How come we’re playing games today? I thought this was math class.

Inspired by reading the tweets & blogs of Surrey teachers over the summer, I thought I’d resurrect my blog.

In his blog, Richard deMerchant writes about how games, in addition to being fun, can help develop conceptual understanding of mathematics ( He also writes about the impact that debriefing strategies (“Why did you make that move?” etc.) has had on his son’s thinking.

I have seen this in my daughters as well. My 6-year-old loves the game/puzzle Camouflage. The challenge is to place polar bears on ice and fish in water while also having the game pieces fit on the board (see for a better description). As she was playing, she went to place a piece down and then stopped herself saying “That can’t go there. It’ll make a square”. I asked her to explain this to me. She had figured out that if a move created a blank one-by-one square, then she would not be able to fit all the pieces on the board. (The game pieces are one-by-two dominoes or L-shaped triominoes). She developed this strategy on her own. As she completed the increasingly more difficult challenges, I could see her develop problem solving and reasoning skills (as well as spacial sense).

This year, I’m excited by the inclusion of the games learning outcomes in the Foundations and AWM pathways. This one comes from FoM 11:

But games/puzzles can also be used to address/enhance other learning outcomes in the math curriculum. For example,
  • rotations in Pentago
  • translations in Rush Hour
  • combinatorics in Mastermind
  • area in TopThis!
  • isometric drawings & volume in Block by Block
Each secondary school in Surrey will be receiving a games kit in the fall. Here’s the list: Secondary Games Kit
At a workshop in June, I asked teachers to play Blokus. Immediately, one teacher asked “What’s the point? Why are we doing this?”. It didn’t feel like math for him and it probably won’t feel like math for our students. However, aside from the strategy aspect, think of the possible connections to traditional math topics. For example,
  • transformations (when determining the number of game pieces, or ‘free polyominoes’)
  • area/ratios/percent (when determining the winner)
  • square roots (If the 4-player game board is 20-by-20, what should the dimensions of the 2-player game board be?)
In defining math, most of us math teachers will probably use words like ‘problem-solving’, ‘reasoning’, ‘patterns’, ‘estimation’, etc. (Would our students use these words or would they use words like ‘memorize’, ‘rules’, ‘formulas’…?) Compare a lesson in which students play (and discuss!) Blokus to one in which the teacher shows students how to divide rational expressions (1. factor numerators/denominators, 2. invert and multiply, 3. cancel) and students practice questions similar to the examples. In which lesson might you see the words listed above? In which classroom are students doing math?

2 Replies to “How come we’re playing games today? I thought this was math class.”

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