I’m sure many of them are great. I’m not writing to put down iPad apps. They have their place. But it’s a conundrum I faced. I realized that many parents did not understand the difference between a digital game that promotes rote memorization (and keeps their kid busy and quiet for a bit of time) versus games that require deep critical thinking and reasoning.
When I recommended games during Back to School Night at the start of the year, I meant games they would play with their child away from the screen. I should have specified.
Similarly, I felt an instinct in the classroom that physical math games that require students to play with each other were much better than what they could do in a digital realm.
What makes a “stress-free” struggle? Gaskins says, “Everyone knows it takes time to master the fine points of a game, so children can make mistakes or ‘get stuck’ without losing face” (p. 4). I couldn’t think of a better antidote for a student working on building a growth mindset. It doesn’t come overnight, and it is true; I always have had students who hate to lose, but their frustration about losing is still paramount to giving up because they can’t complete a worksheet or memorize math facts in time for a digital game.
No matter how “fun” the game or worksheet looks with illustrations and characters, it does not replace the experience of learning winning strategies while playing a simple game with peers.
Here are a few of my favorites, which I’ll have to continue to add to because I have too many to count! (Pun intended!)
After that, you can play any amount of tiles you wish, unless you can’t play anything, and then you must select a tile from the face-down “pot.” Tiles may be combined by the same number or consecutive numbers with the same color. There must be three or more to make a group. There are more rules, but suffice it to say this game encourages ample strategy and thought. In my family, despite our competitive nature, we still help each other sort out our moves. Why? Because it’s fun.
Variations include putting down two cards to make two-digit numbers or adding the two. You could mix it up using Uno cards or create your own. I also made a version that my students loved, which used dominoes. They put them face down in a pile and only selected and put down one at a time. They collected the higher amount, and the winner had more tiles once the stockpile was depleted. The possibilities are endless.
Two players use a single board, which was simply a printout in a clear protective sleeve, and each has a set of about five counters. (I used unifix cubes, but it doesn’t matter if players can differentiate their pieces.) The board often had a “spinner” at the top corner so that the kids could use a transparent spinner overlay. They took turns spinning to find their given number on the board, and once one was covered, it was occupied. The winner was the player with the most counters on the board once all were filled. I used this game to reinforce concepts like telling time, coins, fractions, addition to 9, and more.
However, they could not change the position once it was set down. The player with the highest number was the winner. Once my students were used to recording in their math notebooks, I had them write the whole equality statement for practice and to visualize the game a little clearer.