Not all Math Games are Created Equal

Serious Play-Part 4

Why is it that some games get played over and over while others remain on the shelf collecting dust? If you’re going to invest the time and resources into creating math games for your classroom, don’t you want to be sure that they’re going to get used? And even more so, don’t you want your students to want to play the games that will support their learning?

While designing the KP Mathematics games series, we discovered three characteristics that make for a great math game that gets played over and over:

  1. The game promotes challenging mathematical thinking that is accessible to students on multiple levels.
  2. The game primarily engages students in using mental math skills. Each turn would be too cumbersome if it required students to engage in complex tasks or computations.
  3. The game incorporates an element of chance. This is what makes the game fun. If the most-skilled student can (of course!) win most of the time, why would anyone else want to play?

For today, let’s use the game One-Two-Switcheroo as an example. You can download a free copy of the game by clicking here, choosing an option, and using the code kpmathgame-july2019 when you check out. Note that there are many versions of the game. Although the rules remain the same for all, you can choose either addition or multiplication and a number set (0-10, 0-18, 0-100, beyond 100, fractions, integers, rational numbers).

Basic Rules for One-Two Switcheroo

  1. Players decide who takes the first turn.
  2. Player 1 places a card from his hand on a Sum/Product Spot, saying aloud the correct addition/multiplication statement: for example, “5 + 9 = 14.”
  3. Player 2 takes the next turn, following the same procedure as Player 1.
  4. When a player has a card that makes a Switcheroo Pair (a commutative pair), s/he places that card on the Game Board on top of the other card of the pair.
  5. Then, s/he places his/her marker on the pair of cards and says aloud the commutative statement: for example, “9 + 5 = 5 + 9, One-Two Switcheroo.”
  6. Players alternate turns. The game is over when all the cards have been played.
  7. The winner is the player with more Switcheroo Pairs.

Let’s take a closer look at this game to examine how it addresses the three characteristics we’re exploring today.

Does One-Two Switcheroo promote challenging mathematical thinking that is accessible to students on multiple levels?

Yes! First, this game is layered with two separate concepts: the commutative property and basic addition facts within 10 (or other numbers/operations, depending on the version you chose). In each turn, students will attend to both the property and to the mental math. It’s important to note that multiple versions of this game may be offered concurrently (feel free to download a couple of versions if that will help you in your work). While one pair of students is working on multiplication within 100, others may be working on multiplication with fractions or integers. Although the game directions are identical, the mental strategies will vary tremendously.

Does One-Two Switcheroo primarily engage students in using mental math skills?

Yes! Every version of this game requires that students use mental math strategies rather than paper-pencil strategies. This allows the game to flow smoothly so students don’t get bogged down with complex arithmetic. If students appear to be struggling with the version they’re playing, they can switch to a different version. You may even want to give students the opportunity to create their own versions of the game!

Does One-Two Switcheroo incorporate an element of chance?

Yes! Students draw cards from a shuffled stack that contains some chance cards (such as “take a card from another player”) that add to the game’s unpredictability. Such cards help balance the chances that all students may win the game, regardless of the skill-level they bring to the table.

Please take a moment to download the free game we offered above and examine it closely. Do you see how these three components were woven into the game, regardless of the version you selected?

Next Step for Teachers: Try out One-Two Switcheroo with your students. Do you see how those same three characteristics lend to the appeal of this game? Examine other games used in your classroom. Do they exhibit these three characteristics? Finally, ask your students which math games they play and why. Use their responses to shape how you select math games in the future.

Next Step for Leaders: Encourage your teachers to use game play to reinforce math skills. During grade-level or department meetings, discuss the characteristics of a “winning” math game. You may even want to make copies of One-Two Switcheroo to use as a basis for these discussions.  And finally, make time for walk-throughs during game play to interact with students and to hear their thoughts on which math games are fun and why.

Let’s continue the conversation! What math games do you your students love to play? Do they exhibit any or all of the three components I mentioned? What makes them fun and keeps the kids coming back? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., works with teachers and leaders to develop system-wide change in mathematics teaching and learning.

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