The game grew out of a meeting with Nick Smith, one of our novice teachers with a good game eye. He was looking for a way to make a game with number operations and maybe order of operations that had us using cards and trying to make a target. Wasn't quite working out.
Finally it occurred to me that if you were setting the target for your opponents... started trying it with cards and BAM! A game. It's simple enough, probably someone else has come across it before. Basically, you deal 5 cards to each player/team, each team picks one card for the other team to make by combining their remaining cards with operations.
(Direct link to document.)
To launch it with the 5th graders today, the teacher and I started to play. I put up the values for Ace, Jack, Queen and King on the board - which was a good idea as students consulted it frequently. Today was 11-11-11, and Jake, one of the students, had a birthday... his 11th! (He was in the local paper last night.) So we renamed the Jack the Jake in his honor, since the Jack is worth 11. Sometimes stuff just works out.
After about three turns of demonstration, the students were clamoring to play. Who are we to stand in the way of a math game? Students were engaged, making interesting combinations, and making more complicated combinations as play went on. It adapted well to students at different levels, as they were choosing combinations, and I was able to see automaticity with subtraction improving in students who have some math struggles at the same time as self-identified math whizzes were challenged to find fascinating 4 card combos, like Jack - 4/4, divided by 2 to get 5.
I tried the game with younger learners previously, and they got good addition and subtraction practice, and think it would extend well to middle school as support for order of operations. (Write down your combination and check it on a scientific calculator.) It was nice that sometimes the game called for easier combinations and had moments of challenge. Students were actively searching for new people to play and telling stories about games and combos. Very fun.
To finish our time, we discussed the combos (I had recorded some of the better ones on the board, such as Q, 5, 4, 4 -> 10), the strategy and the name. I like how the game becomes a context for some pretty good problems. The students were split on what made a difficult target. The majority felt like middle cards were harder to make, but a few thought the smallest cards. I actually don't know! One aspect of the game that I like a lot is that you gain information about the opponent's hand as you play. A strategy that many came across was reusing target numbers that your opponent couldn't make.
There weren't a lot of suggestions for names... math war and math attack had some support. More suggestions about the game would be welcome, also.
Having written those game design commentaries lately (one & two), I can't resist thinking about the game using it.
- Goal(s). See numbers as related by operations. This game is great for that.
- Structure.The game reflects the goal by using a shifting set of cards. The slow turn over allows students to build relationships and more and more complicated sets of computations.
- Strategy. The selection of targets and which cards to keep to make combinations is the first level. Taking into account your opponents' cards is a whole 'nother level.
- Interaction. Choosing the target for your opponents and having to make their target offers lots of interaction.
- Surprise. The cards you draw and the target you're trying to make.
- Catch-Up. This could be a weak area. Once kids are good enough, it's rare to miss the target, which means it's hard to catch up. That's when you switch to the four card variation, which can be very challenging.
- Inertia. Kids were divided on the 10 card winning condition. Some thought it should be lower. One student who loved the game suggested 13 cards!
- Rules. Big win for this game. Very simple.
- Context. No context, but the game did seem to have a pretty fun level of gameplay for students.
Image credits: qthomasbaker, ames sf @ Flickr