A teacher describes how classroom games provide new avenues for learners to succeed and build confidence!
Lori Mullarkey, 7th Grade Math Teacher
Nebraska City Middle School, Nebraska City, Nebraska, USA
Because so many students feel defeated before even giving math a chance in 7th grade, my classroom philosophy is to encourage students to like math more at the end of the year than at the beginning. I have found that doing several hands-on activities and giving time for problem solving games does just this! ThinkFun games help students feel a sense of mastery in math which they have seldom had before. The beginner levels meet students where they are at and give them a sense of accomplishment as they pass each challenge. Students continue to be challenged as they move through the leveled cards. I have several students who are proud and excited to tell me that they just passed every card in the deck!
My first experience with Think Fun Games was at a High Ability Learner’s (HAL) conference. One of the sessions focused entirely on problem solving through single player games. They walked us through the general plot of each game and simply gave us time to play. It was only a few minutes before I realized I was addicted myself and had to have these games! I knew that all my students, not just my gifted learners, would love playing these games. I hoped that these games would help my at-risk students find some fun and motivation in school (even if it was from problem solving games), so I purchased a small handful just to test them out in my room. The result has been amazing and I soon had a wish list a mile long for my classroom!
As the year progressed, I noticed that students would ask to play the games as soon as they entered the room. As other students began watching, they too would start begging to play and “calling” particular games at the beginning of the period. Knowing I did not have enough games for each student, I told students once their assignment was completed, they could choose a game for the remainder of class. Once all the games were chosen, they could play quietly in partners. Sure enough, I had almost all of my students focused on finishing their homework in order to play the game of their choice! Our Math Counts club also loved them so much we began fundraising in order to purchase more games for the room.
Over the past 2 years, I have collected nearly 40 different single player games and created a small problem solving station in my room. In addition to the games, I also purchased a cube storage unit with 5 different drawers. Each drawer is a particular type of game. Drawer 1: Navigation Station: Rush Hours, Roadside Rescue, Stormy Seas, etc. Drawer 2: Shape It Up: Shape by Shape, Block By Block, Square By Square, Tangrams, etc. Drawer 3: More Think Fun Games: Games that were created by Think Fun but I didn’t have enough of the same type to designate a drawer. Drawer 4: Educational Insight Games (similar to those of Think Fun), Drawer 5: Other: for smaller brainteasers (think fun also has several of these). Since these are designed to be single-player games, students simply take them back to their desk to play once their assignment is finished. There is also an eight-foot table in the back of our room for when partners or small groups want to work on a game together.
At the beginning of this year, I took a class period to explain the problem solving behind each game to all of my classes. Students were told that once they completed their assignment they may ask and select a game to play for the remainder of the period. About once a quarter, or before holidays, we have a problem solving day instead of having class. I set a game on each desk, and students shift over one seat every 10 minutes trying the various games in their row. At the end of the period, we spend time discussing the problem solving used in various games and students discuss how they would rate particular games.
I also am the sponsor for our Math Counts club, and students frequently request problem solving game days! The eighth grade students involved in Math Counts said they joined just for the problem solving games and the sixth grade students also love the chance to play them. Since there are not as many students as a typical class, we can focus a day on geometry and do the shape puzzles, or have a rush hour morning instead of practicing math problems. They simply can’t get enough!
Classroom favorites include: any of the Rush Hours, Shape by Shape, Roadside Rescue, 36 Cube, Hot Spot, and Chocolate Fix. As said before, most students stick with a particular game until they have mastered all of the cards. These games not only challenge kids, but my husband and I master a card at each level before bringing them to school for the students to play.