My favourite maths games

I sometimes work as a tutor. So I guess that this post is a sort of a start of a manifesto for how I feel about education, and where I feel I fit in. And also and introduction to my favourite (two) maths games!

In my (most humble) estimation, schools seem to be playing a really slow game of catch up. The skills they are offering young people are not necessarily the skills that are wanted by the current job market. My other issue is that with school’s under increasing demands to meet government criteria and standards, there seems to be a tendency for the grades becoming apparently more important than the children being taught. This isn’t to say that there aren’t amazing people in education, going above, beyond and then more above and then more beyond for their vocation, but the external pressures are ever increasingly there. And this does have a knock on effect.

I have taught many different young people over the years, some with many additional needs and others who appear naturally gifted. And what many of them fear to do? Ask their teachers questions. Many do not want to appear stupid, or simply don’t have the confidence to speak up. As an adult, if ever I do not understand something, I make a point of asking. Sometimes this has led to somewhat awkward situations, where the person saying something, cannot explain what they have said. Then we all feel at a bit of a loss. But mostly this has been all good. I have learnt something. Working on a one to one allows young people a voice to ask, and hopefully, this skill will transfer.

But anyways, my favourite maths games! Logic underpins so much of maths, and possibly more than that. If I can learn to think rationally, learn to take small steps and see them as part of the bigger picture, then when I am presented with something that looks complicated and initially unfathomable, I can break it down. This is what the first game is about.

Chocolate Fix is about my most favourite game ever. Only I really dislike the name, as to me, they look like little cakes. So ‘Cake Fix’ is about my most favourite game ever. It involves placing the ‘little cakes’ in a grid using a series of visual clues. It starts out easy, lulling you into a false sense of security. The first time I played, I made a cup of tea, sat down and zipped through the first ten to fifteen of these little puzzles without a care in the world. Then it got a little trickier. Soon the kettle was boiling for a third time and the cake was no longer innocent.. it was there to be defeated! To be tamed, to be harnessed! I don’t think I have ever got through all of the forty puzzles.. but one day.. at some point in the future, victory will be mine!! (said in a very dramatic voice, whilst shaking my hand with menace at the ceiling) (I don’t think that the ceiling was overly impressed). This game teaches both logic and spatial awareness.

The second game is amazing for increasing speed with number bonds, and also a great way to show some competitive spirit! It is me versus the box!!

Shut the Box isn’t about my most favourite game, it is my most favourite game. It is brutal. It involves a box, with the numbers from two to twelve displayed at the top, into which you happily throw two dice, in an attempt to put down all the numbers. You then add up the dice and put down the corresponding amount at the top, in either one or two numbers. So if you roll a six and a three, you add them up to make nine, you can then put down a five and a four. Which makes it sound really complicated. It really isn’t. It is harsh, and although there is strategy involved based on probability, you have to be really lucky to shut the actual box. I have seen many children’s phenomenal victory dances upon completion of this epic feat. More scarily, many children have seen my victory dance too. And I am generally somewhat more excitable than the children. Hours has this game taken from me, I will celebrate every victory with zest!

Map Point. When have I felt afraid to ask?


The problem of always winning

Growing up, I remember spending every Saturday without fail at my grandparents. We would all go out, with my Mum and Nan consulting on clothing and the like, and when we got back, we would play all manner of games, draughts, buckaroo, Sorry, Snakes and Ladders.. and many more I have likely long since forgotten. It provided me with a host of good memories and a life time love for board games. There was only one problem with this, they always let me win.

At the time, this was amazing, I was quite clearly the luckiest girl on earth, every game, I am a winner! This instilled an amazing sense of optimism, but at the same time created an expectation. When I played board games with other people, this became a contention. I was no longer naturally winning, this created uproar and confusion. I had to start dealing with losing too.

What probably kept me going through this transition was likely two things. First was my utter love for games and second was my Uncle Dave. Uncle Dave suddenly brought a host of new games into my life – Monopoly, Risk and one of my utter devotions, Scrabble. So the process of learning these infinitely more complex games counterbalanced me losing more often. And this helped. A bit.

I mean I knew that people both won and lost and that this was okay. Intellectually I understood this variable, but emotionally, not so much. I remember congratulating opponents on their win then excusing myself to go hide and cry. I felt terrible, I had lost the game, I had failed. This sense of failure I really closely identified with. I likened what should have been an entertaining diversion with a catastrophic event. Losing at a game and linking that to self-worth was not healthy.

And then I became older and suddenly losing at games became okay. I had learnt to distance myself from my unrealistic expectation of always winning, to enjoying games for the sheer sake of playing them. I enjoyed the process without being dependent on the outcome.

I still play board games now (when I can find willing participants!), and now my loves have extended to cards, mancala, Trivial Pursuit and very much still Scrabble. However, it is the playing I love, the social interaction, the tactile appreciation and the intellectual reasoning that accompanies strategy and knowledge-based games. It is nice to win sometimes, but I don’t hold onto those feelings as something that endorses my self-worth. For me losing was an excellent skill to acquire, it increased my strength to take risks. When losing felt terrible, it mirrored how terrible I felt about any loss, any misadventure could spell danger. Now I am less afraid.

Map Point. Where does my self-worth come from?