Monday, June 4, 2012

Let's play math board games!

Last night my boys asked us to play Monopoly game.(By the way, I don't like the name of the game because it looks like the purpose of play is to earn more money then the other guy). Before the game, my husband asked them to give some details about the game again. My 13year son said: there are 32 houses 12 hotels. The more you buy, the less we can buy. And you have to know the odds like when you are in “jail”(name used in the game) it's possible to get out immediately by paying $50 our using a free card. If it's early in the game is best to get out as soon as possible, so you can have more opportunities to buy property. Later in the game it's best to stay in “jail” as long as possible to avoid landing on our properties.” and so on....
I have always thought that Math board games are fun. They are a nice change from rote memorization and a good way to increase interest of math as a fun and interesting subject. Teaching a group of children right after school is a reason why I use the board games very often and math board games as well such as, monopoly, jenga, apples to apples, chess, uno cards etc,

I picked those since they have mathematics involved in their structure, practical strategies or analysis of the game results.

What I would like to point out in this blog is that even though they are games we can bring our professional knowledge by asking them to reason. Every time when they play the games I am there only to ask them to explain their choices or open discussions so they can verbalize their strategies or listen to others' strategies that they might have never heard of before. After that, a couple of children start to ask their friends about the strategies as well but a day after they tend to forget. But we know that practice and repetition strengthen their understanding. So, I keep repeating the questions and sometime I stop them in the middle of the game using “freeze” game and ask them what they think is going to happen, is there a reason why Ben put nr. 9 down (Playing cards), which way is shorter to climb up that ladder, how many times are you going to throw the dice so you can reach the top of the tree (Chutes and ladders), what are the options for Zack to land on your property, why do you use large or small bills to change a $ 25 bill (Monopoly)and so on.

The children love it because is fun, they are socializing with friends, they have time to think, the conversation and sometimes the debate is natural that makes them reflect on their own thinking.

I know that there are cons about board games such as, too competitive or I had a parent who said "playing cards teaches them how to gamble" or “my kid doesn't learn anything in school because all he does is play games” and I have my own cons as I mentioned in the beginning about Monopoly game. However, these cons and more are the reasons why those games should be played at home and school more often, so, the parents and the teachers are there to provide and create environments that make children think, solve problems,increase their arithmetic skills,calculate, challenge their understanding and have fun other than exposing them with the negative sides of the board games.

Here I have this paragraph from Paul Bryn Davies which I have it displayed on the wall all the time and also, I keep extra copies so I can give it to the parents(if they ask) to read about the benefits of the games.

                Benefits of Using Games in the Classroom

In the article “The Role of Games in Mathematics” Bryn Davies summarizes the advantages of using games in the math classroom. (Davies, 1995)

  • Meaningful situations - The application of mathematical skills are created by games.
  • Motivation - Children freely choose to participate in games and enjoy playing.
  • Positive attitude - Games provide opportunities for building self-concept and developing positive attitudes towards mathematics, through reducing the fear of failure and error.
  • Increased learning - In comparison to more formal activities, greater learning can occur through games due to the increased interaction between children, opportunities to test intuitive ideas and problem solving strategies.
  • Different levels - Games can allow children to operate at different levels of thinking and to learn from each other. In a group of children playing a game, one child might be encountering a concept for the first time, another may be developing his/her understanding of the concept, a third consolidating previously learned concepts.
  • Assessment - Children's thinking often becomes apparent through the actions and decisions they make during a game, so the teacher has the opportunity to carry out diagnosis and assessment of learning in a non-threatening situation.
  • Home and school - Games provide 'hands-on' interactive tasks for both school and home.
  • Independence - Children can work independently of the teacher. The rules of the game and the children's motivation usually keep them on task.
  • Few language barriers - an additional benefit becomes evident when children from non-English-speaking backgrounds are involved. The basic structures of some games are common to many cultures, and the procedures of simple games can be quickly learned through observation. Children who are reluctant to participate in other mathematical activities because of language barriers will often join in a game, and so gain access to the mathematical learning as well as engage in structured social interaction.
So, let's play because I love math board games, too!



  1. I think games are a great way to "sneak" learning into a fun activity that kids enjoy. As a parent, I try to incorporate learning as much as I can in every activity I do with the kids. My four year old daughter likes to play with the game Connect4. She does not play according to the rules, instead she creates patterns on the board with the black and red pieces. Is she having fun? yes! Is she learning something? Yes! Does it matter (at the age of 4) that she is not playing the conventional way? No. She is being creative and developing her own strategy, both valuable lessons themselves. Teachers and parents alike need to look at what students are interested in doing and find the learning opportunity in it rather than force students to learn in a way that doesn't appeal to them in the slightest. As for the con of games being too competitive, the truth is that for adults life is competitive; you compete for jobs, promotions. Kids need to learn this at some point. Isn't a fun game a good way to do it?

  2. I loved your post. I never thought of mononpoly as a tool for math other than addition/subtraction. The idea about looking differnent stragetgoes and why they are there with a mathematical backgroud is a great way for students to look at relationships and then anaylze them in actual real life senerios. Great Blog.. now I have to go home and dust of off the monopology board.

  3. Great idea! You can also have students create board games as a culminating task for any unit in Math to represent what they have learned by using different concepts learned. Making learning fun is essential for learning.

  4. Meaningful situations
    Positive attitude
    Different levels

    I enjoyed your list of benefits for the students, especially the four listed above. Often games provide simulated authentic experiences, situations in which students might find themselves. Board games often motivate the most reluctant participant.

    The trick is being able to find games that match the curriculum expectations that are being covered at the time. When this can be done, the sky is the limit with progression.

    Great post!

  5. Thank you for sharing your insights about board games in Math. I have found that using games is a great way for math buddies to get to know each other. Math buddies are students from an higher and lower grade that are paired together to explore math. It can sometimes be difficult for the pairs to find a common ground, but games can be a great tool to break the ice.
    Another form of game that I find effective are card games. They require only a deck of cards and the possibilities are endless. I have had to be careful in certain contexts as card games can be associated with inappropriate conduct in certain cultures, but when framed correctly the possibilities are endless.

    Thanks for sharing.


  6. I love the idea of using board games as a math resource. I find that many people gravitate toward online resources and the only tangible math resources tend to be manipulatives. Board games are an excellent way of bringing math to life in a way that the skills gained are transferable to real-life.