Mastermind

My wife really shouldn't let me go to Target. Every time, she sends me to get one simple item, and every time I show up at home with a new board game. I keep telling her "It's helping the kids learn!" but honestly they'd probably learn plenty from the other 28 board games we have...

But you, dear reader, get to benefit from my game addiction! A few weeks ago, I spied a game in retro packaging that I'd never seen before. I eagerly snapped it up and brought it home.

Within minutes of playing the game, I couldn't wait to see what my own students could do with the mathematical implications of the game. It's a great game for a 3rd or 4th grader, but the mathematical ideas that the game uses are taught in high school and college courses on discrete mathematics. Not that your kid will know that! To them, they're just guessing which colors match your secret code.

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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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Peg Solitaire

When I was a kid, my parents bought me a triangular peg solitaire game from a Cracker Barrel, and I never could figure it out. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't end the game with one peg. I always ended the game with two or three pegs, no matter how hard I tried.

Well, I am happy to announce that I dug this game out of the closet recently, inspired to finally conquer my old nemesis. And I did it! At long last, this deceptively challenging game of pegs and holes was within my grasp.

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Table Talk Math

I started this newsletter because I believe that games are the easiest, most consistently entertaining way to introduce math ideas to your kids. Despite this, I know that games are far from the only way to get your kids talking about and exploring math. As a parent, I have many other tools in my toolkit for provoking an interesting conversation. Many of those tools I cribbed directly from Table Talk Math.

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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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Othello

When playing a game with your child, should you let them win? This is a common dilemma for any parent who routinely plays games with their kids. On one hand, you don't want to beat your kid at Go Fish or Battleship or chess every time; they'd get sick of losing and quit playing with you eventually. On the other hand, you don't want your child to get so accustomed to winning that they can't handle a loss. 

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Dragonbox Numbers

I have a skeptical outlook on the value of screen time. It's probably not hurting my kids too much, but it's probably not helping either. And the math apps I've found have mostly been underwhelming. Mostly, these apps focus on repetitive practice of math facts, which doesn't exactly sound like a rich mathematical experience. 

But Dragonbox Numbers is a different sort of math app. I was skeptical at first, but the game won me over with its well-designed activities that get kids thinking about the relationships between numbers, rather than simply drilling math facts.

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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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Bedtime Math

I love games. I mean, I started a weekly newsletter just so I had a place where I could talk about games with someone other than my poor wife.

But even I can't pull together the energy every day to get down a board game, dump out all the pieces, and play with my kids. Some days, I just don't have it in me.

I still want my kids to have some sort of mathematical experience each day, though. Usually, I find a way to ask a couple of math questions during dinner or bath time.

But what about parents who are a little math-phobic, or just unsure of what questions to ask? For those parents, I have a great recommendation: Bedtime Math.

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Mancala

Of all the games I've recommended so far, Mancala is the one that I recall most fondly from my childhood. I vividly remember playing match after match with my friend John, arguing over strategy and trash-talking the way that only eight-year-olds can.

I loved this game as a kid for the same reasons that I love it as a parent: Mancala is a breeze to learn, easy to set up, play,  and clean up, and contains far more strategy than you might expect. 

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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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