AHB Community SchoolMath Pentathlon

Learning (and loving) math through games

Dr. Mandy Menzer is a psychologist in private practice in South Austin. In addition, she is currently the Math Pentathlon coordinator at AHB Community School. Dr. Menzer has been involved in the Math Pentathlon program as a coach, game monitor, and parent for nine years. We’re excited to welcome Dr. Menzer to the blog today as a guest contributor. If you have any questions about Math Pentathlon or participating in the AHB Math Pentathlon program (your kid does not have to be enrolled full-time at AHB), you can contact her at [email protected].
 

Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math?
Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading.

Petra Bonfert-Taylor

It is a common refrain for adults in our society to talk about how math is boring or complicated when it comes time to divide up a check or calculate the compound interest on our mortgage, for example. Is it any surprise that kids from an early age pick up on math as something to be avoided at all costs? As parents, we struggle with how to help our kids get through the never-ending grind of multiplication tables and percentages before moving on to the mysteries of Algebra and other advanced-level math, where we really start to feel out of our league.

And yet, there is an activity that kids actually enjoy doing that integrates all different types of mathematical and quantitative reasoning. GAMES!  Virtually any game that you can think of incorporates some type of mathematical concept that kids already understand at a practical level and that a sneaky parent or educator can further build on. Monopoly? Keeping track of the money in your hand and adding and subtracting to your stash. In fact, any game involving dice (or cards, for that matter) can lead to discussions around probability, even in terms of something as simple as which properties you should buy (the answer is anything within 7 spaces of a frequent landing spot such as Go or Jail).

Have a kid who is into sports? Chances are that they know a lot of numbers and statistics around their favorite player or team, which they may be more than happy to spend time digging into. Even a “word” game like Scrabble contains a lot of math, in terms of Which letters give me the most points? and How can I stick those letters on some big multipliers?

And lest we forget, video games can also integrate math skills, such as visual-spatial reasoning, problem solving, pattern recognition, and strategic thinking. I know that nothing else in life has challenged my brain as much as some of the puzzles in the Legend of Zelda videogame series.

As a psychologist and mom to two boys, as well as a huge math dork myself, I have long believed that games can be the gateway drug to achievement in math. Certainly, kids who enjoy mathematical activities are more likely to spend time practicing it (or at least make the nightly math homework less of a battle), and there seems to be data to back this up. “A new study led by Johns Hopkins University psychologists shows Bedtime Math’s Crazy 8 club significantly reduces children’s feelings of math anxiety after eight weeks of participation in the club. The effect was more pronounced among younger kids in kindergarten through second grade club.”

So how can I get started?

  1. Figure out what kinds of games your kids are into, and play with them! Depending on the age of your kid, sneak some extra thought questions in here and there (“Hmmm, is it worth selling off a cheaper Monopoly property here to build a third house on this property over there?”) or simply play dumb (“I’m not sure if I have enough money to build all three of these things . . .”). Engage them in a conversation as to whether LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan and make them back it up with stats and data.
  2. Make everyday activities into math games. In my carpool, we routinely guess what time we will arrive at school. We have discovered that it generally takes about 11 minutes from Lady Bird Lake to get to school, so if they want to claim the “11-minute guess,” they have to do the math to figure out what time it will be 11 minutes from now. Older kids may really get incentivized by the whole concept of compound interest if you make it worth their while (“If you’ll save some of your allowance, I’ll give you 10% interest, compounded weekly.”) After all, who doesn’t like free money?
  3. Find games and activities that have math components that YOU enjoy, and model that for them. Candy Crush? Pattern recognition. Gardening or building projects require a lot of geometry and measurement. You may not need to add anything new; simply verbalize and acknowledge the mathematical elements in what you are already enjoying and let your kid see your enjoyment.

In addition, there are numerous games, apps, and activities that are specifically geared toward “math fun.” Some of my favorites include:

If you are interested in a way to get some consistent and fun math time in this school year, you can consider joining the Math Pentathlon program, which is offered by many local schools. If your school does not offer a program, feel free to join ours, which starts up September 12. We have a few slots available for kids who are in Kindergarten through 3rd grade. My family has participated 10 times with two wildly different children, and it’s always been a wonderful experience for us. Contact me, Dr. Mandy Menzer, at [email protected] with any questions.

Dr. Mandy Menzer

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