Ahead of the pack

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Using card games to teach maths is an ace way of making it fun to learn number skills. Nick Morrison discovers how cucumber, crazy 8s and pontoon can deliver

Lunchtime card schools sound like the sort of thing teachers should be trying to discourage, but one primary likes to see their pupils shuffling the deck and rolling their sleeves up. Kate Frood believes a quick hand of pontoon is a key tool for teaching maths, and, just as importantly, helps make it fun.

Kate, who is headteacher of Eleanor Palmer Primary in Camden, north London, introduced the sessions after a cards night aimed at parents from the 230-pupil school attracted 97 families.

"Not many families play together, but the joy we had at that cards evening, seeing them sit down and play a game, was overwhelming," she says. "Card games are an underused resource in maths, but they're brilliant for teaching about strategy and reasoning."

Kate plundered an A to Z of card games for ideas, and now Year 5 pupils teach Year 2s how to play a variety of games including pontoon, 99, golf, accordion, aces up, crazy 8s, Chinese 10s and cucumber, as well as verish, a Russian cross between cheat and old maid. The children can also gamble, although not with real money.

"It helps the older ones with their maths, and it helps the younger ones too. You hear the Year 5s asking the same questions we ask the Year 2s, and there are lots of blossoming teachers in there. Even the simplest game can teach key skills," Kate says.

Dice schools have been added to the school's repertoire, as part of a wider strategy of making maths fun, which includes problem-solving, regular questioning, and the idea of the good mistake - working out how someone has come up with the wrong answer.

"Children have got to enjoy it, and right from our nursery, we're playing games that involve numbers. So many adults say they don't like maths, but it is because they didn't enjoy it at school," Kate says Free resources from The TES A week of maths challenges: display cards to download free from the TES Resource Bank at www.tes.co.ukmaths2

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