Most all games we play (if we dig deep enough) are, in fact, math games or games that require some kind of mathematical thinking. Then there are games like Juggle, a spatial and logical game with a bit of computation, that have the explicit purpose of engaging us in and learning more about mathematics. Juggle is the game we play on this occasion so I set the timer to 45 minutes and we begin. As I watch my daughter interact with the game and respond to complex situations, there are a few things I notice.
Patience – Early in the game, when my daughter placed a piece in a place that would not allow her to complete the board, I wanted to say something and explain her error. But I wondered if it would be better if she discovered it rather than me instructing her. On her next turn she immediately removed the piece and fixed her error. After that, she was careful about not repeating the misplacement with other pieces. Isn’t that the result I wanted all along? And it happened without my interference, without me turning a game into a lesson, without me (in her mind) trying to show I know more than her. Sometimes, the best way to respond to a teachable moment, is to keep my mouth shut and observe. There are certainly times to intervene but this was not one of them.
My Strategy is Not Superior to All Others – I have a way of playing Juggle that I think is the best way. It’s logical and seemingly effective. So, everyone should use it. Right? Well, again I resisted my urges and did not compel my daughter to use the same strategy. She chose a different route and we played to virtual tie. Was luck on her side? That can happen in this game. But I don’t think that was it. Her strategy was flexible, responding to the results of her dice rolls whereas mine was more rigid, trying to make the dice rolls conform to my strategy. Neither approach was wrong but there is clearly more than one route to success and because chance is involved, the best strategy may be one that not only responds to your strengths but is situational. A discussion of strategy after a game makes sense but trying to impose my strategy before or during the game would have been counterproductive.
Some Games Should Have a Time Limit – In the Math Pentathlon tournaments, there is a 45 minute time limit for each game. One purpose is that that hundreds of kids need to get through 5 games in one day. But it also worked well for us. We didn’t get fatigued, bored or frustrated as we might if the game dragged on. We gave ourselves a 5 minute warning which worked beautifully as our tactics were different in the last few minutes. I’m not saying that all games should have a time limit, in fact, there are cases in which adding the element of time makes children feel rushed and discourages thinking. We should dissociate speed from learning mathematics but time periods can be used, with care, when considering a reasonable stopping point.