continue to alternate turns. The first person to reach 0 wins.

There’s only one complication! When you throw a 1, the rules change. You don’t subtract. Instead you make the smallest two-digit number you can and add.

Example: If the player throws a 1 and a 5, the smallest two-digit number is 15. So he/she adds 15 to the total.

## Teachers Taking Time for Math Games

As an elementary school teacher, you probably feel like you don’t have enough time to teach all of your content within the course of a school year. Why on earth would you ever want to add more material in the form of math games when you can’t seem to finish your assigned math textbook? Turns out that making time to incorporate math games in your classroom can lead to rich results.

One of the most immediate benefits of using math games is increasing student engagement. Games are engaging and maintain interest. Dittos or workbook pages rarely are. 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. Research has demonstrated that students learn more if they are actively engaged with the math they are studying.

Contrast this with the reaction that many students have toward the textbook: either a lack of interest or an assumption that the assigned math/problems will be too difficult.

Incorporating math games also allows you to differentiate instruction. Using math games which better match students’ abilities can help them build content knowledge and interact more successfully with the required text.

Because math games require active involvement, use concrete objects and manipulatives, and are hands-on, they are ideal for all learners, particulary English language learners. Games provide opportunities for children to work in small groups, practice teamwork, cooperation, and effective communication. Children learn from each other as they talk, share, and reflect throughout game times. Language acquisition is meaningful and understandable.

Your state’s mathematics standards are intended as a statement of what students should learn, or what they should have accomplished, at particular stages of their schooling. The goal of every state’s math standards is to engage students in meaningful mathematical problem-solving experiences, build math knowledge and skills, increase students’ ability to communicate mathematically, and increase their desire to learn mathematics. Those are the goals for math games, too!

Specific content knowledge will vary according to the game students play and the connection to school-day learning and the state standards. A major goal for students in the elementary grades is to develop an understanding of the properties of and the relationships among numbers. One of the very effective ways teachers can reinforce the development and practice of number concepts, logical reasoning, and mathematical communication is by using math games. They are great for targeted practice on whatever standard the children need to meet.

You will meet significantly more of your state’s grade- level mathematics standards by having your children play a game than will have been met by having them complete a ditto or a workbook page.

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 skills 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 to you of what your students know and can do than a workbook page.

## Teachers, Students, and Math Games

An Indiana math project focuses on helping kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers learn new techniques for teaching math.

Neill, along with partner Tara Sparks, a first-grade teacher at Eastern Greene Elementary School, demonstrated at a concluding session how they have “excited kids through games created with playing cards and dice.”

“The kids in my class have been taking them out at recess to play with them,” Sparks said in the press release. “They don’t want to put them down.”

As a veteran elementary teacher, I have used math games for many years to engage children in math they do not want to stop doing – even if it means skipping recess!! Many times they begged to take the game out to the playground, and they were always excited to take it home and teach it to their families. When was the last time that happened to you with math or math homework?

Math games in the classroom have many benefits:

• meets mathematics standards
• easily linked to any mathematics textbook
• offers multiple assessment opportunities
• meets the needs of diverse learners (Universal Access)
• 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

Children throw themselves into playing games the way they never throw themselves into filling out workbook pages or dittos. And games can, if you select the right ones, help children learn almost everything they need to master in elementary math. Good, child-centered games are designed to take the boredom and frustration out of the repetitive practice necessary for children to master important math skills and concepts.

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.

## Math Games + Fun = Learning

Most elementary schools, these days, have after-school programs. Children (of working parents) play organized outdoor games, work on homework, read, do art projects, and watch educational (hopefully) videos.

As an elementary mathematics specialist, I have trained after-school program facilitators to use math games for fun and learning. When kids are having fun, they are more open to learning. When they are having fun, they want to keep doing whatever they are doing.

Practice is provided with math games, minimizing review worksheets and stressful flash cards, presenting a variety of repetition, and creating hours of fun learning math facts and concepts. A student would much rather solve a problem as part of a card game, than doing that same problem on a worksheet! Even better–that same problem will come up again and again in a card game, with the student happily solving it again and again. If you put the same problem on a worksheeet again and again, you get complaints!

Playing fun card games is not a waste of time. Students in after-school programs will think they are getting away with “no work” when they play a math game. With innovative and challenging math games, review and reinforcement are built right in!

The key to helping children practice their math skills willingly is using math games that are effective, engaging, and fun. The idea of mixing math and games is one important segment of how to become a successful after-school center.

## Basic Math Skills and Meaningful Jobs

Being able to read, write, and do basic math is a requirement for almost any meaningful job these days. The reason we have to spend so many resources on remedial work, whether that be at universities, community colleges or other adult education programs, is some adults did not learn their basic math facts when their young minds were most capable of learning.

That is true today, and it will be true in the future. In order for your child to have success with more advanced math, and be prepared for a future with a meaningful job, it is essential that they memorize their basic math facts to the level of automaticity.

Your child is introduced to basic math concepts such as counting and simple adding in kindergarten.

Third graders and fourth graders need to master the multiplication tables to 12×12 and the related division facts.

The exact order and manner in which math facts and concepts are introduced varies with the curriculum your child’s school uses and math standards, which can vary from state to state, but the above is a general guide.

Essentially, your child should demonstrate mastery of these types of facts by the end of fourth grade in order to be prepared for the challenges of more advanced math. It may come quickly for your child, or it may take time, but through focused practice, they will be able to increase their proficiency.

This can be achieved through skill and drill repetition (dittos, workbook pages, timed tests, and/or flashcards) which is usually extremely boring and tedious. There is another more effective, creative, and fun method. Math games! Games are engaging (maintain interest); dittos, workbook pages, or flash cards rarely are.

Parents can offer greater opportunities for their child to succeed in math if they support the learning of the basics at home. Games fit the bill wonderfully!

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce and extend the skills children learn at school. 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 teach or reinforce many of the skills that a formal curriculum teaches, plus a skill that math homework sometimes, mistakenly, leaves out – the skill of having fun with math, of thinking hard and enjoying it.