The Role of Games in Math

Playing is a large component of my math classes and it comes in many different forms.  I run math centres which rotate every day and one of these centres is always a game as I talked about here. Games are often built into other activities too.

We all know that it is fun to play, so presenting learning activities as games seems obvious. My new students often have a negative view of math and I work very hard to ensure they see themselves as successful mathematicians. We have been working on Subtraction strategies so when I had the opportunity to try out the new Subtraction and Addition Dominoes from Quality Classrooms I was excited.

We sat in a circle and demonstrated a game to ensure all students, some with limited English, understood how to play.

We talked through different options:

  • Ten frames
  • Objects such as (vegetables, animals, marbles)
  • Mental subtraction from the left to the right

The students lost no time playing and enjoyed the heavy feel of the dominoes in their hands. As expected we have varying abilities in our classroom and we talked about working as a team and helping each other learn, hence playing with our dominoes flat rather than in a protected view as seen here.

When we looked carefully at the objects we realized that they helped us to make addition calculations: 2 donuts + 3 donuts= 5 donuts. Some students can quickly look at the objects and subitize, some will have instant recall of the fact and others may need to count the objects. Having all this information on the domino means they are equipped for different learning needs.

The dominoes were a hit and will be included in the math centre rotation as a refresher from time to time. Once students are familiar with math games, I include them in the game cupboard for indoor recess. It is wonderful to see students selecting math games to play for fun.

Learning math is a fun, social process in my classroom. Centres involve group work, problem-solving, strategy practice through lots of games and hands-on learning. What used to be my least favourite subject as a student is now one of my favourite subjects to teach. The ability to change a student's perspective of themselves as mathematicians is a privilege I am happy to embrace with the help of games.


Written by Chris, an elementary and middle school teacher in Pembina Trails School Division.

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