Map Wars - Can you color in the entire map?

I love a game where a child's intuition can lead them down a path toward a mathematical discovery. The easier the on-ramp into a mathematical game, the likelier a child is to find their own patterns and make their own discoveries.

Last week, I shared a puzzle game called Don't Connect the Dots! that provided a kid-friendly introduction to the rich mathematical world of graph theory. This week I'll be sharing another game, Map Wars, that is more deeply related to Don't Connect the Dots! than you might expect at first. 

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Don't Connect the Dots!

In the past I've mentioned that I am teaching an elective at my middle school that is all about math games and mathematical artwork. My students have gotten to make origami, fractals like the Sierpinski Triangle and the Koch Snowflake (pictured), and stellated icosahedrons.

Since I have 29 kids in my room, I am always looking for cost-effective games that contain math ideas. So I was elated to come upon this wonderful post by Joel David Hamkins about teaching graph theory to seven-year-olds. I adapted some of his materials and turned them into a game I call Don't Connect the Dots!

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Is This Game Too Tough For My Child?

A few weeks back, I did a celebratory Q&A for my first 1000 subscribers. I had such a fun time writing my answers that I kept an eye out for other questions about games, math, and parenting.

Well, last weekend I was talking with another parent about birthday presents when they hit me with a question I just had to answer in the newsletter. So here we go!

Alison asks:

I've noticed that you always seem to recommend games to kids who are on the younger side: the box recommends players 8 and older, but you'll recommend it for 5 or 6 year olds. Why is that? Won't the kids get frustrated by a game that's too hard for them?

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Attribute Train - Turn Your Junk Drawer into a Math Game

One of my favorite parts of writing this newsletter is that I get great game recommendations all the time. A friend will text me a picture of a game they found at Target and, before you know it, I'm inventing a toilet paper shortage so I can run down to the store.

This is why free games are my (and my wife's) favorite game recommendations. And boy, do I have a great one this week.

I learned about Attribute Train from Meredith Wilkes, who shares a bunch of great moments of early math on Twitter. I immediately played the game with my older two kids, both of whom absolutely loved the game. It's now a mainstay at the Haines household.

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Lowest Number Wins - How Low Can You Go?

This week my family celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, by having 32 folks over for dinner on Sunday night. It was a glorious, crazy mess, as indicated by this picture of my brain afterward (artist's rendition).

At one point I found myself in a room with kids of all ages who were starting to get very vocal with their predictions about when, if ever, the dessert was going to be served. I realized that I was in a place I've been many times as a teacher: stuck in a room with a bunch of bored, hungry kids with nothing to do.

It struck me in that moment that sometimes parents need a quick, easy multi-age game just as much as I do in my classroom! I've shared a few options in the past, such as the 100 Game or Ultimate Tic Tac Toe. But what if you need something really quick, really easy, and really fun?

Lowest Number Wins is that game.

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Product Dice - The Sequel to Sum Dice

So last week, I wrote about Sum Dice, a simple and quick game that can be quite a fun introduction into the concept of fairness.

What makes a game fair? Essentially, a fair game should be one where both players have an equal chance of winning. Sometimes people like playing an unfair game, such as blackjack, because they can "beat the odds" and get the adrenaline rush of winning when they should have lost.

But mostly, people like to play fair games, and they definitely hate playing a game that seems fair but is actually rigged in one way of another.

So that's why Product Dice is such a fun and devilish game to play, once your child has played and thought about Sum Dice.

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Sum Dice

Y'all.

Last week my principal approved my dream course: a semester-long elective on math games and art at the middle school where I teach.

I am ecstatic! For the next nine weeks, I get to spend one period each day just playing games with 8th graders and investigating the math that they contain. After that, we'll be creating math art inspired by some of my favorite artists, such as Regolo Bizzi (pictured). I can't imagine a more fun class to teach.

I was wondering how to start the course. What math topic should I introduce first? And I settled on one of the most fundamental questions that a kid can ask: Is this game fair?

So I used the simplest game I could think of to investigate that concept: Sum Dice

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Nim - A Devilishly Difficult Game

Years ago, a teacher friend sent me an online version of the game Nim. "Try it out!" they said innocently enough, "See if you can figure out the strategy!"

The game seemed simple enough, basically just a set of three rows of objects. So I gave it a shot, and I lost. And then I lost again, and again. I finally walked away from my computer, a broken man. 

In the years since then, I've moved cities and schools, had three kids, and STILL CANNOT BEAT THIS GAME.

In preparation for this newsletter, I finally gave in and looked up the solution. And having seen a lovely explanation from one of my favorite mathematicians, James Tanton, I think I can provide a way to turn this maddening little game into a meaningful mathematical exploration for you and your child.

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Ultimate Tic Tac Toe

Periodically I pull out a math game in my 8th grade classes, usually when I have 20 minutes or so to kill after a field trip or standardized test.

In the past I've shared Magic Squares and The 100 Game, both of which I really enjoy introducing to my students. But I know how to beat both of those games, so I don't enjoy them as a participant in the same way that I enjoy games like chess or Blokus.

But there is one game I use with my students that captures my full attention: tic tac toe. But not the boring, solved version that you learned to beat when you were 6. I'm talking about Ultimate Tic Tac Toe.

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War (and variants)

My greatest parenting regret is that I taught my son how to play War.

Don't get me wrong, he loves the game. In fact, that's precisely the problem. For weeks after I taught him the rules, War was the only game he let us play, and it got old fast.

If you haven't played War, it's a ridiculously simple card game. You deal the whole deck out to two players, and then both players flip over the top card. Highest card wins. If the cards are the same rank, both players put three cards face down and then flip over the fourth card. Again, the highest card wins the whole pile. The game continues until one person has all the cards.

The game is entirely driven by luck, and it can drag on for twenty or thirty minutes as one player, deck spilling over with forty-something cards, tries to win those last few pesky cards from their opponent.

To stave off the boredom, I started looking up some variants on War. As it turns out, some of these are really fun! Most importantly, they create opportunities for you and your kid to have a little math talk while playing.

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One Dollar Words

I truly believe that one reason I was a strong math student is that, when my mind wandered, it wandered in a mathematical direction. I noticed patterns, I developed strategies and shortcuts, and I generally became fluent at basic calculations, all without drilling my times tables. 

My hope is that when you introduce your kids to little math games like One Dollar Words, their minds will start to wander mathematically as well.

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Fifteen

Sometimes, your kids have finished the maze and the crossword on the kids' menu and have started arguing about who is on whose side of the booth. Or maybe they are asking you when dinner will be ready in alternating 20-second intervals. 

In either case, you just need a quick, simple game to occupy their minds. Something that doesn't involve a bunch of pieces or instructions. 

If you find yourself in that situation, I'd like to recommend Fifteen.

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Magic Square

I really, really dislike state testing. The kids get stressed, the teachers get practically crazed, and in the end I have a great deal of skepticism about the validity of our particular tests.

The silver lining of state tests is that my principal asks that we decrease the workload on that week so that kids are fresh and ready on each testing day. I take that as an excuse to pull out some of my favorite math puzzles and problems, in order to keep my students' brains working without overwhelming them with new math material. 

One of my favorite puzzles is the Magic Square.

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The Between Game

I went on a trip with my son this past week, so I invented this game for those moments when even the iPad couldn't hold his attention any longer.

The goal of the Between Game is simple: yell out the same number at the same time. The only constraint is that you must each choose a number that is between the two previous numbers. That way, the range of numbers shrinks and shrinks until both players think of the same number.
 

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Pyramid Solitaire

I firmly believe that our kids learn best when they have casual, patient conversations about math with an adult that cares about them. But my new baby has been a stark reminder that I am not going to have time to talk deeply about math with each of my kids every day. Fortunately, I have some back-up plans.

Pyramid solitaire is a game my own parents taught me when I was in early elementary school, and I happily played it for years afterward. It's quick, it's tough to win, and all you need is a deck of cards.

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The 100 Game

Sometimes as a teacher, I find myself with a classroom full of kids and nothing to do. Maybe the fall musical ended at 2:55 but school doesn't let out until 3:15.  

Whenever this happens, I pull out the 100 Game. This game can be taught in two minutes but always keeps my students occupied for at least twenty as they battle each other and develop strategies to try to unseat me, the 100 Game World Champion.

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The Fold-and-Cut Challenge

Last week, my city of Birmingham was predicted to have 0.5 inches of snow, so naturally my school district shut down for two and a half days. Welcome to Alabama.

By the last day, I was going pretty crazy trying to think of activities for my kids to do, so I pulled out an activity I've used with kindergarteners and 8th graders alike: the fold-and-cut challenge

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