Guest Post: What Skills Do Games Help Your Child Learn?

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Today we have a guest! A couple of months ago, I got an email from Kyle DeBoer, a math teacher at Advent Episcopal School here in Birmingham. We met up in his class to chat about math, games, and whatever else came up.

The second I saw the game closet in his classroom, I knew I had met one of my people.

(Here is picture of part of it. I mean, come on! Amazing.)

Kyle runs a strategy games club in the afternoons at his school, so he's seen firsthand the ways that board and card games can help kids develop skills that can lead them to success in math. And he's here to tell you all about it.

So take it away, Kyle!

How Games Make Us Better Mathematicians

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Games often reinforce specific mathematical content and sparks productive conversations about math. To practice multiplication, you can play The Product Game. If you want to talk about equivalent fractions,  you can play some Fraction Fill-In.

But games also cultivate the underlying skills that lead to math success. When a student struggles in math, often the source of their struggle is a lack of confidence in one or more of these underlying skills. I want to share some of these skills and the ways I see students cultivating them by playing games.

Interpret Pictures and Diagrams

Success in math class and on standardized tests often relies on a student’s ability to make sense of a picture, diagram, or map. It sometimes surprises me when students do not understand what they are looking at in a picture, but I have to remember that spatial reasoning is a skill that requires repeated exposure and practice.

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Ticket to Ride is a great game that reinforces spatial reasoning by incentivizing the ability to complete multiple destination tickets with a limited amount of tracks. Ticket to Ride: First Journey is a well-made, simpler version that I would recommend for ages 4-7.

Other games like CarcassonneKingdomino, and Blokus also cultivate spatial reasoning and prepare students to understand pictures, diagrams, and maps.

Work Thoroughly and Carefully

It's not effective to simply tell students to check over their work to make sure they didn't make any careless errors. But how else can they work on being careful and thorough? Kids check their work more carefully when they are invested in the outcome, such as winning a game.

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Cribbage is a fun game using playing cards and a board for scoring up to 121. At the end of each round, you score your own points. If you miss any points you earned, they don’t count toward your total. In fact, some people play that if someone else notices points you forgot to score, they get your points.

The game is filled with number sense and mathematical thinking, but the underlying skill that cribbage cultivates is the ability to be thorough and careful.

Explain Your Thinking

Success in math class sometimes depends on a student’s ability to explain his/her thinking to others or to work in a group. Students often have a hard time putting their thoughts into words with coherent meaning, and that can make it difficult to learn in a classroom that values discussion.

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Cooperative games are great tools for formulating thoughts and communicating those thoughts to the group. PandemicForbidden Island, and Forbidden Desert are some popular cooperative games, and they work well for mixed age groups and abilities because everyone is working together.

Build a Framework for Learning New Concepts

I lead a Strategy Game Club after school, and I have observed that students who already know how to play several table games are better than their peers at learning new games. These students already know how to learn new games, and that makes them better at learning new math concepts as well.

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Learning a new math concept can be intimidating because it often requires students to think about numbers a little differently than they have ever thought before. It’s almost like… learning a new game!

Every time we learn a new game, we have to figure out how the game works, keep track of the rules, and (ideally) make good decisions to be successful. The more games we've played in the past, the likelier we are to find connections between the new game and older games with which we are familiar. Similarly, math concepts are always related to other math concepts, and learning new math ideas is easier if you have an existing framework to build from.