math recess mathematical thinking (1)

Math Recess: Play to Increase Thinking Mathematically

Guest blog post by Dr. Chris Brownell

Register at alicekeeler.com/mathrecess

Have you ever played the 50 game with students? This is the game where you challenge students to beat you at a game of removing numbers from 50 until such time that the person who has to take the last number away wins. The one rule of the game is that you must remove no more than half the remaining numbers.

So, a round of play where the student plays first might look like this:
S: “I take 24!” with a big grin, “That leaves you 26!”
T: “I take 10” sheepishly “leaving you 16”
S: “I take 7! Leaving you 9!”
T: “I take 1, leaving you 8”
S: “I take 3, leaving you 5!”
T: “1, giving you 4”
S: “Oh I can only take 1 huh? Giving you 3! Hey WAIT!”
T: “I take one giving you 2, Oh AM I going to win? Sorry…wah wah”

A few rounds of this and you have a crowd of kids trying to beat you at the game. You can see it, a group of 30, 10 year olds chomping at the bit to find a way to beat the teacher at her game.

A game like this leads to some very deep truths about the structure of the whole numbers. The role of powers of 2, how to represent integers in various bases, practice with halving numbers etc. However, it also gets at other critical thinking skills, are there ways to ensure you don’t lose this game? What is the winning strategy, is it different if you are playing with a knowledgable player than with someone who doesn’t know a strategy? These things too are an important part of learning to be mathematical, to become fluent in the art of thinking mathematically. They have their roots in play. Play where you the players can make the rules to suit your
purposes, play where the sound in the space isn’t groans elicited by drudgery but shouts and whoops drawn out by near wins, close seconds and intense focus released.

This is the sort of activity I discuss, at length, in the book, “Math Recess Playful Learning in an Age of Disruption.” Available on Amazon at mathrecessbook.com

Register at alicekeeler.com/mathrecess

Learn more and hang out with Dr. Chris Brownell online! Join his online Go Slow Workshop starting May 13th. He picks 6 key concepts from the book and interacts with you to discuss and go further with ideas for how to make your math classroom more playful!

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