Saturday, April 12, 2008

Funbrain Math Games for ELL Students

Twice a week, my fellow math teachers and I give up our planning period to tutor a group of our LEP (ELL) students who need help to pass our standardized test (the dreaded TAKS). We've been told to do a lot of interesting, engaging activities (with Matchbox cars, for example) to set it apart from their regular math class (which of course is incredibly boring and focuses solely on the big test).

In order to up the ante, I decided to take them out of the classroom once again. We went to the library on Thursday to use the Internet and learn by playing games.

I was inspired by reading Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day (for Teaching ESL, ELL & EFL), which was featured in my edition of the Carnival of Education last week. Larry features sites that cater to all levels of ELLs in all subjects, most utilizing innovative Web 2.0 applications. It's clear to me that the sites featured aren't just the future of language education, but a harbinger of where education is headed. In truth, I want to learn about and integrate many of the tools I've seen into my classroom in the future.

That being said, with my students I started with a simple and low-tech suggestion from Larry's math page: math games on In general the games are geared towards elementary and middle school students, but my students are lacking in many of the basic skills covered in the games. I perused the list and narrowed it down to skills they'll need heading into the "big test":
  1. Penguin Waiter - Students calculate percent tip, and on the hardest level work backwards to determine the original bill.
  2. Guess the Number Plus - Students solve simple equations written as word problems. Turning word problems into equations and/or solving them is at the heart of the TAKS test.
  3. Line Jumper - Working on the hardest levels, students add positive and negative numbers with the aid of a number line. This is one of those basic skills they should have learned years ago, but even my Pre-AP students forget how to do this constantly.
  4. Math Baseball - With Algebra Style set to "Yes", students solve elementary versions of addition and subtraction equations.
  5. Shape Surveyor - Students find area and perimeter of given rectangles. Again, while this may seem too easy for them, I can't tell you how often I ask them to do exactly this and not everyone can immediately recall how.
  6. Soccer Shootout - This is perhaps the most important of these games, because the kids have to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions to win the game. Fraction is the most dreaded word in our mathematical vocabulary, apparently, and no one has ever taught them how to do it (which has a lot to do with the way our country teaches math).
I asked them to try all of the games on all of the levels, and to explore the Flash-based Math Arcade as well. I wasn't sure how things would go without giving them much structure other than a list of games to try, but I found each student choosing a topic that they knew they needed practice in.

It was so successful that I've planned follow-up trips to the computer lab to try other engaging web tools next week. I plan to use other resources found on Larry's site to really bring my subject to life.