These days, board games are not limited to play dates and family game nights. Classic games like Scrabble, Candy Land and Sorry are finding their way into classrooms as educators creatively use the games to reinforce math, language and critical thinking skills.

"Fun is a motivator," explains Vena Long, professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Tennessee. "Often times, mathematics is viewed by our society as cruel and unusual punishment. That makes it very difficult for teachers to teach math and for students to invest the time and energy it takes to learn math. Through games, you have the motivational factor that helps move learning along."

A 2007 study by Carnegie Mellon University supports Long's assertion that playing board games helps students improve math skills. Disadvantaged preschool students played a simple numeric board game four times for 15-20 minutes at a time over a two-week period. At the end of the two weeks, researchers found students' knowledge of math greatly increased in four different areas of number sense.

"Number sense is a form of quantitative thinking – knowing what '3'looks like and knowing that 3 is less than 5," Long explains. "That does not come through counting. Counting is actually part of language activity. It takes another developmental step to attach value to numbers and connect numbers to amounts."

Long contends that common board games such as Candy Land and Sorry reinforce number sense and help children learn one-to-one correspondence.

The benefits of using board games are not limited to math. Knox County Schools teacher Robert Winfree of Fountain City often incorporates board games in his classes for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade gifted students at Blue Grass, Lonsdale, and Sequoyah elementary schools. Winfree is an itinerant teacher who floats between these three schools, teaching a total of 19 one-hour classes each week.

He uses Scrabble to build vocabulary, spelling and logical reasoning skills. A slightly modified version of Monopoly helps teach money management skills such as budgeting and making informed spending decisions.

Winfree's classes also play Jeopardy to prepare for quarterly Word Masters analogy competitions. "Everyone gets a handheld buzzer. I'll throw out a clue and students who know the word chime in and must say the word in question form," explains Winfree.

"It gets loud, but it is a great way for them to learn the words and reinforce vocabulary and higher order thinking skills. It also helps with spelling. They end up being experts on the words they practiced in Jeopardy," Winfree notes.

Board games have also proven to be effective learning aids in other school settings. Vicki Hill of West Knoxville, school counselor at Bluegrass Elementary, says she integrates games into small group counseling.

"Basically any game can be adapted to what I am doing. I use Candy Land for a self-esteem building activity. If the student gets a double color card, he must tell something good about himself. I also use Sorry for building social skills. If the student has to send someone back to start, he must say something positive to the player that gets sent back," says Hill.

When Hill uses the game Jenga, players who successfully add a piece to the tower must compliment another player. "These types of games reinforce important social skills such as sportsmanship, losing gracefully and following rules," Hill explains.

Because of their intrinsic entertainment value, board games provide educators with an effective tool for engaging students. "Games are the venue in which kids relate best," says Hill, explaining why the use of games works well for counseling. "You are meeting kids on the level they are on naturally so that makes them much more open."

"Using games facilitates a great learning atmosphere because students just think they're having fun," Hill adds.

Nancy Twigg is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.


Source: Knoxville News Sentinel –