Bryan D. Williams, 5th Grade Math Teacher
Washington, D.C., USA
Much has been written about playing games in the classroom. There have been numerous articles that speak to the powerful ways that games can motivate students to be more engaged in the teaching and learning process. Other articles have talked about how games can be used to reinforce skills and concepts already learned, review skills and concepts that are currently being covered, or be a preview of what is coming up. Problem solving games in particular provide students an opportunity to develop and strengthen problem solving strategies. In addition, as students work together and play various games in the classroom, they are learning from each other and developing multiple strategies to help them become increasingly more effective problem solvers and more accomplished mathematicians.
As a classroom teacher, I have seen how the use of games in the classroom can provide a fun and non-threatening environment to help students develop and strengthen problem solving strategies. Over the past five years, I have worked in schools that had a core mathematics curriculum that emphasized the use of games to help reinforce skills and concepts being taught throughout the year. The range of games, the challenge that they provided, and the ability to work with the fellow classmates was all the motivation they needed. While students worked together, it was amazing listening to the kinds of conversations that were sparked by collaborative and at times the competitive nature of the games being played. Having students engaged in these kinds of meaningful activities also allowed me an opportunity to pull small groups or individual students to help provide more individualized instruction.
Many of the games being played would be out and available for students to use throughout the day. Our daily schedule included free choice time and, when other assignments were completed, choosing to play a game with a friend was almost always an option. The ability to make choices like these in the classroom became very empowering for my students, and they took the responsibility seriously requiring very little support. Many of the games being played were also differentiated and could be used as remediation, review, or extension. The games became an integral part of our classroom and my students benefited greatly from the experience.