Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Games and Puzzles

Working with elementary school students in my tutoring job has had me thinking a lot about how I learned math when I was younger. I'm good at following directions and solving problems with the standard methods we're always taught, but I've finally got a name for the way I would try to break down and simplify problems for myself: number sense. Of course, I've heard of number sense before, but I didn't really have a complete picture of what that meant beyond being really, really good at solving math problems quickly and without a lot of difficulty.

I've realized that more than anything, playing a wide range of games (card, board, video) and solving puzzles throughout my youth gave me more practice with number sense than anything I did in school. The crucial skills are pretty easy to see when you're looking for them: counting, classifying and grouping numbers, estimating, thinking quickly, dealing with money, spatial relations, problem solving, creating systems to make success easier, and finding out that there's more than one way to do things. I'm being purposely vague here, because I think these skills are present to some extent in so many things that it would be difficult to make a definitive list.

What I mean to do with this notion is to:
  1. Revisit and review games both old and new and point out their educational value, and suggest ways to extend and adapt them for the classroom (not necessarily a new idea for me, but there will be a renewed focus on this)
  2. Create more new games that teach these skills in both obvious and subtle ways
  3. Suggest games that would be valuable for parents to do with with young children at home.
The last one is a new adventure for me; up until now I have focused almost entirely on things that can be done in middle and high school classrooms. Being out of the classroom has reminded me that so much can be done at home, and much more easily than parents might think.

So be prepared for a lot of discussion of games and puzzles in the near future. For now, here's some great resources that inspire me and should do the same for you:

Educational Games Research
Digital Play