Hit the bull's-eye for arithmetic

John Dabell looks at how a game of darts can hone mental maths skills

It's often pointed out that Britain is a nation of arithmophobics populated by mathematically challenged souls on the run from numbers. Stop someone in the street and ask them to multiply 19 by 3 or subtract 78 from 501 and you are guaranteed to see dread and fear in their eyes and a self-deprecating admission that they "hate maths". Ask a regular darts player and you're likely to get an answer before you've finished the question.

The difference is confidence, and that's what darts can offer us. Darts is not just a pub game any more but a worldwide maths sport that can be instrumental in changing the way we approach maths; the classroom is the obvious place to start.

The original game began with a dart known to the Romans as a pilum, 10ft long and made of iron. The target was a running man. The modern game came from medieval archery, with soldiers throwing shortened arrows at the butt of an ale keg. The butt was marked with three concentric circles in order to determine the number of points awarded on a throw. When the board dried out, the cracks provided further segmentation and a more elaborate points system evolved.

A dartboard is essentially a structured collection of numbers, and using one in a maths lesson makes perfect number sense. They are straightforward to use, easily designed and versatile and can be used with children of any age. Target boards can enclose any numbers and are an outstanding resource for practising mental arithmetic skills such as addition, subtraction, doubling and tripling, as well as being highly effective for developing knowledge and understanding of number properties and concepts.

The maths is there for the taking: factors, multiples, primes, composites, squares, measurement and weight. Seizing the day across the curriculum shouldn't be forgotten: investigating the science of flight extends and challenges children further. The real beauty of darts as a target game is that you can design your own board and number arrangements to suit your own objectives. Teaching factors? Why not make a prime dartboard with a composite number for the bull's-eye?

The modern dartboard with numbers from 1-20 is known as the London, and this is used in most national and international tournaments. It has an inner treble ring and an outer double ring, an outer and an inner bull's-eye. Other boards include the Lincoln, with only one bull's-eye and no trebles, the Manchester with two bull's-eyes and no trebles, and the East End, a board with segments for scoring in multiples of five. The combinations are endless.

Standard Play 501

The object of Standard Play is to be the first team or player to reach zero from a starting score of 501. Players take turns to throw three darts and subtract their total from 501 until zero is reached. To win, a player not only has to reach zero exactly, but also must obtain it through a "double" with the last dart.

For example, if a player has 18 points left, he needs to hit a double 9 in order to win. The closer each player gets to zero, the more exciting and difficult Standard Play becomes. This game can also be started from 301, 601, 801, 1001.

Hound and the Hare

Players toss a coin to begin the game. The winner of the toss is the hare, and his opponent is the hound in pursuit. The hare must travel clockwise around the board starting at 20. The hare wins by returning to 20 before the hound catches up. The hound usually starts from either 12 or 5, depending on the preference of the players. The hound wins by overtaking the hare.

Round the Clock

The object of this game is to be the first player to hit every number on the board from 1 to 20. The numbers must be hit in order, and players alternate after three throws. Players must hit each number in order to advance to the next one on the board.

For obvious reasons, darts is not a game without risk. However, using magnetic or Velcro darts makes it safe and fun for all. Used creatively, dartboards are a dynamic and inexpensive visual and kinaesthetic resource that can sharpen the mind, develop mental maths prowess, cultivate strategic thinking and problem solving, improve hand-eye co-ordination and promote positive social interaction through team-building skills. Darts has the potential to run rings around the culture of maths anxiety.

* Darts games and their rules: www.crowsdarts.comgamesgames.html

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