Math Games in the Classroom

Math Games

This post relates to #MTBoS assignment four.  For this mission I decided to listen to one of the Global Math Department‘s webinars.  I came across GMD about a year ago and look back occasionally at the webinars that I miss.  While reviewing I found the math games webinar back in January of last year, so that’s the one I picked for this mission.  Plus, I’ve always enjoyed using math games (1,2,3) to review and believe that I can always improve in this area of my practice.

Math games have always been a part of my own teaching practice, but I want to learn how to use them more effectively.  I’m fortunate to have a curriculum that highlights the use of math games in/out of the classroom.  I use math games with my classes approximately once per week and primarily use them during math stations. Most of the math games that I use deal with dice, cards, and/or some type of online component.  For me, the reason for using the games goes back to the concept of learning and engagement.  I believe engagement can be heightened with the appropriate use of a math game.  Math games also allow opportunities to develop skills related to critical thinking and problem solving.  Also, guided math has played a role in how I use math games in the classroom.  With a push for guided math at the elementary level, students that are not immediately with an instructor need to be able to engaged in mathematical thinking, self-govern themselves, and use their time wisely.  Math games at a particular math station provide an opportunity to do just that.

Understanding what makes a good math game is important.  Ensuring that the students are engaged is key.  Students that drift their attention in and out of the game can cause issues; especially if the teacher isn’t directly at that particular math station.  As I watched the webinar, I began to see affirmation and areas where I need to start thinking more critically about how math games are used.

A few takeaways/questions from this webinar include:

  • Always start with the objective
  • Does the math actually interrupt the game/fun?
  • Is the math action the same as the game action?
  • Time limits can encourage math anxiety
  • Games can be used to introduce concepts, not just for review
  • Games can encourage math exploration
  • Inferencing, prediction, critical thinking and logic reasoning can all be part of the game
  • Rote mathematics doesn’t have to be the emphasis of game
  • Math games can reinforce gamification thinking
  • Keep in mind the game design process

How do you use math games in the classroom?

Gamification in the Math Classroom

With some assistance from ISTE13, it seems that the concept of gamification is becoming more associated with education.  I was #notatiste this year, but I heard that the keynote by Jane McGonigal was well received.  The idea of gaming in education, specifically the use of technology to facilitate gamification continues to build momentum.

The concept of gamification is described by Wikipedia as game-thinking in non-game contexts.  The idea is continuing to make an impact as companies and now schools are implementing the underlying concepts of gaming in the workplace/school.  I find more and more that gaming is becoming mainstream, from purchasing points to Fitbit badges.

To be honest, when I first heard of the idea of gamification I thought that this idea has a place in the classroom.  I then thought of how much time students (and teachers) spend on games and what role motivation plays in those games.  Many iPhone/iPad games give multiple, sometimes endless opportunities to successfully pass a level.  Think of games like Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Words with Friends for general examples.  If a user fails at a level, they use the electronic feedback (e.g. not hitting the right board in Angry Brids) to make another attempt.  I know that that is a generic example but also reinforces the point that feedback is important.  Although I feel urged to mention that electronic feedback isn’t always effective … think of Game Genie.

Recognition, competition, and collaboration all have the potential to contribute to learning in the classroom.  I think most teachers use forms of gaming in their classroom, but they don’t necessarily refer to it as gamification.  Many web-based companies continue to interweave the idea of games and learning.  Khan Academy, Scootpad, Class Dojo, and MobyMax are just a few that use points or badges as a partial motivation tool.  Many iPad educational games are also adding to the gaming party.  SplashMath, a math game used with my second graders uses points that can be used to build an aquarium with exotic fish.  Where was this when I was a student?! Teachers often use games to engage students in the classroom.  I do believe though that staff should always be aware of what learning outcomes the games address to also validate why they are being played.  For some, the idea of playing games is related to entertainment, not learning.  Why can’t it be both?  Personally, I find that board, card, math contests, and dice games to be effective in helping students retain and apply mathematical practices in the classroom.  Not only do they encourage students to collaborate and use social skills, but I find them to be useful during guided math groups.  A debrief after the game also allows time to reflect on strategies and reinforce mathematical processes.

The focus now seems to be placed on technological uses of gamification in the classroom.  One of my goals this next year is to incorporate additional gaming opportunities in the math classroom.  I’m still in the process of researching and finding additional resources related to math gamification. If you’re in a similar boat, Trever Reeh’s page on math gamification is a good place to start gathering a few ideas.  I believe gamification in the math classroom has its place, but finding a balance between different teaching strategies is important.  How do you use games or similar activities in the math classroom?