Saturday, January 6, 2024

Multiplication Mazes - a puzzle for fact practice

 All this month I'll be posting games from the Fall 2023 GAMES seminar at GVSU. This senior capstone was begun by Char Beckmann. See many of the games from her seminar in this YouTube playlist. Many of the games completed in my seminar are in this playlist. In the seminar, we play lots of games and math games, the future teachers make a first video to promote a class math game that already exists, we develop a group game (a monster-themed middle school Desmos escape room and Math Heads, a number mystery game this year), and they develop a game of their own.

Keri Herman chose Tens Go Fish, a classic addition fluency game. As an extra feature, she demonstrates the game with Tiny Polka Dot cards. (Find them here at Math for Love.)

Keri's original game was a new idea for the seminar: she was interested in making a puzzle. I recently saw a description of a puzzle as a game for one person.  That certainly fits here. The puzzles are available on a Google doc here. What follows is Keri's story of making the game, and her ideas on why we should play games in math class.

Story of my Game

I knew when I got the opportunity to create my own game, I wanted to develop something that was related to quick multiplication facts. The reason being that my memory of learning my multiplication tables was always timed and quite stressful for me as a young student. I wanted to create a game where students could get great practice of their multiplication facts, and build in aspects of a good game; strategy, any player can win, etc. 

My first idea was a game board, moving the amount of spaces of the product. However, I was then drawn to the idea of more of a maze. I started with a small grid and filled in very small multiplication facts, students would have to find their way to the end. This turned into the development of three mazes, 5 x 6, 7 x 8, and 9 x 10, all with their own unique solution. To figure out how to design these mazes took a lot of different approaches, starting from scratch, and overall just thinking about how to make them work. I believe that the final product of these mazes will provide students with a very fun way to practice their multiplication, while being able to try to solve the maze. 

The goal was to have a large mathematical objective for the game. Students will be focused on trying to find the solution, even if they are going the wrong way, or have to start over, they are still constantly doing the math and getting practice of their multiplication facts. I think this game would be something that teachers should play with their learners because you can never have enough practice with multiplication. Especially in the 9 x 10 maze, all multiplication facts are used from 1 through 9 (not including zero). These mazes will also help students recognize patterns between multiples, factors, and products. 

These games could be used within a lesson, if students finish early, or simply just given as an opportunity for more practice, without time constraints. I also share within my video the development process of these mazes. With students who have learned multiplication facts,  I think it would be a great idea to turn this into a project or performance assessment. Students can work to develop their own maze. Not only does it take strategy, but at the same time students are able to continue working with the facts themselves and continue to recognize patterns. Overall, I am very proud of the way these mazes have turned out. I want to continue to show these to math educators and I hope that students will enjoy solving them as much as I had hoped. 

Why Play Games in the Math Classroom?

As a future math educator, incorporating games into the classroom is something that I want to use and will continue to encourage others to consider as well. It is often looked over to play games in the classroom, but the reasons as to why they are beneficial to student education should be considered. There are few specific reasons that are important to point out, including; building mathematical knowledge and skills, collaboration with peers, student engagement, critical thinking skills, and more. Each one of these reasons in its own makes games in a math classroom worthwhile. 

Building Mathematical Knowledge

Math games all are built upon their own goals and mathematical objectives. Teachers have the option to choose a game that targets the content that is being focused on. To find a game that can build mathematical knowledge, choosing a game that is relevant to your current learning goals within a classroom can help students extend their skills. There are so many aspects built within games that students can pick up on mathematically, without noticing. This can be beneficial to students because they are still learning, but without the title of class, homework, or assessments. 

Collaboration with Peers

It is important for a classroom to have communication among students that can lead to quality discussions. Discussions can uncover so many helpful aspects to student learning. In a game setting, a lot of times students will play with each other in teams, or against each other. In both cases, students are able to communicate and learn from each other. Students are able to pick up on each other’s strategies and build off of them. When playing with each other, this can help build a more positive classroom environment. This is because this type of communication is not usually seen in a regular lecture or discussion. 

Student Engagement

Oftentimes we hear negative assumptions about math and negative attitudes are common when stepping into a classroom for some students. It is important as teachers that we are able to increase student interest by engagement and participation. Incorporating math games into the classroom is a great way to develop student engagement. A lot of times, the mathematical objective of games are mixed in with aspects of interaction, surprises, and fun. A game can also change the view of many students. All students can participate and it is important to use games where any student can win. In math class, students can often point out the “smartest” students and become discouraged. When using games that are designed that anyone can win, not just based on skill, this can build a lot of confidence in students. 

Critical Thinking Skills

In many situations, students become disengaged after they reach the level of knowledge and understanding. However, it is things like analysis, critical thinking, and application that get students to really push past that level of reasoning for the content that they are learning. Math games provide a different way to push students to build upon their critical thinking skills. Having to figure out a strategy to finish or win the game is a very important tool when it comes to building these skills. With that being said, games that are chosen to play in a class should have aspects that involve strategy. 

Overall, math games have so many advantages when it comes to incorporating them into the classroom. Being able to play different types of games this semester has taught me so much about what a good math game should look like. Being able to develop and create our own group game, and my own game has changed my perspective on math games. Math games can help students learn in a unique, fun, and interactive way. 

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