How often do your students play games during math? Do you bring them out on special occasions only? Maybe Fun Friday? Here are five reasons games should be a regular part of your math instruction:
- Computational Fluency: This is something we want all of our students to have. A lack of fluency can become a serious impediment to performance in math. When all of a student's effort is spent on figuring out basic facts, they cannot focus on the real work of math which is problem solving. There are MANY games out there that build fluency. One of my favorite store-bought ones is Sumoku. It's great for practicing repeated addition and building multiplication skills.
- Strategic Thinking: One of our goals as math teachers is to teach students to problem solve in multiple ways. Thinking strategically and choosing the most efficient way to solve a problem takes a lot of practice. When engaged in playing a game, students will do this naturally without even realizing that it's happening. One my students' favorite games for the past three years has been The Grocery Game. To play, they must fill their grocery bags while staying within their budget and having as much money left over as possible. This requires not only addition and subtraction, but planning, estimation, and strategy. Here is a picture of my students playing this game:
- Real-world Connection: Want to make your math instruction meaningful? Then use games! One of my favorite things to do is have a guided whole group lesson and then bring out a game at the end that uses the same skill. Then, they get to play the game with their friends! Sometimes they can borrow my game to take home and play with their family! See, math isn't just for the classroom. It isn't something that you just sit and do on paper. There are many games available that teach real-life math skills (see The Grocery Game in #2). Want a really fun homework assignment? Tell your students go home and play a game of darts (lots of addition!) or anything else that requires keeping score. Or have them run sprints and then calculate their average time. There are so many ways math is incorporated into everyday life.
- Student-Driven: What sounds more fun: solving problems your teacher came up with or playing a game with your friends? As awesome as you think you are, I promise that your students would rather play the game. Know why? Because they're in charge. They are choosing who goes first. They are drawing the cards and asking the questions, They are determining who wins. When students are in charge of their own learning, magic happens. Enough said.
- Motivation: One of the best reasons to use games (maybe THE best) is that it motivates kids to do math. Many children (and some adults) don't get why math is important and no amount of telling them will make them think otherwise. By using games, you are giving those kids a reason to do math. Not because you said so, not because it's part of school, but because it's part of an activity that has personal meaning. Even the most reluctant math students will join in when you bring out the games and they're almost always excited to do so!