A few weeks ago I built two new games for algebra in one week. These games just use the game mechanic from “Antiderivative Block” (a Calculus game), but with algebra-oriented game cards. The game mechanic is a classic “get 4-in-a-row” so it’s pretty easy to learn.

Exponent Block (plus Gameboard) will help students contrast slightly different expressions involving exponent rules, especially negative and zero exponents.

Factor Pair Block (plus Gameboard) will help prepare students for a unit on factoring. There are two sets of playing cards (print each set on a different color of paper if you want to be able to easily separate them). The first set of cards works with factor pairs for natural numbers and finding the GCF for two numbers. The second set of cards helps students start to see the GCF for monomials.

Supplies: I have found that it’s worth the investment in some bags of “marble markers” to play these (and other) games. These can generally be found at a store like Hobby Lobby or JoAnn’s Fabric. I’ve included markers that you can cut out and use, but trust me, that’s a pain. It is also very helpful to print the game cards (two-sided) on cardstock, so if you don’t have a ready supply of cardstock in multiple colors, I’d pick some of those up too. Last, small plastic bags are going to be a necessity to hold the sets of cards.

It’s interesting to watch the students play these games. Many students who seem to be uninterested in learning the fine differences between expressions in normal circumstances land in deep explanations of why these expressions simplify differently when playing the game.

Expect that students will play two ways. Some will play the intended game mechanic, playing competitively to get four-in-a-row. Other groups will play to “fill the board” … frankly, I can’t see what’s fun about this, but it never fails that at least two pairs of students do this. One alternate play method that would allow you to “fill the board” would be to try to keep playing so that neither partner creates a four-in-a-row. Then the players work collaboratively to try to create a filled gameboard where there are no wins.

A few weeks ago I built two new games for algebra in one week. These games just use the game mechanic from “Antiderivative Block” (a Calculus game), but with algebra-oriented game cards. The game mechanic is a classic “get 4-in-a-row” so it’s pretty easy to learn.

Exponent Block (plus Gameboard) will help students contrast slightly different expressions involving exponent rules, especially negative and zero exponents.

Factor Pair Block (plus Gameboard) will help prepare students for a unit on factoring. There are two sets of playing cards (print each set on a different color of paper if you want to be able to easily separate them). The first set of cards works with factor pairs for natural numbers and finding the GCF for two numbers. The second set of cards helps students start to see the GCF for monomials.

Supplies: I have found that it’s worth the investment in some bags of “marble markers” to play these (and other) games. These can generally be found at a store like Hobby Lobby or JoAnn’s Fabric. I’ve included markers that you can cut out and use, but trust me, that’s a pain. It is also very helpful to print the game cards (two-sided) on cardstock, so if you don’t have a ready supply of cardstock in multiple colors, I’d pick some of those up too. Last, small plastic bags are going to be a necessity to hold the sets of cards.

It’s interesting to watch the students play these games. Many students who seem to be uninterested in learning the fine differences between expressions in normal circumstances land in deep explanations of why these expressions simplify differently when playing the game.

Expect that students will play two ways. Some will play the intended game mechanic, playing competitively to get four-in-a-row. Other groups will play to “fill the board” … frankly, I can’t see what’s fun about this, but it never fails that at least two pairs of students do this. One alternate play method that would allow you to “fill the board” would be to try to keep playing so that neither partner creates a four-in-a-row. Then the players work collaboratively to try to create a filled gameboard where there are no wins.

Here’s a game I created last week called “Antiderivative Block” to encourage students to (1) learn their derivative rules well (2) begin thinking about derivatives backwards, and (3) to learn to be careful not to mix up derivatives and antiderivatives.

Here’s the game board of a well-played game:

The rules are very simple (they are described on the game pdf), but the game play is complex enough that you really have to be on your toes to play. Here are a couple of students demonstrating how to play:

I have to say that watching students play this game was the most fun I have ever had in a math class. They quickly got very competitive and I heard several students in both classes say something like “I really need to learn these derivatives” – even when you think you have won the game, it can be lost by missing a negative on an answer. Within 10-minutes, students from different pairs were challenging each other to matches (winners played winners). Some won on mathematical skill alone (being better at the derivatives than their opponent), some won by playing the game well (and knowing their math). Their attempts to psych each other out and cross-group banter had me laughing so hard in one class that I was crying.

Another interesting side effect of this game was that one of my ESL students suddenly got much better at correctly saying the math because his opponents wouldn’t let him claim spaces if he said “sine x squared” instead of “sine squared x” … I think his understanding of how to SAY the math had improved ten-fold by the end of the hour.

Don’t let the calculus nature of this game fool you. You could build the exact same game for learning trig values of special angles, for learning to simplify exponential expressions, for exponential and log functions. As a matter of fact, on the very same day I built this game, I instantly modified it for learning vocabulary in my MathET class (lucky for me, every student already had a set of small vocabulary cards that were the same size as the gameboard spaces). Here they are playing Geometry Vocabulary Block:

We also had one group of three players (we used red chips for the third player) and everyone who tried the 3-player game said that the gameplay was very different than the 2-player game. So a simple alteration to the game is just to change the number of players. The students also suggested that they wanted more cards to move into the game board so that the problems were always fresh.

P.S. Sorry about the strange RSS problem this week. It was not intentional. Just a misguided WordPress plugin that I tried. Needless to say, it has been disabled.

This presentation is a philosophical argument for what is wrong with the way we teach math and why we need to bring the fun back to learning it. It serves as an argument for any subject (although it is particularly targeted towards math).

I haven’t had time to produce the picture-in-picture video, so if you want to watch the keynote, pull it up side-by-side with the Prezi and click through in the appropriate spots.

I am at the Kansas City Math Technology Expo this weekend doing two talks.

Today’s talk was Playing to Learn Math? I gave this at TexMATYC in the spring, but just updated it to add some non-digital types of play that you can use in the classroom. There are five great math games mentioned in this presentation. Direct links to these games are below: