The Math Game You Need To Know About to Guarantee Engagement

On any given Friday or Saturday night, you can find me sitting at the dining room table. The baby has been put to bed for the night, beverages have been passed out to the adults and we settle in for a few hours of strategic gameplay.

It started with simple games like Settlers of Catan but has evolved over the years so that we own a cabinet full of "Eurogames". These games are motivating, engaging and can earn the winner some serious bragging rights!


When I look at the "games" we play in math centers, the fun is seriously lacking. When was the last time you got excited about rolling two dice and adding the numbers together? Woohoo! What a rush!  Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place for rolling dice and adding the numbers... but if you want to foster student engagement, you will have to do better!

A genre of games you may be overlooking is called collaborative games. It's exactly what it sounds like. The game players work together to reach a common goal. The goal can't be reached unless the players work together and each plays their role.

The Benefits of Collaborative Games

  1. Students are working together towards a goal, developing interpersonal skills. 
  2. Students need to communicate clearly with one another and defend their thinking. 
  3. Students are working towards a common goal. NO ARGUMENTS about who won, lost, or cheated! More importantly, students are working on important skills as they are working towards cooperating with one another. 
  4. Strategic gameplay- students will use and develop executive functioning skills as they need to think ahead about the consequences of their choices and actions in the game. 
  5. If a collaborative game is well developed, it will not be easy to win every single time. Students will be engaged and motivated as they work to achieve a goal. 

Give Me an Example... 

This game I have created for teaching rounding decimals is an example of a collaborative tile laying game. Students have the goal of working together to escape from the pirate ship and make it to a safe island. 

When a student spins the spinner they are either granted a rounding card OR directed to put an obstacle onto the game board. Rounding cards must be solved independently by all students BUT they get the opportunity to confer together and come to consensus around their group answer. When they have decided on an answer, they check the answer key to see if they are correct and thereby granted a waterway tile. 

Students then place the tiles strategically so that they are able to make it to the island. With stipulations such as waterway tiles needing to line up (and not head off of the board!) and with obstacles being laid in their path, it is difficult to achieve the straightforward task of "laying a safe path". Students need to think ahead and communicate clearly with one another when placing tiles to be sure they will be able to meet their ultimate goal. 

I Love It... But How Do I Teach A Collaborative Game? 

I hear you! Collaborative games have more rules and require more teaching than a simple "roll and add" game but the pay-off will be worth the work you put in! Consider these strategies for teaching and modeling collaborative games: 
  • Use a fishbowl model to teach the game-- ask students on the outside of the fishbowl to observe a variety of aspects of the game such as cooperative language or strategic thinking. 
  • Play the game in small groups first. 
  • Ask a parent volunteer to sit with your students as they play the game the first time through. 
  • Play the game as a whole class modeling on a document camera. 

Give it a shot- you will be thrilled when your students are improving their math skills and social-emotional skills at the same time. And just wait for the excitement when a team wins the game and earns their bragging rights! 

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