Engagement is at the core for deep learning to occur. Research on Brain Based Learning tells me that students learn more when they are emotionally engaged.

Which does a better job of engaging the learner, math games or worksheets?

**You decide.**

**#1 Games build fluency**

- Games provide opportunities for meaningful fluency practice necessary for our students to master. Fluency includes efficiency, accuracy, and flexibility with strategies not just speed. Games can meet all these areas.
- Timed Tests/worksheets are popular in classrooms instead of games to build fluency. This article says it all.
**Timed Tests-NCTM**

**Common Core Fluencies Required per grade Level**

**#2 Math Games meet the needs of Diverse Learners**

- Worksheets come in one size fits all. However, games can be adjusted to meet more than one level. I do this easily by changing the digits in the game that students are working with.

**For example:**

- In a division game I will have two versions, one with 2-digit divisors and one with a 1-digit divisors.
- I print out my games in different colors: green for extended, blue for on level and yellow for below level. This helps me have them ready to go.

**#3 Games Encourage Mathematical Reasoning **

- Games can create a context for developing students’ mathematical reasoning. I encourage my students to talk the math while playing, and with practice they become naturals. This isn’t a focus of a worksheet.
- Partners justify their reasons behind their moves.
- Through playing games, students examine strategies that are most efficient and least efficient.
- “Post game” instruction is critical, planning questions that prompt students’ reflection and exploration of their reasoning.

**Here are a few good questions to ask:**

- What skill did you practice?
- Which strategies did you use?
- Next time you play what strategies would you use to be more successful?

**#4 Games are Engaging**

Another benefit for math games is increased student engagement. Rarely are worksheets engaging.

- Games maintain interest.
- Games keep kids minds active and engaged in game playing.
- Practicing skills is critical for students to master math concepts and skills, and games are the best way I have found to make it happen.
- Students enjoy working orally, no written work to worry about.
- Students are too busy thinking of their next move instead of worrying about how much work they are actually doing.
- Games often give students a purpose for their work.

**#5 Games are Open-Ended and Encourage Strategic Thinking **

- Games allow students to decide which strategy they prefer to use. They can look into their own bank of strategies and decide which one is most efficient for that skill. Worksheets are usually focused on one strategy.
- Partners can suggest strategies and offer help to their partner when they are stuck. This increases problem solving abilities and deepens their understanding in numbers. I have seen this repeated many times in my classroom and love this.

**#6 Games Promote Positive Attitudes Toward Math**

- Games provide motivation to a reluctant mathematician. Worksheets do not.
- Children love games, they are excited to participate and are motivated to do the math. Students don’t love worksheets.
- Games reduce the fear of failure and error in mathematics. The deliberating fear factor in math is gone, no grades here. Worksheets are graded.

**#7 Extra Benefits of Games**

- Games provide opportunities for building self-concept, teamwork, social interaction, cooperation, and effective communication. All important skills for our students. Worksheets do not build these skills.

**Did you decide?**

Even if your curriculum doesn’t include games, try one. Look for a game that aligns with the standard you are working on. I promise your students will be more engaged then a workbook page.

**My Favorite Math Game resources**

**K-5 Teaching Resources-**Find your grade level and standard.**Georgia Math**–Go to your grade level, then the standard you are working on; there are great games in each unit.**North Carolina Elementary Math Games**-Go to your grade level, and then find games.

### Patty Reed

#### Latest posts by Patty Reed (see all)

- Reciprocal Math Teaching - November 26, 2016
- 5 Steps Toward Equity - October 30, 2016
- Teaching + Student Engagement = Increased Student Learning, Effort, & Performance - September 26, 2016

Alecia McAdams-Sing says

Game! Love this. Sharing.

Alisa Louie says

Yes! There is so much research about the power of games in math, especially with fact practice! Thanks for the resources – they’ve been bookmarked!

Aaron Brecek says

As part of my co-teaching year, my partner and I decided not to give out any worksheets or do any book work. We incorporated a ton of physical movement and games into our lessons and saw a ton of growth from the students.

In December, a few weeks before Winter Break we actually had students asking for worksheets, so we gave it to them. The fact that this was a “novelty” and not the norm led students to enjoy just sitting quietly and practicing the skill. From that point on we started mixing worksheets/book work in about once every 2 weeks.

The point of this is that when worksheets are not the norm in the class, they can be very effective, but when they are given daily they very much lose their effectiveness… He same holds true for anything (even games as we found out).

Patty Reed says

This is great information, thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth Johnston says

This is great and I am sure it would help my son build fluency. We use a game called CONTIGO quite a bit at my school. Or we give the students a group of numbers, a target number, and they have to get as close as they can using any operations but each number only once.

Patricia Gustin says

Thanks! I just scored my chemistry finals and found that the skills students had to use to solve a murder mystery were the skills that nearly every student nailed on the final. (Determining empirical formulas.) It is a perverse pleasure to trick students into learning while they think that they are having fun.

Alecia McAdams-Sing says

This last sentence, though! I’m printing and framing for my department colleagues now!

Francis Jequinto says

I’m glad you included some resources at the end, because as the post kept going I kept wanting more and more some resources!

My only question is, do the kids catch on with the color coding for whether games are extended, at or below level? Or do the kids all play the same color games at the same time?

Patty Reed says

Students are aware of the color coding, they know when they feel able they can go to the next level. I have students in leveled groups in center time doing them, so students do the same color as their group.

Chris Gustafson says

I began reading your piece assuming that I would prefer games just on the basis that they are more fun, but I hadn’t anticipated the other very engaging benefits you described, especially the necessity of applying multiple strategies instead of just one when game playing. I’m an example of a math student raised on worksheets that never gave me the flexible thinking that mathematical problem solving requires so your article made me wistful.

Patty Reed says

I love common core for that reason, never before have I taught (or knew myself) so many different strategies to solve a problem. It truly expands your way of thinking.

Johanna says

This would have delighted me so much in elementary school! So much better than those timed worksheets full of division and multiplication. I especially connected with the idea of getting students to talk about their decisions and therefor talk about their mathematical reasoning! Thanks for sharing.