# Let’s Talk Teaching: Games in Math Class

In my years of teaching grades 6 through 8, I generally used games only for reviewing before a test. What I didn’t realize was how effective games can be for teaching the content. Each of the games below has a learning objective; each could be embedded in a lesson plan for middle school math. And, as you know, games focus students’ attention as few other teaching strategies can. Use our comment box below to share with other teachers the games you use in class!

Polygon Capture
This excellent lesson uses a game to stimulate conversation about the properties of polygons. A player draws two cards, one about the sides of a polygon, such as “All sides are equal,” and one about the angles, such as “Two angles are acute.” The player then captures all the polygons on the table that fit both of the properties. Provided here are handouts of the game cards, the polygons, and the rules of the game.

Maze Game
This online activity allows the player to practice their point plotting skills by having them move a robot through a mine field to a target location.  Great for learning to visualize coordinates on the Cartesian plane!

The Factor Game
In this two-player game, one person circles a number from 1 to 30 on a game board. The second person circles (in a different color) all the proper factors of that number. When no numbers remain with uncircled factors, the person with the largest total wins. A lesson plan outlines how to help students analyze the best first move in the game, which leads to class discussion of primes and squares as well as abundant and deficient numbers.

Data Picking
In this interactive game, students first create a table using data they collect from the onscreen characters. They then select a scatter plot, a histogram, a line graph, or a pie chart that best represents the data. The amount of data increases and the type of data representation changes according to which of three levels of difficulty is selected.

Fraction Track
Working in two-player competition or individually students practice finding equivalent fractions and ways of combining fractions as they move their pieces across the board. Both sites use applets, but the basic game play can be set up using only paper game boards and chips.

# Getting Dirty With Data

Data overwhelms our modern lives. How to make sense of the numbers in newspaper stories, in campaign speeches, in scientific experiments? Statistics offers tools to help us organize and interpret data. Even at the middle school level, students can work with statistics in real-world situations, whether actual or simulated. To actually apply statistics to real questions, nothing answers like a class project. Students can get their hands on messy, raw data. Collecting and analyzing data, displaying their findings and reaching conclusions — these may be your students’ best mathematical experiences of the school year!

Junk Mail
No one is immune from receiving junk mail, but just how much of it is really finding its way to your address? In this simple activity, data collection and analysis are a key part of a project to learn about the importance of recycling. For one week, students count and record the number of pieces of junk mail received in their homes. The display and organization of the data can be modified to address the data and statistics topics the class is working on.

Numerical and Categorical Data
In this unit of three lessons, students formulate questions that can be addressed with numerical and categorical data. They then collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer those questions. As they collect categorical data, they consider how to word questions and how to record and display the data. As they collect numerical data, they focus on how to obtain measurements and how to represent and analyze the data by describing its shape and other important features. The final lesson examines specifically the differences in representing and analyzing categorical and numerical data.

Population Growth
This series of activities explores the mathematical and environmental aspects of population growth. How fast is the population growing? Has it always grown at this rate? Are the populations of different countries growing differently? How can we predict the population in the future? How will a growing population impact the environment? Using archived census and demographic data as well as up-to-the-minute population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, students will learn how to model population growth and study the implications of a changing population.

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble: The International Boiling Point Project
Be part of an annual event: Enroll your class in this free Internet-based collaborative project. Students discover which factors — room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or heating device — have the greatest influence on boiling point. Students boil water, record their data, and send it via email to be included in the site’s database of results. After gathering the data, activities focus on analyzing the compiled data to find answers to questions about how and why water boils.

# Give Us Our Daily Math

Middle schoolers may not easily see the connection between data analysis problems invented for the classroom and math problems encountered in their daily lives. You will spark their interest in data analysis by showing them its value in finding solutions to real problems in many settings — from buying a soda to taking after-school jobs to understanding weather reports. When you introduce data analysis to middle school students, you are exposing them to applications that correlate with the NCTM Principles and Standards: creating and reading graphs, calculating statistics, and, above all, solving real-world problems.

Working Hours: How Much Time Do Teens Spend on the Job?
This activity challenges students to interpret a bar graph to determine the average number of hours teenagers work per week. A hint suggests that students assume that 100 students participated in the survey. Interesting statistics about the hourly wages and annual salaries of various occupations are given.

Does It Make a Difference Where You Shop?
In this online activity, your students compare soda prices from two stores using data displayed on a scatterplot graph. Students are shown how the line y = x can be used to analyze the data and draw a conclusion. Further problems involving scatterplots compare car mileage and the performance of NBA players.

The Global Sun Temperature Project
This web site allows students from around the world to work together to determine how average daily temperatures and hours of sunlight change with distance from the equator. Students can participate in the project each spring, April-June. You will find project information, lesson plans, and implementation assistance.

New York Times Daily Lesson Plan: Mathematics
These lesson ideas from the New York Times offer suggestions for ways to draw on real-world issues and statistics to develop lessons in mathematics. Each lesson idea includes a description of the activities along with handouts and questions for discussion. Links to related Times articles provide an interactive aspect to each of the lesson entries.

# Making a Prediction

Middle school students need opportunities to examine how probability can be used to make predictions and sound decisions. These resources will engage students in real-world applications of probabilistic thinking.

Game of SKUNK
With this lesson, students examine choice versus chance and practice decision-making skills using the outcome probabilities when playing the game of SKUNK.

She Always Wins, It’s Not Fair!
This is the perfect activity to use when introducing the concept of fair and unfair games.

Lotto or Life: What Are the Chances?
Teachers interested in astronomy or in working with a science class will find this lesson offers an out-of-the-ordinary way to investigate outcomes based on probability.

A Statistical Study on the Letters of the Alphabet (CEC)
Students examine letter usage and make decisions based on data. This lesson can be developed as an interesting language arts connection.

Sticks and Stones
Students gather data when playing Sticks and Stones, an Apache game, to determine the average number of moves necessary to win the game.

Tree Diagrams and Probability
A tree diagram is a perfect way to make probability visual. In this lesson, students use tree diagrams and explore fair and unfair games based on the outcomes of car race trials.

What Are the Odds?
Use the navigation column to find background information, lesson plans, and student activities focused on the use of probability.

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# Graphing Statistics

Graphs are part of the language of newspapers, of political discussion, of science and business. Our students need to be able to read and write in this language if they are to sort out the meaning of the barrage of numbers that hits them in daily life. As stated in the NCTM Standards, middle grades students should be able to “select, create, and use appropriate graphical representations of data.” Here are resources that provide opportunities to use graphs in presenting interesting data.

Do Women Live Longer Than Men?
This activity opens with a graph that depicts the life expectancies of men and women born in the United States.

Soda: Does It Make a Difference Where You Shop?
This activity offers students a chance to compare soda prices from two stores using data displayed on a scatterplot.

Working Hours: How Much Time Do Teens Spend on the Job?
Students must interpret a bar graph to determine the average number of hours teenagers work per week.

Interactivate Activities
Java applets on this site allow students to create graphs that handle examples of real-world data. Choose the heading “Statistics” and find a variety of graphs, including stem-and-leaf plot, circle, histogram, double-bar, and box plot.