## 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.

## Summer Math for the Fun of It!

Summer is coming. What are you going to do to keep your child’s math skills from losing ground? Research has shown that there is clearly a case for use it or lose it with math. Teachers know that students return to school in the fall with a 1 to 2 month loss in math skills. Not good, and definitely not necessary.

Carrie Launius, a veteran teacher, has this to say in her article titled, “Keeping Kids Busy During Summer”, “Card games like solitaire are very good for kids to practice mental math and math thinking as well as Gin, Rummy, or Spades”.

It is essential that, over the summer vacation, parents create active and memorable learning experiences for their children in math. “Children learn more effectively when information is presented through the use of active learning experiences instead of passive ones”, reports Marilyn Curtian-Phillps, M. Ed.

Parents often get caught up in having their child do workbook pages from some expensive book that they order or buy from a teacher store. Just give them authentic, real world experiences where learning can take place naturally. Math games are much more appropriate and engaging than workbooks, dittos, or even flashcards.

Children throw themselves into playing games the way they never throw themselves into filling out workbook pages or dittos. And games can 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. In a non-threatening game format, children will be more focused and retention will be greater.

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce, sharpen, and extend math skills over the summer. 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?

Here’s an example of a great game for children who need to sharpen their multiplication skills:

Salute Multiplication

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

Shuffle deck and place face down in a pile.

Player #1 turns over the top card and places it face up on the table for all to see.

Player #2 draws a card and does not look at it. Player 2 holds the card above his or her eyes so that player #1 can see it, but he can’t.

Player #1 multiplies the 2 cards mentally and says the product out loud.

Player #2 listens and decides what his or her card must be and says that number out loud.

Example: Player #1 turns over a 6 for all to see. Without looking at it,
player #2 puts a 4 on his forehead. Player #1 mentally
multiplies 6 x 4 and says, “24”. Player #2 must figure out
6 x ? = 24.

Both players decide if the response is correct. If it is, player #1 gets 1 point.

Players reverse roles and play continues until one player has 10 points.

## Exploring Math with Your Child

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 a great deal of important mathematical knowledge to share.

• Children learn best from the people who most accept and respect them.

• Learning is more lasting when it takes place in the context of familiar home experiences.

• 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.

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.

The following is one of my favorite get-the-family-involved math activities. It is an engaging learning experience and a lot of fun!!!

The Washcloth Toss

Have each member of your family estimate (make a smart guess) how far they can throw a dry washcloth. Record your estimates. Now throw the washcloth. Measure and record how far the dry washcloth really went. The person closest to their estimate wins.

Now do it again, making an estimate first. Then throw the dry washcloth again, and measure and record how far it went. Were you any closer to your estimate this time? Who won?

Wet your washcloth this time. Estimate how far you think you can throw the wet dishcloth and record your estimates. Now throw the wet washcloth. Measure and record how far the wet washcloth really went. The person who is closest to their estimate is the winner.

Now do the wet washcloth experiment again, making an estimate first. Throw the wet washcloth again, and measure and record how far it went. Were you any closer to your estimate this time?

Which washcloth went farther – the dry one or the wet one?

Why do you think that happened?

Who is the dry washcloth winner? (closest to estimate)
Wet winner? (closest to estimate)

## 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.

## TV and Math

Toddlers who watch a lot of television were more likely to experience a range of problems by the fourth grade, including lower grades, poorer health and more problems with school bullies, a new study reports.

Compared with children who watched less television, those with more TV exposure participated less in class and had lower math grades.

The findings suggest that the differences were strongly linked with television exposure, not parental care, and that excessive television is not good for a developing brain.

Research indicates that early learning has lasting results. When we look at child development studies, we find that between birth and age 7, children enjoy their greatest learning curve. They have a strong, basic desire to learn. They are like sponges, soaking up everything around them. They are unintimidated, curious, eager to learn, and love to be active.

It’s the perfect time to get these children excited about math! How do parents of young children do that? As National Board Certified Teacher with a specialty in early childhood, I strongly recommend that parents use math games to prompt interest and development in math.

I’ve found that math games are, from a teacher’s and a parent’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 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. In a non-threatening game format, children will be more focused and retention will be greater.

## Math Games – a Great Summer Skill Sharpener!

Many οf thе math computational skills whісh generally аrе nοt practiced over thе summer, аrе simply forgotten. Parents can help their children retain and sharpen their mathematics skills this summer by doing and supporting math at home.

Math games offer targeted practice in math fundamentals. Games can, if you select the right ones, help children learn almost everything they need to practice and 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.

Get Close to 105

What you need:
2 or more players
3 dice
pencils and paper for everyone

The object of this game is to get a final score closer to 105 than any other player.

Player #1 rolls the dice, adds them together, and puts the sum as his/her score for that round.

Player #2 rolls the dice, and does the same as player #1.

At the end of 10 rounds (and everyone has to take 10 rounds), the player with the score closest to 105 wins the game.

Variation: Players can make the goal number anything they want, such as 147, etc. Is there a target score that will be too high for three dice and 10 rounds? A question for the kids, not the parents.

Never forget that games are supposed to be fun! If pleasure is not connected to the game, children will be unwilling to play and little learning will take place.

## Math and Summer Brain Drain

Summer brain drain іѕ thе widely acknowledged loss οf academic skills whісh happens during the two to three months of summer vacation. Studies cite anywhere frοm аbουt 2.5 months tο 3 months οf learning lost οr forgotten whеn skills аrе nοt being practiced.

Studies show that math skills deteriorate the most. Children forget at least one month of math each summer, and that loss is cumulative. Your child will forget about a year of math instruction over the 12 years of schooling. Many οf thе computational skills whісh generally аrе nοt practiced over thе summer, аrе simply forgotten.

What can parents, who worry аbουt keeping their kids аt thе top οf thеіr game, do? Involve your children in math that keeps their computational skills up and yet is engaging and fun! If pleasure is not a part of what they are doing, neither you or the children will be willing to do it very much or for very long.

I’ve been teaching math to children for many years, and I’ve found that math games are, from a teacher’s and a parent’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 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. In a non-threatening game format, children will be more focused and retention will be greater.

Games solidify the achievements of children who are already good at math, and they shore up children who need shoring up.

Involve yουr kids wіth math games. They will hеƖр уου know аnԁ focus οn уουr child’s computational weaknesses and strengths. Thіѕ summer, give уουr child thе opportunity tο hаνе fun, ɡеt a step ahead οf thе coming school year, and gain an advantage over their peers.

Polish those math skills with math games thіѕ summer, аnԁ уουr student wіƖƖ shine later!