Playing Games

cribbage_boardFrom a very young age I have loved playing games. On cold winter nights my family and I would gather around the family hearth and compete. We played monopoly, scrabble, chess, chinese checkers and card games such as euchre, 500, cribbage, canasta, poker sqaures, solitaire war, to mention a few. We talked, laughed and had a lot of FUN! As well, when I visited or stayed with my Grandparents, the TV would be turned off and we would play cards or chess for many happy hours.


In Year 11 and 12 at high school, three friends (David, Robert & Trevor) and I would take every opportunity to hide away playing Contract Bridge. Sometimes our Mathematics teacher would spring us, tear up our cards, and suggest that we should be using our time more wisely. It was only years later that I discovered that he was a keen card player himself!


Apart from many important social skills learnt from these interactions, I have no doubt that these games were very important building blocks for literacy and numeracy. I am tempted now to expand on the many benefits of game playing, but I will refrain, assuming that you are of a like mind.

A recent thread on the aamt-l (email list of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers) started with this question from Jane Forte:

“I am working on our annual maths games camp and would like to see any good strategy games that people know of that our kids may not be familiar with.”

The replies included this list of games:

Numero (card game), mancala, dominoes, blokus, chess, bridge, cribbage, hare and hounds, othello, connect 4, shogi (japanese chess), go (on a 9 x 9 board) and ploy. I would personally add pente, nim, hex, fox and geese, and set card game to that list.


 John Gough added:  “As Herbert Kohl points out (in his book on games), where a student is already familiar with a game (such as draughts, chess, or 500), that student has an advantage when playing against beginners. For this reason it is better to use games that NO STUDENT is likely to be already familiar with.”

Mark Ward then contributed:  “I do not think that games that students may know should be omitted. You could organise experienced players to lead learner groups, and also set up experienced players against each other with learner observations. Inevitably there are many games that are great for maths and strategic thinking that some of the students attending such organised maths activities will be familiar with. One may speculate that one of the contributing factors to students being confident and proficient with maths is that they are familiar with these types of games. Maths in a fun context. I prefer a mix of unfamiliar games, and familiar games structured appropriately.”

Of course the above text does not mention the use of games in the classroom that target specific skills from the maths curriculum. I will leave this important topic to a future post.


About webmaths

I have been teaching Mathematics in Victorian secondary schools for 30 years. I use the www to make my maths lessons better. I hope this blog will give other teachers some ideas to try in their own classes.
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4 Responses to Playing Games

  1. Penelope says:

    Hi Jeff!

    I stumbled onto your blog tonight and thought I’d tell you about a game we recently played called Greedy Greedy. It fits right in with your blog topic this week.

    It’s a great game that teaches kids math and other concepts not traditionally taught in school such as risk/reward ratios and critical thinking.

    We bought ours at and we have seen a huge improvement with our son regarding his attitude towards math. I figured you might want to know as you might use it as a mechanism to help your students learn about these concepts.

    I wish you luck with it and best wishes.


  2. webmaths says:

    Thanks Penelope for your tip on “Greedy Greedy”. I will investigate it and let you know what I think. Regards, Jeff.

  3. Penelope says:

    Sounds great, I look forward to your opinion on it and more posts!

  4. Jessica says:

    I’m starting a board games “club” in my high school for these very reasons. I’m hoping that the students will learn strategy and other problem solving skills as we have a good time playing games together.

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