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Game Days in 4th & 5th Grade Math

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In math we spend every day learning and working. Our units change every few weeks (we are currently studying division). Sometimes students work with a group or a partner, and sometimes they work independently. It is important for children to have the opportunity to work both alone and with others. We all tend to have a preferred learning style, so it is useful to gain experience with both.

Every few weeks, students have a “game day.” It’s still math, but we take a break from our normal routine. Each game day, students are taught to play the particular games that have been chosen for that day. This ensures that all students know how to play all of the games. So far, we have learned and played “Blokus” and “Quarto.” Blokus is a strategy game for 2-4 players; it involves placing different shaped pieces on the game board. The goal is for each player to fit as many of his/her 21 pieces on the board as possible. Strategies include blocking your opponent(s), taking advantage of the size and shape of the pieces, and keeping one or more means of escape open. This game uses visual spatial skills, as players try to figure out where best to place each piece; it’s geometry!

img_2749Quarto is an award winning game for 2 players. Each of the 16 pieces has 4 different attributes. The aim is to line up 4 pieces that share the same attribute. The problem is that you can’t choose which piece you’re going to play – your opponent chooses for you. This game involves careful attention to each play and trying to anticipate the possible “Quartos” (4 in a row).

Games are used to develop concepts, to practice skills and to encourage strategic mathematical thinking as students look for an optimal way (rather than just any way) of winning the game. As a teacher, games allow me to join the students and play alongside them. Sometimes I share my strategies and other times I learn from them. Game days also allow me to watch and learn about my students, not simply about their math, but about their social skills. How do they negotiate the struggles that inevitably arise when playing games with their peers? How do they handle winning? Losing? Taking turns? What if a difference of opinion comes up? Can she/he compromise? Can he/she think beyond their wants and consider the group’s needs? So much to be observed and learned! Oh, and then there is the simply having fun!

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