Playing Games to Teach Math
The trouble with teaching mathematics is that each concept builds onto the next. Addition leads into multiplication, algebra leads into calculus. While many students can learn new units one at a time, they can still get tripped up when putting all of the concepts together, whether confusing their order of operations or forgetting the rules of older lessons. One way tutors can take a more active approach to their math lessons is to bring in realia and use them to construct math review games.
For those of you who don’t know the term “realia” (pronounced re-a-li-a), realia is a physical object or material from everyday life that can be used as a teaching tool to make a concept seem less abstract, an object like a poker chip or a deck of cards. Especially if a student is having trouble visualizing a concept or is just bored of looking at black ink on a printed page, these games and ideas are fun ways to mix up your math lessons to help students see things in a different way.
With some poker chips, you can…
Demonstrate How to Balance an Equation: Having different colored objects that the student can count and move around is a great way to show how positives and negatives can cancel each other out. Put the red ones on one side and the black ones on the other, then have the student count to see what is left.
Want a challenge? Give the student a maximum number of chips they are allowed to use and have them reach a number you decide. Make it a race against the tutor or see how many different ways the chips can be used.
With a deck of cards, you can…
Practice Order of Operation: Put numbered cards together to form a two-digit number, then have the student use the cards in front of them to add or multiply to get the total. The black and red cards can also be used to represent positives and negatives.
Want a challenge? Play an alternative form of Black Jack to have the students put numbers together to aim for different totals. See how many different ways they can reach the total using the different operations. Feel free to remove the face cards or make your own rules.
With a set of dice, you can…
Experiment with Fractions: Have a student roll two dice. See which one is on top and which one is on the bottom. Is it greater or less than 1? Can the number be divided into a whole number? What happens if you switch the numerator with the denominator? All of these applications can be used to help introduce these crucial mathematical concepts.
Want a challenge? Call out a few numbers and have the student figure out the probability or “chances” of getting that number. Try using dice with different number sides to include more variables or multiply the die number by the number of bounces the student can make with a tennis ball. Getting the student moving and thinking about the concept in a different way might be the final push for them to get that final lightbulb moment.
The point of using the realia is to give your student an educational experience that is different from their normal classroom activities. Feel free to take any of these ideas and adapt them to suit your students and their needs. If you have any other games you like or have stories of successful lessons you have had, please let us know on our Facebook or Twitter page. Just remember that whatever your teaching approach is with math, helping students improve in their own way is what really counts.