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Never Too Old to Play Games!

I currently teach remedial math students on the college level. These are the students who fail to pass the math placement test to enroll in College Algebra - that dreaded class that everyone must pass to graduate.  The math curriculum at our community college starts with Basic Math, moves to Fractions, Decimals and Percents, and then to Basic Algebra Concepts.  Most of my students are smart and want to learn, but they are deeply afraid of math. I refer to them as mathphobics.
We all have this type of student in our classrooms, whether it is middle school, high school, or college. When working with this type of student, it is important to bear in mind how all students learn.  I always refer back to the Conceptual Development Model which states that a student must first learn at the concrete stage (use manipulatives) prior to moving to the pictorial stage, and well in advance of the abstract level (the book).  This means that lessons must include the use of different manipulatives. 

I use games a great deal because it is an easy way to introduce and use manipulatives without making the students feel like “little kids.” I can also control the level of mathematical difficulty by varying the rules; thus, customizing the game to meet the instructional objectives my students are learning.   However, as with any classroom activity, teachers should monitor and assess the effectiveness of the games. (Refer to the December 13, 2011 posting about Lesson Plans and Research.)   

When using games, other issues to think about are:
1)      Excessive competition.  The game is to be enjoyable, not a “fight to the death”.
2)      Mastery of the mathematical concepts necessary for successful play.  Mastery should be at an above average level unless teacher assistance is readily available when needed.  A game should not be played if a concept has just been introduced.
3)      Difficulty of the rules.  If necessary, the rules should be modified or altered in order that the students will do well.
4)      Physical requirements (students with special needs).  These should be taken into account so that every player has an opportunity to win.

In addition to strengthening content knowledge, math games encourage students to develop such skills as staying on task, cooperating with others, and organization.  Games also allow students to review mathematical concepts without the risk of being called “stupid”.  Furthermore, students benefit from observing others solve and explain math problems using different strategies.
Games can also….
1)      Pique student interest and participation in math practice and review.

Games that Teach
2)      Provide immediate feedback for the teacher.  (i.e. Who is still having difficulty with a concept?  Who needs verbal assurance?  Why is a student continually getting the wrong answer?)
3)      Encourage and engage even the most reluctant student.
4)      Enhance opportunities to respond correctly.
5)      Reinforce or support a positive attitude or viewpoint of mathematics.
6)      Let students test new problem solving strategies without the fear of failing.
7)      Stimulate logical reasoning.
8)      Require critical thinking skills.
9)      Allow the student to use trial and error strategies.
Mathematical games give the learner numerous opportunities to reinforce current knowledge and to try out strategies or techniques without the worry of getting the “wrong” answer. Games provide students of any age with a non-threatening environment for seeing incorrect solutions, not as mistakes, but as steps towards finding the correct mathematical solution.

For a complete listing of the games I have available on Teachers Pay Teachers, click on the page above entitled Games That Teach or click under the quote by George Bernard Shaw.

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