The challenge that faces all educators is finding that spark that gets students interested in learning. How is it done? There are conferences, books, guides, and “proven” methods intended to help, but in the end there is always one consistent answer—make learning fun! All sorts of subjects lend themselves to fun activities like science experiments, discussions on classic literature, or even reenacting historical events. But what about Math? Where is the fun there? Gallup asked Americans this question in 2013: “Thinking about all the subjects you studied in school, which one, if any, has been the most valuable to you in your life?”. Math was the clear winner taking 34% of the vote (followed by Language Arts with 24% and Science with 4%). Herein lies a huge problem: if any subject needs to be fun, it’s Math.
As a child of the 80s, I grew up in the baby-step stages of technology in the classroom. Our local library and a few classrooms had one computer available to students to do research and, perhaps more importantly, play games. These weren’t the games you might be thinking; Tetris, Flight Simulator, Break Out, SimCity, Wolfenstein, or, later on, Doom and Myst. I’m talking about Number Munchers and Oregon Trail. Those two games epitomized the fun and educational team up that I needed to pay attention in Math and Social Studies.
All that said, perhaps the most important educational game I’ve ever experienced is the 24 Game (aka Twenty Four). 24 is a tabletop card game for 1 to 8 players. The game comes with 96 cards (in its original version), and each card showcases four numbers on either side. Each card also has a marking system from 1 to 3 dots denoting its level of difficulty. The goal of the game is to be the first person to tap the card and explain how to make 24 with all four numbers on that card. You can add, subtract, multiply or divide. You must use all four numbers, but use each number only once. Here is an example:
So what makes the 24 Game transcend plain old flash cards? The game comes with inherent pressure to be quick with your answers as you compete with other people to be the first to reach a solution. More importantly there is a creative side to it; given four numbers you get to choose how to reach 24 (most cards have more than one way of reaching the answer). “Knowing the answer is always 24 alleviates a classic brand of math anxiety—getting the right answer—and instead puts the emphasis on the process and patterns, what I like to call ‘the method behind the math,’” said Robert Sun, the game’s creator.
One surprising thing about the 24 Game is its range. I’ve played this game and thoroughly enjoyed myself with friends in my age range as well as with my nine-year-old niece. The box says it’s great for ages 9 and up (the single digit version) and I can attest to not only the minimum but the lack of a maximum.
For the new wave of students, 24 is available on the iPhone, iPad, and the iPod ecosystem of apps. I’m not usually that old guy who says “in my day, things were better” but don’t give up on the cards. Nothing can replace the excitement of multiple people figuring out how to get 24 at the same time and the race to tap the card first to give your answer. Warning: hands have been smashed while playing the 24 Game.
Rarely is there a game that is just as fun at the kiddy table as it is in the break room at work or at the coffee shop. If you love Math, you’ll love this game. If you hated Math your entire life, you’ll hate yourself for discovering so late that Math can be fun.