nav-left cat-right

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 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.

In Terms of Decimals, Math Is the Best Game in Town!

Ask fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers about decimals and the question is followed by groans of dissatisfaction. Basically, the groans stem from the lack of success that teachers have in teaching this concept. As one student put it, a decimal is “a thing that makes numbers even more confusing”.

Teachers can get some help in this area by playing decimal math games with their students. A math game has advantages over the traditional approach. Playing a game increases the excitement of any mathematics lesson, and games are engaging and give students the chance to cooperate and communicate with their peers. The following decimal games are two student favorites:

Decimal Dice

What you need:
2 players
two dice
paper and pencil.

Player #1 rolls the dice one at a time. The first number rolled is the whole number and the second number rolled is the decimal.

Example: Player #1 rolls a two and then a 6 – the score is 2.6

Player #1 records this decimal at the top of his/her paper.

Player #2 rolls the dice, one at a time, and records his/her score.

Players continue to alternate turns until each player has 10 decimals.

Player #1 adds his/her 10 decimals together. Player #2 does the same. Players exchange papers and check each other’s addition.

For each double rolled (2.2, 3.3, 6.6, etc.) you add 10 bonus points to your final score.

The player with the highest sum wins the game.

Variation: This game can also be played with subtraction. Begin with a score of 100. Roll the dice in the same manner and subtract your decimal from your score. If you roll doubles, subtract 10 bonus points. The person with the LOWEST score wins!

Decimal Dice 2

What you need:
2 players
two dice
paper and pencils

In this game, each player will roll the two dice exactly three times. At the end of three rounds, the player closest to 10 wins the game.

Player #1 rolls both dice. Player #1 must decide which of the numbers is the whole number and which is the decimal.

Example: Player #1 rolls a two and a 6 – he/she decides whether to
make 2.6 or 6.2

Player #1 records this decimal on his/her recording sheet.

Player #2 rolls both dice. Player #2 must decide which of the numbers is the whole number and which is the decimal and record this on his/her recording sheet.

Players continue to alternate turns until each player has thrown the dice three times.

Players add their decimals. Players exchange papers and check each other’s addition.

The player with the sum closest to 10 wins the game.

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.

Making Math Add Up

Many times math doesn’t add up for students. In fact, many adults have bad memories of trying to learn the multiplication tables or figuring out the square root of a number.

How do we foster a love for learning? When we teach children to read we share colorful picture books filled with exciting stories. In science, we do lively and engaging hands-on experiments, using fun props such as soda bottles and bouncing balls. Yet how do we teach math? Often, intimidating numbers and symbols cover the board. Kids break out in a sweat trying to memorize formulas and multiplication tables. Is this encouraging a love for the process of solving problems and seeking solutions?

One way to deal with math-phobia is to get to kids while they are young and teach them about the fun side of math.

Math as fun? No problem. Experts now agree that children learn far more readily when they are having fun. So what is the simplest way to have fun with math?

Years ago I started playing fun math games in my classroom, and I soon realized that playing games is the best way to get kids motivated and enthusiastic about math. Over the years I have collected many, many classroom math games that I know kids love to play. Finally I have put them together by grade level.

Teaching Elementary Math Can Be Fun!

I firmly believe that the more fun both teacher and child have during a math lesson, the easier the concepts will be to teach, learn, and retain. Believe it or not, there are fun ways to teach math!

Like almost every elementary teacher in the United States, a group in Massachusetts is actively looking for ways to “make teaching math a more comfortable process for early childhood educators”.

Do you feel like you could really use an appealing, effective way to help your students learn basic math concepts and skills? Many elementary schools are impressed with the many benefits of using math games in the classroom.

Games offer a fun and natural link to math concepts. 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.

The following is one of my favorite games for kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders:

Turn Over 5
What you need:
2 players
cards 0 – 5, 4 of each

The object of this Concentration-type game is to capture pairs of cards that add up to 5.

Mix up the cards and lay them face down in four rows of six. Players take turns by choosing two cards to turn over, trying to find a combination that adds up to 5. If they find one, they keep (capture) that pair. If they do not, they turn the two cards back over for the next player. When all matches have been made, the player with the most cards wins the game.

Variation: This game can be made more challenging by using higher cards and a different sum, such as 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 15, etc.

Using Children’s Literature to Teach Math

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has long promoted the collaboration of reading and mathematics and asserts that reading children’s literature involving mathematics needs more emphasis in the mathematics curriculum.

Mathematical ideas are embedded in all types of stories, poems, songs, rhymes, and other forms of literature. Carefully selected literature holds the potential to illuminate children’s understanding of, and ideas about, mathematics.

Reading a good story makes mathematics more meaningful through connections with students’ prior knowledge and with the world outside of school. Problems based on a good story make meaningful connections, increase the level of interest and motivations in students, promote critical thinking, and encourage communication and justification. Teachers and students should recognize that mathematics can be found everywhere – even in the stories that they read every day.

A variety of literature is publlished each year in which mathematics is the main focus of the story. These books have been written by authors whose primary intent is to teach a mathematical skill or concept through a picture or chapter book format. Some of these books are enjoyable and informative.

Another type of literature that teachers may select includes books in which understanding the mathematics is integral to understanding the story but is not the basis for the story. Mathematics does not drive the story; rather, it is embedded within the story. I tend to like these kinds of books best.

In a supportive classroom community in which lliterature and mathematics thrive, both teachers and students can begin to realize that mathematics is integral to daily living and to those connections that may extend into literature.

Want classroom activities to support math and literature? Check out:

Books You Can Count On: Linking Mathematics and Literature by Margaret Griffiths and Rachel Clyne

Connecting Math and Literature: Using Children’s Literature as a Sprinboard for Teaching Math Concepts (Grades 3-6) by Lisa Crooks and Sherri Rous

Exploring Mathematics Through Literature: Articles and Lessons for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 by Diane Thiessen (Editor)

Exploring Math with Books Kids Love (Grades 4-8) by Kathryn Kaczmarski

It’s the Story That Counts: Children’s Books for Mathematical Learning (K-8) by David J. Whitin and Sandra Wilde

Math and Literature (Grades K-8) any of the seven books put out by Marilyn Burns’ Math Solutions

Read Any Good Math Lately? Children’s Books for Mathematical Learning (K-6) by David J. Whitin and Sandra Wilde

Reading is a familiar activity for elementary teachers, and posing problems based on a story allows teachers to showcase their creativity.

Parents Ask About Playing Games in Math Class

Not too long ago a parent said to me, “My child tells me that he plays games during math class. How will games help my child become better at math?” It was a legitimate question and one that teachers need to be prepared to address.

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 and very effective. Games provide an enjoyable venue for the repeated practice necessary for mastering many basic skills. When carefully selected, games can highlight specific mathematics concepts, activate strategic thinking, and create an opportunity to develop logical reasoning skills. And games can help children learn almost everything they need to master in elementary math. Once I began to use games regularly during math time, I was amazed at the many benefits to be had while having fun!

The value of games should not be underestimated. Depending on the game, the type of learning can vary. Some games allow students to practice skills, such as performing arithmetic operations with efficiency and accuracy. Other games encourage the development of concepts and strategic thinking, requiring students to make predictions, deliberate about possible outcomes, solve problems, and experiment with new strategies. All of them offer the potential of connecting to what is being studied in elementary school mathematics.

The teacher needs to know what essential skills and knowledge are involved in any game. A discussion of the game will help students recognize the skills and knowledge needed, which is essential. In addition, the teacher can assess understanding of concepts and levels of skills by observing and listening to students as they play.

Games can engage and motivate students. The hands-on nature makes the game, and the learning associated with it, more concrete. Students who participate in games often perform more mathematics than when using traditional dittos or worksheets. Participation and practice build confidence.

In addition to improving mathematics abilities and increasing thinking and reasoning skills, games can also help develop social skills. Students must take turns, follow rules, play fairly, pay attention, listen to and learn from others, be persistent, and learn from their mistakes. Can that be said for a worksheet?

Give games a try. You might be surprised at what you discover!

« Previous Entries