Sunday, February 18, 2024

Variable Kings - a Linear Equations Math Game

I'm still 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.

Ryan Brummel made a video for Math Heads, our group game as mentioned above, a game he tested extensively with his algebra students.

Ryan's original game is a super cool algebra game where students make, evaluate and solve linear equations. The rules are surprisingly simple and the game play can be pretty intense. What follows is his story of making the game, and thoughts on math games in general.

When trying to come up with a math game, I wanted something that would apply to the math I was teaching my students.I happen to be teaching linear equations to my 8th Grade Algebra class, and my 8th grade Pre Algebra classes were going to get to linear equations later in the year. I wanted some kind of game I could use in my classroom. I wanted something simple that didn’t need lots of materials or printing out so I wondered if I could make a game where you build linear equations using a deck of cards. With decks of cards having cards with numbers 1-10 using the Ace I figured I could incorporate the face cards as variables somehow.

I brought this very rough idea to my Math 496 math games class at Grand Valley. From there my professor and classmates did a great job helping me brainstorm and try to arrange my setup so that it would be as user friendly as we would get it to be. We came to the conclusion of a rough idea of a game with two teams trying to solve a linear equation and create the biggest output.

I took that idea to my Honors class and had them try it. It went over surprisingly well, The students had a blast. They found holes in the game that needed to be addressed, and they begged me to play the next week. I brought their comments back to class and we continued to playtest and mess around with the rules and setup of the game. Once I thought we had a final product I brought it back to my students and had them play it one more time. Having honed in on some of the minor issues of the game a lot better, it went very well and my students were very self-sufficient and able to play in teams of 2-3 the whole hour without my help. That is when I knew the game was pretty well set in stone.

From there the game needed a name. My students did not have any bright ideas like I thought, however my 496 class gave me the idea of “Variable Kings” as the name since the game is all about winning variables and the king cards are the ones that count as variables. From that point I did what I never thought I would really do which was create my own math game that I can effectively use in my 8th grade classroom.

Why Play Math Games?

Coming into the Grand Valley education program I was completely foreign to the idea of math games in the classroom. I have a dad who just retired as a high school math teacher and spent 30 years in the classroom. I went all throughout my 12 year educational journey from kindergarten to high school not remembering any semblance of math games in the classroom as I know of them today. However now that I have taken math education courses, taken a math games course, and have taught in my own classroom I now can see the importance of games in the classroom.

Math classes at the primary or secondary level tend to get the reputation of being very boring. As someone who was good at math, I did well in my math classes and enjoyed them but I enjoyed them more because of my classmates and friends in the class rather than the content itself and the way the classes were run. There were some teachers that had good personalities that made the classes more engaging but again, that is nothing to do with the content and most of my classmates didn’t even feel the way I did. What happens when students say class is “boring”. That means they are not engaged, and don’t have any desire to be engaged. Students who are not engaged have no chance at success. These students who tend to not be engaged, whether it be in math or any class, are the students that are the toughest to reach, but the students we have to try and reach. What I have found when using math games in my classroom is that a lot of the students that normally tune out, or misbehave, will perk up when there is a game to be played rather than the traditional notes or worksheet. I believe the reason for this is that a lot of these games that teachers use in the classroom have a very low entry point. This means that students who feel like they struggle in math or don’t want to share for fear of getting an answer wrong, are much more likely to engage in mathematical conversation during a math game. Math games invite students of all achievement levels to participate and also have fun which is something not always associated with a math class.

The engagement piece is huge when it comes to math games in the classroom. However, if I played dodgeball every day in my Algebra class I’m sure students would be engaged, but they wouldn’t be learning any math. The thing that surprised me the most about math games is that I really feel like students get more out of it. When you pick a good math game it gets students to think deeper about mathematical concepts without even realizing it. With good scaffolding and discussion facilitation students really start to notice things about math while playing games that they wouldn’t using a textbook. The more students are engaged and are invested in the activity they are doing the more they will dig deeper and get out of said activity.

Overall I think that math games are super essential to any math classroom. Not every single part of every day has to be a game, but I think that using math games in your classroom is super beneficial to the students and the teacher. With my experience, math games cause engagement and the depth of mathematical thinking to skyrocket. Both of these are things that can be lacking in traditional math classrooms. I wish my teachers and classrooms would have incorporated math games a lot more in my education experience. And I know classmates that would have benefited greatly from that!