Thursday, May 19, 2016

Math You Can Play: Math games using everyday materials

This week, I took at look at the first two books in the Math You Can Play series by Denise Gaskins.  The first book (Amazon Affiliate link here) focuses on counting and number bonds, and is aimed at pre-K through 2nd grade, and the second book (Amazon Affiliate link here) focuses on addition and subtraction, and is aimed at Kindergarten through 4th grade.  

Both books contain math games that only use standard materials in addition to printable game boards: a few decks of playing cards, dice, dominos, graph paper, at least two kinds of tokens (beans, coins, poker chips, etc).  For each game, she starts by listing the relevant math concepts, and also includes some variations.

Why play these games? From the introduction:
Math games push students to develop a creatively logical approach to solving problems. When children play games, they build reasoning skills that will help them throughout their lives. In the stress-free struggle of a game, players learn to think things through. They must consider their options, change their plans in reaction to new situations, and look for the less obvious solutions in order to outwit their opponents.
 Even more important, games help children learn to enjoy the challenge of thinking hard. In the context of a game, children willingly practice far more arithmetic than they would suffer through on a workbook page, and their vocabulary grows as they discuss options and strategies with their fellow players. Because their attention is focused on their next move, they don’t notice how much they are learning. 
And games are good medicine for math anxiety. Everyone knows it takes time to master the fine points of a game, so children feel free to make mistakes or “get stuck” without losing face. 
If your child feels discouraged or has an “I can’t do it” attitude toward math, take him off the textbooks for a while and feed him a strict diet of games. It will not be long before his eyes regain their sparkle. Beating a parent at a math game will give any child confidence. And if you’re like me, your kids will beat you more often than you might want to admit.
A good math game is still fun and challenging when the math concepts involved have been mastered, and so older siblings and parents can still enjoy joining in.  For example, how can you make 24 using each of the numbers 1, 8, 4, and 3 exactly once, combining them using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division? Even for me, there's a moment of excitement on figuring out the answer.  (You can buy the 24 Game, or make your own version with a deck of cards.)

In addition to the games, there are chapters about "Workbook Syndrome", mastering the math facts, and lots of resources ranging from books to board games (including more than a few that I regularly play with friends).  

If you want to try out a few games without going all in and buying the books, you can find many of them on her blog.  If, like me, you're cost conscious, you can also buy the combined kindle edition for a significant discount (Amazon Affiliate link here).  She also has a book entitled Let's Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy It (Amazon Affiliate link here).  I haven't read it, but it looks good!

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