Games with a minus
Games have always been the most meaningful way for children to practise basic maths skills, with the added dimension that they encourage social interaction and mathematical talk. However, many teachers shy away from games in the classroom because of the management problems involved. Although these new packs of games offer appropriate practice of skills, they are unfortunately over-complicated.
Each pack consists of the now-standard games pack formula set of 10 colourful, laminated A3 games with plastic bags, dice, counters and playing pieces. The games are appropriately pitched for the average child in the target age. The notes outline the rules and context for each game, which is, in most cases, a rather elaborate setting, which I feel makes a meal out of rather simple mathematics.
For example, in the "Mad Hatter's Tea Party", children have to remember that butterfly cakes are shared between two, chocolate fingers among three and Battenburg slices among four. Bilingual children would get particularly confused over contexts like this.
The games are better in Pack 4, with many of them using a calculator and generally less complicated contexts, like "Gift Boxes" in which players travel around the track of different linear measurements. They choose something which they estimate is about that length, then measure accurately and score points accordingly.
Most of the games in both packs involve the children in decision making, because, although the format of almost all is dice throwing round a track, there is usually a choice of routes for players to take, which, with repeated playing will develop their strategic thinking.
Consolidation and extension ideas are disappointing. Typically only one variation is given, when the games have the potential to be extended by asking children how they could make them easier or harder to win. The photocopiable worksheets for each game are in most cases, decontextualised dreary practice pages.