Tuesday, January 15, 2013

#globalmath Math Games

Tonight there's a #globalmath session on games where I'm one of the three panelists. I have loved the #globalmath sessions I've attended or watched afterwards so far, so I'm excited to be a panelist. EDIT here's the recording!

Here are my slides:

All the links are gathered together in a urli.st, Global Math Games. I tried to add other links that came up during the presentation. Unfortunately one of the panelists, Elizabeth, @cheesemonkeySF, couldn't join us because of school issues. She was going to talk about the Life on the Number Line game. But James Cleveland, frequent writer about games on his blog, was there.

James talked about his basic rule for analyzing a math game: does the math action have anything to do with the game action? He gave a couple of examples where the math is like a pause on the game, and you have to do some math to continue playing. He shared Ice Ice Maybe (MangaHigh) and Dragon Box as examples of good games. (I like one of those better than Dragon Box.) And then he talked about his game Totally Radical, which seems very cool, and is a great example of the math action being the game action. There's a homemade version to print up or you can even by a slick commercial version.

In planning my part of the presentation, I wanted to get across:
  • what makes a good math game
  • what I like about my best games
 Hey, how much should you shoot for in 20 min?

  1. I like games because they're fun and engaging. I love playing games myself, so it's not crazy to want to do them with students. But I also think that games are mathematical, as math is game like. The actual process of being a mathematician is inherently playful. Trying things out, intentional variation, strategizing. I am actively jealous of literacy teachers, who have all these stories about the book that turned this student onto reading (Potter, Bridge to Terabithia, Desperaux, etc.) and we math teachers never get that.  For me games are our best shot. Watching kids play Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh you see them doing amazing problem solving.
  2. I'm in favor of gamification, but see that as being different from a math game. There's been some fun discussion of the Ninja board on Twitter with Jim Pai (his ninja board), Jeff Brenneman and @algebraniac1. That's just fun. I think how video games present challenges for which you need new skills and giving you notice for things you've accomplished (level up!) are worthwhile for teachers to think about. And review games are a good use of gamification as well. (Here's my list of other people's review games.)
  3. The Product Game (NCTM online, my copy) is to what I aspire. It's a great game, with the strategy of a Connect Four (which is a real game, if by some chance you haven't played since a kid), but all the game actions are math actions. Furthermore, the encourages you to organize multiplication facts by family, and use patterns to find products you don't know. Evenfurthermore, it encourages reverse thinking preparing students to think about factoring. Plus it is just fun. The game structure is so good it lends itself to adaptations (decimals, fractions, integers, exponents...)
  4. Decimal Point Pickle is one of my favorite games that I made. For students who have worked on decimal representation, it encourages better number sense and place value before moving on to decimal operations. It has a blackjack feel, and never fails to generate excitement. Mathematically, the comparisons of decimals in tenths, hundredths and thousandths have been invaluable.
  5.  Eleusis Express. This is an adaptation I made of a deep and difficult game by Robert Abbott. He captured an essential mathematical process, though: making and detecting patterns. It is an amazing game to play that affords opportunities to reason, discuss arguments, and problem-solve. It really helps me communicate with students the value of capturing thinking. Because it doesn't feel like mathematical content, it is safer for them to struggle. It's just a hard game. Handouts for this are at the top of my games page.
    Plug: I also love Robert's endlessly clever mazes.
  6. Where I'm heading now is trying to get the students to be the game designers. This is done over several sessions, releasing more and more of the design task to them, or by working through the different aspects of design and having them work on the piece of a game. Even students who don't get into the playing of games find this to be rewarding and engaging. Plus, I know from making games that a lot of the math is in the design and getting things to work out correctly.
  7. The framework:
    Adapted from Magic: the Gathering's lead designer's thoughts on design, this framework has helped me to better understand what I'm doing and to make better games.
People were nice, but I did not make a good presentation. Good thing I had cartoons.

I came upstairs and my wife asked me how it went. "I was too vague," I said.

"I'm not sure what you mean," she  says.


In retrospect, I should have just talked about the three games, and given some of the play of them. Don't spend time talking about what you're not talking about! But it was a good learning experience, nonetheless, and I love being a part of "PD you like." If you haven't peeked in at #globalmath, give it a try. Most Tuesdays at 9 pm ET. Next week looks good already: Building Intellectual Need.


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  2. It's really cool that you get your kids some math games to sharpen their brain and improves their math problem solving skills and their creativity level as well.