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Math Games: Observing Your Students Makes Back-To-School A Breeze




I was in the toy aisle at Target the other day and spied a giant set of dominoes. It was a thing of beauty to behold. I was instantly transported back a gazillion years to my grandma's kitchen table. We sat hunched over the domino tiles. Her left hand cupped her never-empty coffee cup. There was a small plate of windmill cookies off to the side. She used her index finger to sweep up my cookie crumbs while I labored over my next move. My grandma and me, we were fierce domino players. 

Because she was a fourth grade teacher, when my grandma taught you how to play a game, you learned strategy. It was discussed and developed. I learned to visualize several moves ahead. I learned patterns of play. I learned what tiles were best to hold back until the end and which tiles were best to play first.

To this day, I adore playing games because of my Grandma Eller. As a classroom teacher, they are one of my favorite ways to teach concepts, strategy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.  At the start of a new school year, math games are my absolute favorite way to get to know my new students. 


When I use math games at the very beginning of the school year, I make sure that they are skill review. I don't want to use games that teach new concepts because I want to watch my students interacting independently. If I have to step in to reteach new math concepts, I can't observe. I want to be able to see how Andrew interacts with others when he's losing. I want to know how Bella handles mistakes, or how Tom behaves when he trounces Emily. I also want to see who has a hard time with reviewing concepts. This is a tip off for me that someone may need some remediation.


I have a wheelie stool that I scoot around on the first couple weeks of school as I watch my students play math games. I make sure I visit each group. Students will find me if they need help with concepts, but when they come to me to settle disagreements during game play, I tell them they must solve the problems themselves. This gives me a lot of information about their abilities to collaborate and negotiate. I also look for the helpers. These are students who will try to help a partner who is stuck mathematically, even though it's a competitive situation. 


As I'm scooting around, I carry a pencil and clipboard with an observation sheet attached. I watch, listen and record what I see on my observation pages. I've developed this sheet after years of teaching and find that it helps me hone in on my students who will need some social skills, discourse, or mathematical boosting. After each game play session, I plan lessons to address some of what I saw.  This continues throughout the first month of school, until my students' skills have improved. 

If you'd like my observational pages, be sure to subscribe (via email) to this blog! At the beginning of every month, I send my subscribers updates and a free goodie.  The observational pages are September's freebie!

Game play will always be one of my favorite ways to teach concepts and review expectations for collaboration and discourse. But it is also my favorite because I'm transported back to the taste of almond windmill cookies and the click of domino tiles...and my grandma's laughter, warm and loving. 
If you're looking for classroom games, take a look below. There are a couple of freebies in the line up, too. Simply click on the graphic. Enjoy!                   
                           

This month, I've linked up with some fabulous teachers for Teacher Talk. There are some great back-to-school classroom ideas here! Check them out below!
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

9 comments

  1. I love using games, too! They make "learning" non-threatening and the discussion between students gives you a lot of insight. You have so many great games!

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  2. I love using dominoes for teaching math. Such a cheap and easy-to-use manipulative.

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  3. I love your stories. You must have had so much fun playing dominoes with your grandma. Now your kids get to play, they're so lucky to have you for a teacher, you're so creative. I hope you have a wonderful school year.

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  4. Great tips for making math game play an integral part of teaching. I know your students master a lot of skills this way!

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