Thursday, March 20, 2014

Math games

In 2012 at the annual Adventures in Homeschooling conference I attended a talk by math teacher John Bennett titled "No Math? No Problem", where he argued that math, which is fundamentally about inductive and deductive reasoning, would be better taught through logic games than traditional school exercises.

Here's a short TEDx version of it (which unfortunately doesn't include the part about his favorite logic games):

Since I met Bennett we've been playing math games, including the simple two-player game he taught us using teddy bear counters (the bears are useful and we keep a set handy, but any small objects you have in sufficient quantity will work).

Here's how the game works:

Set out on a table
  • Five bears of any color (say, blue)
  • Three bears of another color (say, green)
  • Two bears of a third color (say, yellow)
Now, each player can take away as many bears of one color as they want - but they always have to take at least one bear, and they can't take bears of different colors on the same turn. The objective is to take away as many bears as you can without being the last one to take a turn. The player left with the last bear loses.

Here's an example game flow:
  1. Player 1 takes the five blue bears
  2. Player 2 takes the three green bears
  3. Player 1 takes one of the two yellow bears
  4. Player 2 loses, because now there is only one (yellow) bear left for her to take!
It's a really simple game of strategy where the players have to compute moves and outcomes to win.

This week we tried a new game that worked quite well: Think Fun Math Dice Jr. The youngest child played the short version of it while the older children played the full game. All could play at the same time, which was nice!

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