For These Children, Math is a Game
By: Betty Ommerman
Newsday, March 11, 2001
Math is not exactly the most exciting subject for many elementary and middle school students. But there are exceptions: notably students in Rachelle Wolosoff's third-grade class and Lisa Patrick's seventh-grade class.
Wolosoff's third-graders in the Lynbrook school district are from East Rockaway, Hewlett, Hewlett Harbor and Lynbrook. Patrick's seventh-graders attend the private Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and the Rockaways (HAFTR) Middle School in Lawrence. Neither class can wait for their math periods to begin. To them, math is a game - a game that's fun to play.
The idea of turning problems of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division into a fun situation began about three months ago when the two teachers decided to bring their classes together to demonstrate math's importance in everyday life. It began when Patrick's son, Matthew, became a student in Wolosoff's class. The teachers soon found themselves spending after-school hours not only discussing Matthew, but e-mailing each other on ways to make math exciting. And they solved the problem in a way children were sure to enjoy.
The students met for board games on Valentine's Day at the Waverly Park school from 1 - 3 p.m. The games were based on such popular adult quiz shows as "Jeopardy!" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." But in this case, the questions involved only simple math.
There also were games such as "Math Scrabble," "Mathopoly," "Mad About That" and "Make Dough or Nothing." And they all were prepared by the seventh-graders and played by mixed team from the two classes. They even got to enjoy a repast of cup-cakes decorated with arithmetic's four signs: +, -, x and ÷.
"This lets them learn math in a meaningful context," Wolosoff said. "Playing games is a wonderful way to engage children, not only to learn, but to love, math. The excitement was contagious, and both the 20 seventh-graders and my 21 third-graders are already planning another round of such games." But this time the third-graders will prepare their own math versions, based on card games and board games involving banking. These students are already working on this at home and talking about the fine points in class, according to Wolosoff. They then plan to play these versions with their school's first- and second-graders.
"It's very important that children know that they are all equally important members of our Long Island community," Patrick said. "This [February] event brought together younger and older students from public and private school backgrounds in a rich educational environment, one in which children are learning from other children. My goal is to have students relax their inhibitions around math."
Seventh-grader Michelle Kornblit agreed. "Last year at my old school, math was so boring and it was difficult for me. This year at my new school, math is easier and much more fun because of our math games," she said.
"I'm M-A-D about math," added fellow student Atara Schnitzer. "Math can be fun. Math has changed my life. I now know how to do things I've never done before."
Wolosoff found the seventh-graders "got a kick about being needed and the third-graders got a kick about being around the seventh-graders. It was a form of cooperative learning."
As for third-grader Jillian Redash of Lynbrook, he summed up his experience: "Math now is as much fun as seeing a bug that you never saw before." Fellow third-grader Jessica Rosen of Hewlett Harbor was a little more poetic. "Math is like birds flying though heaven," she said. "It makes you want to leave your math workbook open. Math is in everything."
Even parents were impressed by their children's newfound love of math games. "The kids had such a great time, that they didn't want the day to end," said Randy Berkun of East Rockaway, the father of third-grader Emily Berkun. "When I was growing up, I disliked math. How lucky these children are to be learning math and to be having such fun doing so."