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Hooray for Hands-On Math Games!

By Lindsey Petlak on December 11, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5

Math Curse

Growing up, math was NOT my favorite subject. I always made the grade, but looking back, I never truly understood the concepts at my core and I certainly didn’t enjoy the subject. Now, as an educator, math is my favorite subject to teach! I credit this passion for math instruction to my college training and work experiences with research-based implementation of math manipulatives. Spice up YOUR Common Core State Standards math lessons, student practice, math talk, and parental engagement with hands-on, manipulatives-based, math games!


Research Supporting Math Manipulatives

Implementation of math manipulatives is not a new practice. It is backed by research that supports the use of hands-on tools in the classroom. Read more about research on the benefits of manipulatives, as published by ETA Hand2MindETA Hand2Mind offers proven, hands-on solutions for pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks

This year, our district integrated math manipulatives into our core instruction through the use of hands-on math games from Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks (BC/OEJ). Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks games are used to teach, supplement, and reinforce basic math concepts. Each game employs the use of dice (Box Cars), dominoes, and/or a deck of playing cards (One-Eyed Jacks). To ensure that BC/OEJ books, games, and workshops are effective in the classroom, all resources and their contents are correlated with the standards outlined in the CCSS Curriculum

Our fourth grade team loves using these games for introducing new math concepts, whole group math meetings, small group instruction, 1:1 intervention, or challenge opportunities, as well as independent student practice. In fact, we love the games and manipulatives so much that we dressed up like dice, dominoes, playing cards, and One-Eyed Jack himself for Halloween! Even if you don’t have BC/OEJ materials to use, math manipulatives and games are easy to create and use in the classroom. Keep reading and watch our classroom video demos for ideas to use with your students!



Extend Math Learning

What’s even better about these games is that you can incorporate (and have students generate) amazing extensions to the games themselves:

  • Challenge extensions: Certainly you may provide challenge extension suggestions for students to enhance and extend their learning, but I encourage you to let your STUDENTS generate extensions to the games they have learned. They will blow you away with what they come up with!

  • Math writing: Students record game materials, instructions, rules, and challenge rounds in math notebooks.

  • Math talk: Students teach other students and parents games they have learned, discuss different strategies for winning games, patterns they find as they play, ideas for challenge rounds or extensions, and more!

Multi-Media Integration

Tie in 21st century learning skills by having students record game instructions and demos to teach other students and/or their parents about games they have learned. Watch each of the tutorials below to see just a fraction of the games we have learned since the beginning of the year. Perhaps you can try some of them with your students or they might spark creative ideas for new games for your class!


Parental Education and Engagement

I certainly did not learn math through manipulatives nor games, and neither did most parents of our students. This means that they too are on a learning curve as you introduce and implement math manipulatives and games in your classroom.

  • Follow these ideas from BC/OEJ for parental involvement in math games to set yourself up for success. 

  • Our team has found that allowing students to teach parents games they have learned (in person or via video) is a great way to introduce parents to what you are doing in class, and why those activities are beneficial. See above for our student-created videos.

  • Post game information, updates, videos, and more on your class websites, blogs, social media sites, newsletters, email, and more. The more communication you can provide about the use of manipulatives and games in math instruction, the better! See BELOW for our fall conference hallway display featuring QR codes linked to student-created instructional videos for our Top 10 Class Favorite Math Games!




Do YOU use math manipulatives?Which are your favorites?

Have you found any awesome hands-on math games to use during math instruction and/or independent student practice?

I'd love to hear all about your ideas!


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