Why is math IMPORTANT for KIDS? And Can they learn it from games?

Teaches Logical and Critical Thinking

Math teaches logic and order. You can expect a mathematical equation to have a predictable outcome, and precise steps must be followed in order to attain that result. The discipline of mind that children develop in math class can carry over into everyday life. Companies know this, as some businesses will hire math majors based on the presumption that students who are good at math have learned how to think. Math can also provide a vehicle through which critical-thinking skills are put into practice and refined. An example of mathematical critical thinking is when students are required to explain how they arrived at a solution to a complex problem or to describe the ideas behind a formula or procedure.

Teaches Life Skills

It is next to impossible to live an independent life without basic math skills. Children begin to learn about money in the early elementary grades, and in later grades can calculate percentages and fractions. People must have these skills in order to follow a recipe, evaluate whether or not an item on clearance is a good deal and manage a budget, among other things. Financial analyst Mike Walker points out that kids must be proficient at math in order to buy a car without getting taken for “the wrong kind of ride.”

Supports Continuing Education and Careers

Even entry-level jobs in fields seemingly unrelated to mathematics require math skills. Cashiers must be able to count money accurately, while a customer service representative may need to be able to discuss a discrepancy in a customer’s bill. Students who are skilled at math and who seek a higher degree will find that high-paying careers such as engineering, medicine and research become available to them. Students who are not interested in these careers must nonetheless have advanced math skills, as they are required to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in any field. Students who have better math skills than their peers may obtain scholarships based on their superior performance on assessment tests such as the SAT and ACT.

Your Daily Math

Students may ask why math is necessary, but quality math instruction must ensure that this question is asked infrequently. Instruction should incorporate techniques that are designed to demonstrate to children the relevancy of math to their daily lives, the world around them and their future careers. Math teachers must strive to provide a real-world context for the skills that they teach and must tell students the rationale behind the concept they are teaching.

Learning Mathematics Through Games Series: 1. Why Games?

Stage: 1, 2 and 3

We all know that children enjoy playing games. Experience tells us that games can be very productive learning activities. But …

  • What should teachers say when asked to educationally justify the use of games in mathematics lessons?
  • Are some games better than others?
  • What educational benefits are there to be gained from games?

This article supplies teachers with information that may be useful in better understanding the nature of games and their role in teaching and learning mathematics.

What is a mathematical game?

When considering the use of games for teaching mathematics, educators should distinguish between an ‘activity’ and a ‘game’. Gough (1999) states that “A ‘game’ needs to have two or more players, who take turns, each competing to achieve a ‘winning’ situation of some kind, each able to exercise some choice about how to move at any time through the playing”. The key idea in this statement is that of ‘choice’. In this sense, something like Snakes and Ladders is NOT a game because winning relies totally on chance. The players make no decisions, nor do that have to think further than counting. There is also no interaction between players – nothing that one player does affects other players’ turns in any way.

Oldfield (1991) says that mathematical games are ‘activities’ which:

  • involve a challenge, usually against one or more opponents; a
  • are governed by a set of rules and have a clear underlying structure;
  • normally have a distinct finishing point;
  • have specific mathematical cognitive objectives.

Benefits of Using Games

The advantages of using games in a mathematical programme have been summarised in an article by Davies (1995) who researched the literature available at the time.
  • Meaningful situations – for the application of mathematical skills are created by games
  • Motivation – children freely choose to participate and enjoy playing
  • Positive attitude – Games provide opportunities for building self-concept and developing positive attitudes towards mathematics, through reducing the fear of failure and error;
  • Increased learning – in comparison to more formal activities, greater learning can occur through games due to the increased interaction between children, opportunities to test intuitive ideas and problem solving strategies
  • Different levels – Games can allow children to operate at different levels of thinking and to learn from each other. In a group of children playing a game, one child might be encountering a concept for the first time, another may be developing his/her understanding of the concept, a third consolidating previously learned concepts
  • Assessment – children’s thinking often becomes apparent through the actions and decisions they make during a game, so the teacher has the opportunity to carry out diagnosis and assessment of learning in a non-threatening situation
  • Home and school – Games provide ‘hands-on’ interactive tasks for both school and home
  • Independence – Children can work independently of the teacher. The rules of the game and the children’s motivation usually keep them on task.
Few language barriers – an additional benefit becomes evident when children from non-english-speaking backgrounds are involved. The basic structures of some games are common to many cultures, and the procedures of simple games can be quickly learned through observation. Children who are reluctant to participate in other mathematical activities because of language barriers will often join in a game, and so gain access to the mathematical learning as well as engage in structured social interaction.

Hints for Successful Classroom Games

These tips come from Alridge & Badham (1993):
  • Make sure the game matches the mathematical objective
  • Use games for specific purposes, not just time-fillers
  • Keep the number of players from two to four, so that turns come around quickly
  • The game should have enough of an element of chance so that it allows weaker students to feel that they a chance of winning
  • Keep the game completion time short
  • Use five or six ‘basic’ game structures so the children become familiar with the rules – vary the mathematics rather than the rules
  • Send an established game home with a child for homework
  • Invite children to create their own board games or variations of known games.

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