Students can discuss different strategies and probabilities by playing simple games.

While most students enjoy games, even the simplest kind—such as tic tac toe—can help children develop important 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and mathematical reasoning, experts say.

During a webinar hosted by edWeb, Sarah DeLeeuw and Patrick Vennebush from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics demonstrated how basic games can help students become more engaged in math lessons.

Many rudimentary games give students a chance to make their own decisions, reflect on those decisions, and talk about strategies with their peers, the panelists said. In addition to promoting communication skills, students can learn from one another and explore different ways to play games.

Tips for teaching with games include:

  • Do not show children how to play at a higher level—let them advance on their own.
  • Encourage them to explore and do their own thinking while playing games.
  • Do not reinforce correct behaviors or try to correct the wrong ones.
  • Play with individual children whenever possible, to help them reflect on their own choices during game play.

Games can help educators adhere to the Standards for Mathematical Practice found in the Common Core State Standards, the panelists said. Those standards are:

  1. Makes sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Games offer an opportunity for teachers and students to develop strategies, and teachers can incorporate the standards of mathematical practice in the natural progress of a game’s strategy.