Count on having fun

14th November 2003 at 00:00
John Dabell surveys some primary games that bring maths to life

Maths can be great fun, challenging, mind-bending and completely absorbing. However, maths information can be difficult to practise so what better way can there be than an interesting game as a way of mastering them?

In an effort to supplement lesson plans, teachers often turn to games.

Games can raise or lower energy levels, encourage, entertain, teach and add variation to a lesson. Games are multi-sensory and the learning styles of all children are catered for. Their general benefits range from cognitive aspects of language learning to more co-operative group dynamics. They effectively alter the spirit of a classroom and usually create a greater willingness to learn and behave. In a relaxed atmosphere, real learning can take place. In short, they can bring maths to life.

Well-chosen games can practise a range of thinking skills effortlessly, re-focus attention and create more flexible working relationships between children and teacher. What should a good game do? A game must be more than fun, involve "friendly" competition, keep all of the children involved and interested, encourage children to focus on the use of maths rather than on the maths itself and provide opportunities to learn, practise, or review specific skills.

With so many maths games on the market, what is it important to look for? People have different opinions on what makes a game "fun" or "boring" or "educational" or "worthwhile", so you will be evaluating the games from several perspectives.

When making decisions about purchasing resources, you should think about: Description: What skills does the game target? Does the content satisfy the National Numeracy Strategy's learning objectives? Is the game fun, engaging and innovative?

Design and value: Is it colourful and attractive? Is it likely to be hard-wearing and long-lasting?Does the price tag mirror the manufactured quality of the game?

Learning: Is the game suitable for the intended age range? Is the game well thought through and mathematically sound? Is the game interactive and entertaining, stimulating and thought-provoking? Will the game equip children with a battery of skills and a build confidence?

Ease of use: Is the game simple to use with child-friendly instructions that are succinct and without complication or ambiguity? Is there any form of guidance or help sheet provided?

Many educational suppliers carry a list of games that you may be able to obtain on inspection; use this facility before making expensive purchases and possible mistakes. Try not to make any decisions on your own about what to buy. Ask colleagues for their thoughts but remember to consult the intended target audience - the children. Despite their best interests being at the heart of the decision-making process, children are often overlooked.

The games reviewed here offer a wide variety of classroom uses and may be used to supplement, enhance and enrich any maths scheme and teaching programme.

10 IDEAS FOR USING MATHS GAMES

1 Hold a maths fair - games days are a great way for children to be involved in mathematical activities in a different context and have fun.

2 Start a maths library as a way of sharing the games with the wider school population and improving home-school links.

3 Get children to evaluate maths games in teams for a presentation. Assign roles of teacher, child and parent.

The "teacher" could look for maths content, difficulty level and appropriateness of the game.

The "child" could look primarily at the graphics and actual enjoyment of the game and the "parent" could focus on the general educational content.

4 Assign games as homework when key skills need reinforcement.

5 Make arrangements with colleagues in other year groups to pair children from classes as "maths buddies". Once a week, have maths buddies play games together, teaching each other how to play. Older children can monitor younger children's progress on individual games.

6 Use games as an integral part of a wet-break policy.

7 Ask children to change or improve upon the games played. Have them share their changes.

8 Encourage children to create their own games using maths concepts you are covering in class.

9 Start a maths games club and make a display of the games in use and children's assessment of them.

10 Encourage children to use maths games as a free-time activity when they have finished classwork.

TITLE

PIZZA FRACTION FUN Learning Resources Price: pound;15.95 +VAT Tel: 01553 762276 www.learningresources.com

DESCRIPTION

Pizza Fraction Fun is an astute game teaching fraction concepts and skills using slices of pizza to distinguish fraction denominations, match fraction equivalents and provide children with opportunities to perform addition, subtraction and problem-solving.

DESIGNVALUE FOR MONEY

A pizza box game containing 13 pizzas including halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, eighths, ninths, twelfths and sixteenths (64 full-colour fraction slices in total), three double-sided spinners and a comprehensive activity guide. The pizzas are very eye-catching and extremely well constructed.

Whole pizzas measure 273mm. A quality product representing excellent value for money. "Serves" 2-4 players.

LEARNING FEATURES

Fractions have never been that popular with children but this promises to change all that. The games are intelligently crafted and very well written.

Each is presented as a menu with an appetising warm-up activity, an entree about how to play the game and suggested variations for different mathematical appetites. The activity notes will guide teachers confidently through key skills although there is a lot of reading for children to absorb on their own. No links are made to the NNS but the games are unambiguous and easily tied to appropriate objectives.

EASE OF USE

A feast for the eyes for visual learners - the pieces are so well made they look good enough to eat! Kinaesthetic learners will want to get their hands on the realistic slices and will eagerly consume the fractions on offer here. The pizzas are well marked and very easy to piece together, and clearly show equivalences. The game has been built to last and will withstand hungry hands and even teeth marks. Children will enjoy working independently on the pizzas making meaningful discoveries for themselves.

VERDICT

Achieves what was once thought impossible - making fractions fun. These games will stimulate creativity, develop fraction skills and boost interest in maths. Children will be keen to get a pizza the fraction action. *****

TITLE

CRAZYTABLES Learning Made Easier Price: pound;49.50 + VAT Tel: 0845 230 2188 www.learningmadeeasier.com

DESCRIPTION

Crazy Tables is a revolutionary numeracy board game designed to help children of all ages learn key maths techniques and basic skills. Aimed to facilitate children's knowledge and understanding of tables, division and subtraction.

DESIGNVALUE FOR MONEY

Consists of a collection of different-coloured number keys that are inserted into a plastic number board. Also included is a timer. The game is made to a high specification but is an expensive buy. Suitable for 2 or more players.

LEARNING FEATURES

Incorporates indispensable number-bond practice for early years players and rapidly teaches essential tables for older children. Keys are placed face up on a table so the numbers can be seen. With the answer board showing, each player races against the clock to successfully place all the keys in the correct slots. It will build children's investigation skills, allowing them to explore numbers, make associations and develop key concepts.

Cultivates children's problem-solving skills by helping them to anticipate results, realise and use rules and apply them to other situations. Can be used as a ladder to promote number awareness and help children climb towards full understanding when used regularly alongside other strategies.

EASE OF USE

Superb as a multi-sensory, whole-brain teaching tool. Addresses different learning styles competently but is particularly suited to kinaesthetic learners. Dyslexic learners will enjoy using the game as it will help them to recognise sequences and patterns, understand and distinguish between mathematical symbols and improve their mathematical communication.

VERDICT

Innovative with far-reaching potential across all year groups. Dynamic, motivating and exciting. A highly effective game that will soon become a classroom "must have" despite the price. ****

TITLE

FRACTIONLAB Happy Puzzle Company Price: pound;15.99 (inc VAT) Tel: 0800 376 3727 www.happypuzzle.com

DESCRIPTION

Fraction Lab is a multi-layered game that allows children to place smaller fractional pieces on larger ones and discover the relation of various fractions to each other and to the whole.

DESIGNVALUE FOR MONEY

Contains 32 quality plastic fraction pieces, 2 dice, 8 plastic rings and 16 detailed and colourful work cards. The attractive cards are printed on both sides, activities on one side and teacher's notes on the other. Designed for 2+ players.

LEARNING FEATURES

Designed for single or group use at key stage 2. The learning goals embrace sorting, comparisons, size ratios, measurements, fractional parts, addition, subtraction, relative values and equivalents. The set of excellent work cards includes activities and exercises that can be worked through systematically. The four games cards can be used while other children can practise examples of particular skills in progressive levels of difficulty. All offer plenty of teaching points and advice.

EASE OF USE

The cards are detailed without being cluttered and will be useful to teachers for prompts and ideas. Children could work through the cards in small focus groups with teacher scaffolding and easily become independent and self-reliant.

VERDICT

At last, a resource committed to learning. The work cards are invaluable.

They are packed with tips, techniques and ideas for activities. A thoughtful and novel game worthy of consideration. ****

TITLE

MAGICCAULDRON Happy Puzzle Company Price: pound;13.99 (inc VAT) Tel: 0800 376 3727 www.happypuzzle.com

DESCRIPTION

The object of Magic Cauldron is to fill a cauldron with magic spells. To do this children have to work out the solutions to addition, subtraction and multiplication sums.

DESIGNVALUE FOR MONEY

Children will love the fantastic witch and wizard characters and picture designs. There are four cauldron boards and 80 picture number and sum cards of top quality. This represents superb value for money.

LEARNING FEATURES

Designed for 2-4 players and suitable for key stage 1 children in Year 1. A larger collection of sums is needed to challenge the most able. The game has an impressive novelty up its sleeve that will be a big hit - heat sensitive patches on the cards that children rub to find the magic answers.

The difficulty range of the sums doesn't go far enough. A larger collection of sums is needed to challenge the most able.

EASE OF USE

The object of the game is clear and the instructions are uncomplicated.

Children would not be expected to read how to play themselves. There is an alternative version of rules that provides an interesting variation.

Children would soon be able to play this independently as it is intelligible and straightforward.

VERDICT

This unique resource bubbles with fun and excitement. The colourful design will guarantee interest and the magical heat patches will mesmerise. More sums needed to meet all children's needs. Highly recommended. ****

TITLE

WHAT'S THE POINT?

Playbreak Price: pound;10 Tel: 01353 616024 www.playbreak.co.uk

DESCRIPTION

What's the Point? is a decimals, fractions, percentages and equivalence game. Players spin around a colourful board in a race to get rid of all their cards by matching corresponding values and shapes.

DESIGNVALUE FOR MONEY

Comes with one good-quality spinner game board and 48 cards. The spinner and board are both well-constructed and eye-catching. The cards are functional but in disappointing black and white. Coloured cards would have been more suitable.

LEARNING FEATURES

Designed for 2 or more players and suitable for Year 4 upwards, this will undoubtedly contribute towards children's traditionally shaky knowledge and understanding of equivalences. The game would be better played with three players, with one player acting as a refereechecker. The cards could be used on their own to play snap.

EASE OF USE

The instructions are short and accessible to all. A very helpful and welcome feature of the game is an equivalence crib sheet so that children can self-check at a glance. This could be easily photocopied.

VERDICT

A lucid, manageable and trustworthy game ideal for teaching mathematical identities and likeness. ***

TITLE

TWIST AGAIN LDALearning Price: pound;12.95 + VAT each or pound;39.95 + VAT for all four Tel: 01945 463441 www.LDAlearning.com

DESCRIPTION

Twist Again is a collection of pontoon-based maths games. The four games available cover time (24-hour clock), fractions, angles and money (euros). Players twist or stick to match their cards as closely as they can to selected target cards. They can stick or twist again but must not go bust.

DESIGNVALUE FOR MONEY

Each set contains 60 cards, 102 plastic counters and 6 good-quality collecting pots, all stored in a durable plastic jar. As a card game this is greatly overpriced despite the colourful pots.

LEARNING FEATURES

Designed for 3-6 players and suitable for upper and lower key stage 2. The angles and fractions sets are more suited to middle and high attainers in the upper juniors while the time and euro sets are better matched to lower juniors and lower attainers in Years 5 and 6. All the games set out to improve mental maths skills and they do this well. The larger numbers involved in the angles set will be particularly challenging.

EASE OF USE

There are two sets of detailed instructions included which children would have trouble accessing and so teachers will be required to translate and dilute the rules for children to get to grips with. Some may have reservations about the "betting" aspect of the game although an alternative version is suggested.

VERDICT

Fun to play - encompassing sound mental maths practice. Clear reference needs to be made about age range suitability on each game. Very pricey. **

TITLE

Probability pack Association of Teachers of Mathematics Price: pound;15 Tel: 01332 346599 www.atm.org.uk

DESCRIPTION

Probability Pack is a photocopiable resource pack devoted to "hands-on" probability activities away from the usual dice and coin-tossing experiments. Suitable for key stage 2 and higher.

DESIGNVALUE FOR MONEY

The pack includes 8 activity cards, teachers' notes, photocopiable mastercards and a game board. The materials are cheaply produced and would soon fall victim to hands-on use. Several activities refer to the use of spinners - a photocopiable sheet is included but this is hardly adequate given the price. Suitable for 2-4 players.

LEARNING FEATURES

The open-ended activities can be used in various ways and at many different levels although a lot is left to the teacher's own creativity and inventiveness. The games are clearly explained but are largely uninspiring and lack the wow! factor essential to ignite interest and maintain motivation. The teacher's notes vary in their detail with some good suggestions, but they offer no explanation of key terms which would unnerve the non-specialist. The target age range is too ambitious and needs seriously re-thinking. No National Numeracy Strategy links made.

EASE OF USE

Some activities are easier to use and understand than others. Teachers would be able to use them all profitably in focus activities, although it is doubtful whether younger children would work independently on some of the tasks given. Favours older children.

VERDICT

This over-priced collection of games does not pack a punch and the probability of it being a well-used resource is low. Learners need to experience excitement, enjoyment and enthusiasm - three essential ingredients missing here. *

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