Games Based Learning in Mathematics
Numeracy is a core subject of the national curriculum and a subject which has no boundaries in which it could be taught. Creativity in mathematics is not new. Teachers have been trying to teach this subject and make it interesting for all children since schools began but with a multitude of failings along the way. Making the resources to teach creatively can be time consuming and it is inevitable that teachers will turn to ready made worksheets for the children to complete.
“It is all too easy to fall into the lessons-by-rote trap when teaching maths, simply because there are so many required elements to be covered throughout the year. A steady diet of worksheets can be the quickest way to boredom on everyone’s part.”
The problem with worksheets is that they do not work. Their use has been extensive but has failed to help children better understand abstract written mathematics.
(Worthington and Carruthers, 2003)
Indeed the guidance produced by QCA (2000) for the foundation stage states that:
“for children to become young mathematicians requires creative thinking, an element of risk-taking, imagination and invention - dispositions that are impossible to develop within the confines of a work-sheet or teacher-led written mathematics”.
The argument against the overuse of worksheets continues further with Davis and Briggs (2008) devoting a whole chapter to the end of death by worksheet. They claim that worksheets tend to focus on practice rather than allowing the children the opportunity to explore mathematics further and that they are not always clear for learners. You may ask why I have devoted so much space to the question of worksheets and their involvement in maths learning. Although they do have their advantages for the teacher in that they are already made, easy to store and easy to reproduce, teaching is about expanding and involving the childs mind. Allowing them to delve into the deepest caves to discover things that they did not think possible in maths.
Getting children involved in maths and enjoying the subject is essential if we want to create young and interested mathematical learners. As Kendall (2010) states: “there is a real need to find a way of making the process of learning maths more enjoyable and meaningful for all concerned”. Being able to locate this enjoyable and meaningful learning is why I have chosen to teach maths through games with specific emphasis on playing board games in Key Stage One.
Briggs, M and Davis S (2008) highlight this...
•Games can encourage successful learning and increase self esteem.
•Games can encourage mathematical discussion between children and with adults.
•Games can be fun.
•Games can support different learning styles by providing a different format for similar activities.
•Games can help reinforce knowledge in different ways.
•Games can help support the introduction of new areas and ideas.
I have a real passion for talk for learning in all my lessons in school and believe that children learn best when given the opportunity to work with other children and discuss their learning. Liverpool mathematics team (2007) discuss the use of talking in maths.
“Research indicates that speaking and listening skills are crucial to the development of children’s thinking strategies when solving mathematical problems. In achieving this, language is a vital element.”
Without knowing the vocabulary and the context in which it should be applied; knowledge of mathematics and in particular using and applying the skills they have learnt will be a very weak area.
Playing board games with children is a prime opportunity for the teacher to stand back and watch the children in action, the activity is student led and just slightly guided by the teacher. This is to ensure that the children have “the time to explore mathematics without adult intervention which allows time to pose the questions themselves and to ‘have a go’ at activities without being told there is a specific way to approach an activity” (Briggs, M and Davis, S. 2008) The game will have an objective attached to it, but the learning itself will have no pre-determined outcome. I am hoping sincerely for a whole host of incidental learning to take place. Talk for learning will be a key part of this incidental learning and will be guided by the teacher when necessary.
Board games are ‘entertaining and guaranteed to appeal to everyone; they provide invaluable ways of practising basic calculations and mental arithmetic’ (Yougman, 2010). If the children enjoy playing the games they will participate with confidence and take pleasure from the experience. They will be learning the basic arithmetic needed to progress further in mathematics as well as being introduced to vocabulary, practicing their vocabulary already in place and having fun at the same time. The perfect mix for learning to take place.
I'm a deputy head in Scarborough, England and love using media and tech to develop writing. I'm also a keen advocate of Learning Without Limits and believe in a games based approach to developing mathematicians.