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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 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.

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.

Variation: Start with 5,000 points and use three dice or start with 50,000 and use 4 dice.

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.

Making Math a Challenge and Fun

Why do so many children feel like math is a chore? I believe that it’s not the math that turns kids off. It’s the way mathematics is taught. Standardized instruction and memorization of details, which moves at a plodding pace, leave some students bored and many frustrated.

We know a lot about how children learn mathematics, but rarely use that information to inform our teaching. Here are some ways to teach math that reflects the research on how children learn mathematics:

• By confronting tasks and problems that offer a variety of solution strategies
• By engaging in meaningful conversation with partners and small groups about the tasks and problems: describing, explaining, deciding, and considering
• By encountering the mathematics in familiar, real-life situations, stories, songs, and games

I’ve been teaching math to children for many years, and I’ve found that math games are, from a teacher’s point of view, wonderfully useful. Math games put children in exactly the right frame of mind for learning. Children are normally very eager to play games. They relax when they play, and they concentrate. They don’t mind repeating certain facts or procedures over and over.

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.

Playing math games is even more beneficial than spending the same amount of time drilling basic facts using flash cards. Not only are games a lot more fun, but the potential for learning and reasoning about mathematics is much greater, as well. Games require a variety of problem-solving skills, such as making and testing hypotheses, creating strategies (thinking and planning ahead), and organizing information. Plus, as children play, they further their development of hand-eye coordination, concentration levels, visual discrimination, memory, and their ability to communicate and use mathematical language.

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. There are several ways of doing this. Playing math games is a particularly useful one.

Math games:
• provoke students into discussing, explaining, and thinking
• challenge and interest students
• get students actively involved in their learning
• result in learning
• provide some immediate assessment

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?

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.

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 and At-Risk Kids

As an elementary mathematics specialist, I work in K-6 classrooms all the time. Time after time teachers ask the same question, “How do I help floundering students who lack basic math skills?” In every class there are a handful of students who are at risk of failure in math.

What can be done for such students? How can we help children be proficient at the basic skills.

Struggling math students typically need a great deal of practice. Math games can be an effective way to stimulate student practice.

First graders and second graders need to have the addition facts to 10 in long-term memory. When they hear 6+4, they immediately know (without counting fingers) that the answer is 10. Using fingers to count is a good, early strategy but with practice, those facts should be automatic.

Family Fact Feud is a great game for achieving that goal.

What you need:
2 players
deck of cards, face cards removed

Players sit side by side (not across from each other)

Teacher/parent decides the particular fact to practice (i.e. +1, +2, +3, etc.) Once the constant addend is determined, that card is placed between the two players. Players then divide the cards evenly between themselves. Each player turns over one card and adds that card to the constant addend in the middle. The player with the highest sum collects both cards. Players must verbalize the math sentence.

Example:
Teacher/parent decides the constant addend will be +1.

Player #1 turns over a 5, and says, “5 + 1 = 6″.
Player #2 turns over an 8 and says, “8 + 1 = 9″.

Player #2 collects both cards.

In the event of a tie (both players have the same sum), each player turns over one more card and adds this card to the 1. The player with the greatest sum takes all four cards.

When the deck is finished up, players count their cards. The player with the most cards is the winner.

Third graders and fourth graders need to have all of the multiplication facts to automaticity.

Multiplication Fact Feud is great for that.

What you need:
2 players
deck of cards, face cards removed

Teacher/parent decides the particular multiplication fact to practice (i.e. x7, x4, x8, etc.) Once the constant factor is determined, that card is placed between the two players. Players then divide the remaining cards evenly between themselves.

Each player turns over one card and multiplies that card by the constant in the middle. Players must verbalize their math sentence. The player with the highest product collects both cards.

Example:
Teacher/parent selects x5 as the constant.

Player #1 draws a 4 and says, “4 x 5 = 20″.
Player #2 draws a 7 and says “7 x 5 = 35″

Player #2 would collect both cards.

In the event of a tie (i.e. both players have the same product), each player turns over one more card and multiplies that by the constant factor. The player with the highest product wins all four cards.

When the cards are all used up, the player with the most cards wins the game.

Playing to Learn

Everyday Mathematics is a comprehensive Pre-K through 6th grade mathematics curriculum developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project. It is currently being used in over 185,000 classrooms by almost 3,000,000 students.

The federal government’s What Works Clearinghouse gave Everyday Mathematics the highest rating of any commercially published elementary mathematics curriculum.

Here’s what they have to say about the use of math games:

“Frequent practice is necessary to attain strong mental arithmetic skills and reflexes. Although drill focused narrowly on rote practice with operations has its place, Everyday Mathematics also encourages practice through games.

Drill and games should not be viewed as competitors for class time, nor should games be thought of as time-killers or rewards. In fact, games satisfy many, if not most, standard drill objectives – and with many built-in options. Drill tends to become tedious and, therefore, gradually loses its effectiveness. Games relieve the tedium because children enjoy them. Indeed, children often wish to continue to play games during their free time, lunch, and even recess.

Using games to practice number skills also greatly reduces the need for worksheets. Because the numbers in most games are generated randomly, the games can be played over and over without repeating the same problems. Games practice, therefore, offers an almost unlimited source of problem material.”

Games can be easily linked to any mathematics textbook.

No matter which textbook your district uses, math games can easily be incorporated into instruction. Even if your textbook does not include 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 any workbook page or ditto.

Actively Learning Math

Is it any wonder that Pine Street Elementary was the only school in the tricounty area of South Carolina to earn “excellent” in both absolute and growth ratings?

The picture shows a classroom of children studying math through activities that get them out of their seats. Active (as opposed to passive) learning is always a more effective teaching and learning strategy.

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. There are several ways of doing this. Playing math games is a particularly useful one.

Math games:
• provoke students into discussing, explaining, and thinking
• challenge and interest students
• get students actively involved in their learning
• result in learning
• provide some immediate assessment

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.

Playing Math Games with Children

Question most adults about what it would take to get kids hooked on math, and many would ask, “Is that possible?”

As a veteran elementary teacher, I know that kids can get hooked on math at an early age, and if you miss that window, it’s harder to get them into it later.

What can parents and teachers of young children do to get their children excited about math? Well, you could buy a $200. program. Or you could buy a deck of cards, a couple of dice, and/or some board games and begin to play math games. I can guarantee that the latter will be a lot less expensive and a great deal more engaging.

I tried to teach my child with books.
He only gave me puzzled looks.
I tried to teach my child with words.
They passed him by, unheard.
In despair I turned aside.
“How will I teach my child?” I cried.
Into my hand he put the key…
“Come” he said, “and play with me”.
Unknown

The Importance of Play
There are many math games and activities that have a great deal to do with having fun as you learn. One of the things we positively know about children (and adults) is that if pleasure is not a part of what you are doing, you will not be willing to do it very much or for very long.

Many parents regard play as rather trivial in the lives of their young children and would much rather see their kids get involved in “educational” activities. To parents, it often seems that all children do is play! They play until they are five or six, then they go off to school and start to learn. They play until they are big enough to really begin to do things.

The act of playing is an important tool that influences a child’s life. The primary goals of childhood are to grow, learn, and play. It is often through play that children learn to make sense of the world around them. It is a child’s “job” to play to develop physical coordination, emotional maturity, social skills to interact with others, and self-confidence to try new experiences and explore new environments.

Play to a child IS learning! They learn to play and play to learn. Play is terribly important to a child. It is not a distraction. It’s not something they do to take up time. It’s a child’s life.

So, begin to “play” with your child. Playing math games is a wonderful way to learn as you play.

A Math Game for Third Graders

Math games are a highly effective and engaging way to get students involved in practicing basic math skills. The following double-digit addition math game is great for second graders, third graders, and fourth graders. It not only addresses addition but forces students to look at the importance of place value.

Get Close to 100

What you need:
2 – 4 players
deck of cards, 10s and face cards removed
paper and pencils for each player

The object of the game is to make a two-digit addition problem that comes as close to 100 as possible.

Shuffle cards and place them face down in a pile.

Player #1 turns over 4 cards and moves the cards around until he/she has created a problem whose sum will be as close to 100 as he/she can make it. Player #1 records this problem on his/her paper.

Player #2 checks for addition accuracy.

Example: Player #1 draws a 4, a 7, a 2, and a 5. He/she moves the cards around until she/he decides that 47 + 52 = 99 is the closest that he/she can get.

Player # 2 draws four cards and does the same.

The points for each round are the difference between their sum and 100.
Example: A sum of 95 scores 5 points and so does a sum of 105.

Players compare scores at the end of this first round. They put their four cards in a discard pile and player #2 begins first and turns over four more cards for the second round.

After six rounds, players total their points and the player with the lowest score wins.

Variation: Make this a triple-digit addition game called Get Close to 1000! by drawing 6 cards and creating two triple-digit numbers which when added together, get as close to 1000 as possible.

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