Summer is here and I've recently returned from a family vacation that included several lengthy flights. My son just turned eight years old and enjoys flying but can get a bit restless after a few hours on an airplane. Below are a few of the games and activities that we packed to make the time pass enjoyably. These games are best when they are small, lightweight, easy to pack and can be played on the limited space of an airplane tray table (often around 16.5" x 10.5" but there is no standard size). Games are ideally two player but if you're on a larger plane, you might be able to play a three player game. Pencil and Paper GamesGames that can be played with just pencil and paper are ideal for an airplane. We bring a few pencils and a tablet of paper with us for games, sketching or making notes. Here are a few of our favourite pencil and paper games:
Games with Dice, Cards and Counters
Commercial Board Games
Other StuffWhen on a long play ride I also bring snacks, a small LEGO set, and some art supplies to draw or colour with. Do you have suggestions for travel games to play with with your children? I'd love to hear your suggestions. EL
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Below is a simple probability game that I've played with students for many years in a number of different courses. I don't really remember where I got it from but if you've seen it before, I'd love to know where it originated. I've found that students enjoy it and they really develop some good ideas about probability. Its similar to the TwoDice Sum Game from Marilyn Burns but with some additional mental math for older students. InstructionsThis is a game for two or more players. Each player creates their own score card by drawing two concentric circles and then divide it into eight sectors. Choose eight different numbers between 2 and 12 and place them in the sectors in the outer ring. In the inner ring of the circle place numbers that add up to 100 (it is easiest to stick with multiples of 5). Roll two dice and add the numbers together, if the total is one of the numbers in the outer ring of your score card, you score that numbers value (the number in the inner ring). Players alternate rolling and scoring on their card until one of the players has 150 or more points (or to 100 for a bit shorter game). A google doc handout for this is available here. Sample Score CardTypically, the first time students play, they will randomly select numbers and values for each sector. After students have had the chance to play a few games, stop and ask them to look at different score cards to see if there any common characteristics of winning cards. What makes a good score card? Is it all just luck or are some cards better than others? Developing a StrategyWhat makes a good score card? Here are some common student observations:
Experimental ProbabilityYou might ask students to roll two dice a bunch of times and record which numbers come up each time. Create a bit dot plot or a bar graph at the front of the classroom using all of this data. Ask students to predict what the shape of this graph will be. You could also use an online tool to model lots of dice rolls to see how it compares to the class data. You could then discuss the theoretical probability for each sum and compare it to the data you gathered. I always find this a fun activity and a nice way to start a discussion about probability and strategy. A nice question to start the class on the following day would be a Would You Rather? math prompt, "Would you rather flip 2 coins and win if they match OR roll 2 dice and win if they don't match?" Another great follow up activity would be Don Steward's Dice Bingo. Nova Scotia Mathematics Curriculum Outcomes Mathematics at Work 12 P01  Students will be expected to analyze and interpret problems that involve probability. Mathematics Essentials 10 G4  Compare predicted and experimental results for familiar situations involving chance, using technology to extend the number of experimental trials. Mathematics 8 SP02  Students will be expected to solve problems involving the probability of independent events. Mathematics 7 SP06  Students will be expected to conduct a probability experiment to compare the theoretical probability (determined using a tree diagram, table, or other graphic organizer) and experimental probability of two independent events. EL
An engaging puzzle with simple instructions is to ask students to create a rectangle using pentomino pieces. Let them figure out what rectangle dimensions are possible given the total number of squares in the pentominoes they're using (for a full set of 12 pentominoes, 3x20, 4x15, 5x12 and 6x10 are possible). You can also print off a variety of other shapes and challenge students to fill those shapes with pentominoes or have students create their own shapes and challenge their friends to solve them. Younger students can be challenged to fill an empty picture frame or tray with pentominoes. Here are five great games, puzzles and activities (in no particular order) that use pentominoes:
2. Pentomino Puzzles from Jon Orr (@MrOrr_geek)  Jon describes an activity where students are given a hundreds chart and a transparent pentomino. Ask students to place their pentomino on the hundreds chart so that it covers a sum of 135. Then ask students to share their strategies for finding the correct placement. Are there sums that are not possible to achieve? Continue the activity by selecting different tiles, giving different sums to find, creating equations and solving them. I also saw these questions posted by Amie Albrecht (@nomad_penguin) on twitter, "Can you find a pentomino that covers numbers that: sum to 150, sum to an even number, covers three multiples of 4, and more". Jon created an online Desmos Activity that allows you to do this activity virtually. 3. Pentomino Farms  I was introduced the the pentomino farms activity from Martin Gardener's book Knotted Doughnuts and Other Mathematical Entertainments. The task is to use the 12 pentominoes to build a fence around a field on your farm. The rule used to join the pentominoes to form a fence is that they must touch along the full edge of a square and not just at the corners. There are four types of farms to create. For each type, what's the largest field you can enclose?
4. How Convex is a Pentomino?  Which pentomino shape is the most convex? How do you measure "convexity"? This is an interesting question that generated lots of discussion on Twitter. Some interesting methods of measuring this were discussed by Alexandre Muñiz (@two_star) in his blog post, "Vexed by Convexity." I think it would make a great discussion for students to rank the pentominoes by convexity and then defend their choices.
If you have a favourite activity, puzzle or game featuring pentominoes, I would love to hear about it! EL
Practice is important. Whether it is playing the piano, shooting freethrows, popping an ollie or solving a quadratic equation you need to practice to improve. Some practice routines are more effective than others at helping students solidify their understanding. Practice can often seem tedious and it can be difficult to maintain the motivation to practice. In mathematics, students practice skills in a variety of ways. One style of practice that can help students stay motivated and engaged is purposeful practice. Instead of a page full of repetitive problems, students focus on an activity that has a mathematical goal to achieve. Dan Meyer wrote a blog post a few years ago titled "Purposeful Practice & Dandy Candies" that started me thinking about how to make activities in my classroom more purposeful. Open MiddleOne of my favourite sources of problems with purposeful practice is Open Middle. There is a large selection of questions organized by topic and grade level. Each question has an "open middle" meaning there are many ways to explore and solve the problem. Below is a question submitted to the Open Middle site by Robert Kaplinsky. In this question, students try to find the arrangement of digits that yields the product closest to 50. Students will try numerous different arrangements of digits and get lots of practice multiplying decimal numbers without it seeming tedious. The question can also be quickly modified to give additional practice. For example, just add a hundredths place onto one of the factors and use 5 different digits. Math GamesGames can be a great way to encourage students to practice. There are lots of examples of but I'm going to mention just two. The first goes by several names. Joe Schwartz wrote a great post about Factor Captor. A similar game is described on the NCTM Illuminations site called the Factor Game. Students alternate turns playing on board filled with numbers. The first player selects a number to cover and adds that number to their score. The second player finds all the factors of that number, covers them and totals those number to add to their score. The roles are then reversed and play continues until there are no uncovered numbers remaining. There is a lot of math in this game and it is fun to play. The second game is Horseshoes from Math4Love. This game is played with a deck of cards numbered 19. Two cards are drawn to form a twodigit target number. Then four more cards are drawn. Players use these four digits to create an equation using addition and subtraction that is as close as possible to the target number. For example, let's say that the target number is 25 and the four digits given are 1, 3, 6 and 9. A student might create the equation 3916 = 23. Another student might make the equation 13+6+9 = 28. There are lots of way to tweak this game for different levels of complexity. Both of these games allow for lots of numerical practice in a format that engages students. There are many excellent sources of ideas for mathematical games. My current 'goto' resource is a book titled Well Played, 68. Math PuzzlesThere are several mathematical puzzles that include lots of practice with numerical computations in pursuit of a solution. KenKen puzzles and Maze 100 from NRICH are two such puzzles that I've used. I also think that Yohaku puzzles are great. They are numerical puzzles where you need to determine the number that is in each square in order to make the column and row sum/products.
Desmos ActivitiesFor classrooms with the available technology, activities from Desmos.com are another way to practice with purpose. An activity that incorporates a lot of meaningful practice is Marbleslides. In this activity, student try to capture stars on a Cartesian grid by creating a path using functions that marbles roll down. Students work to refine their functions to capture as many marbles as possible. Another activity that generates lots of practice is Transformation Golf. Students use a series of rigid transformations to move a shape to specified location. They have to find an efficient path around several obstacles. Each successive challenge increases in complexity. IncentivesThere are also activities that have a nonmath goal for students to achieve. Lots of online math games have incentives for students such as badges to earn, experience points to accumulate or virtual prizes to win. There are also worksheets and activities with nonmath goals. Worksheets such as "Algebra with Pizzazz" and "Punchline Algebra" have a riddle to be solved once all of the questions are completed. In my classroom practice, I used a number of activities with these types of incentives and I think that many students find them exciting and fun. If students are excited to do math, I consider that a win. However, I think that these types of activities should be used with caution. We don't want to inadvertently send a message to our students that math isn't fun by itself so we have to disguise it (like sneaking vegetables into their favourite foods so kids will eat them). Please Share!If you have a favourite math activity, game or puzzle that gets students practicing math with a purpose, I'd love to hear about it. Please leave me a comment. EL
My son and I recently spent a lovely fall afternoon exploring the carnival games and amusement rides at a local fair. My son is quite adventurous when it comes to amusement park rides and is eager to try just about any ride that he meets the height requirement for. While we were walking through the midway, I spotted a carnival game called "Roll Down" that appeared to have a bit of mathematics involved. The object of this "game of skill" is to roll six balls down and inclined ramp to land in one of six numbered bins. If the sum of the six rolls is under 10 or over 31, you win. Is this game worth the $5 price to play? What are my chances of winning? Should I go for under 10 or over 31? Is this just a carnival scam or is there some skill involved? The bins are just wide enough for a ball to fit so it is very difficult to aim a ball with accuracy. You also have to question if the balls roll straight and if the board is smooth and level. Lets just assume that the balls fall into a random bin (you could then play an equivalent game at home by rolling 6, sixsided dice). With six balls, the smallest sum possible is 6 (all 1's) and the largest is 36 (all 6's). How many ways are there to get each possible value? There are only 31 possible sums (636) that you can score. To roll a sum of under 10, you can score 6, 7, 8 or 9. To roll a sum of over 31, you can score 32, 33, 34, 35, or 36. At first glance, it looks like you have a 9/31 chance of winning but this is not correct.
This reminds me of a bet in the casino game craps that looks good, but on further inspection is really bad. The field bet is a bet on the sum of the next roll of two sixsided dice. If the sum of the two dice is 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 or 12 you win. If the sum is 5, 6, 7 or 8 then you lose. It has the illusion that there are more ways to win than lose, but you are much more likely to roll one of the losing numbers. With practice at Roll Down, you might be able to achieve better than the random results that I detailed above. Instead of this practice, I decided to spend my $5 at the concession stand to buy a handbattered, deep fried corn dog. A midway concession stand can also be considered a bit of a gamble, but in this case it was a delicious win! EL
My son and I were looking through an issue of Fun to Learn Friends magazine recently and we ran across a game called "Spring Bingo". He was quite interested and wanted to give it a try. He is in grade primary and can subitize the pips on a six sided die as well as confidently sum the values on two dice. Just the skills we need to play this game. We played several times. At the end of most of the games, my son got frustrated trying to roll either a 2 or a 12. He doesn't quite understand why it takes so long to roll one of these numbers. George's bingo card has both of these numbers out of the eight numbers on the card. This seems unnecessarily cruel. Ted's card has the 2 but not the 12. This made me wonder if this is a fair game or if one of the cards has a better probability of winning. Time for some math... It appears that Card B is slightly better than Card A. I'm not sure if this would make a significant difference in the outcome of the game (i.e. rolling all the numbers on your card before your opponent does). I wonder what the average number of rolls it takes to complete each bingo card is? How much of an advantage does going first in this game give? If the player with Bingo Card A goes first does this equalize the advantage of the better Bingo Card B? These would be great questions for the Mathematics 12 research project outcome (MRPO1). To try to answer some of these questions, I thought that writing some code would be helpful. I know a grade 8 student that completed the Introduction and Intermediate Programming with Python courses from Art of Problem Solving. I contacted him and he graciously created a very nice Python program to simulate this game for me. I modified the code a bit so that it just plays one bingo card and counts how many rolls it takes to complete the card. The average number of rolls in 100,000 games for "George's Card" was 58. The average number of rolls in 100,000 games for "Ted's Card" was 48. I was a bit surprised that there was this much difference. Playing with Ted's bingo card appears to be an advantage. Next I modified the code again so that it plays the game with George going first to count how often George wins. In 100,000 games, when George went first, he won 50703 of the games. I again modified the code so that Ted plays first. In 100,000 games, when Ted went first, he won 50806 of the games. It seems that going first is an even greater advantage than having the better bingo card. What I really like about this game is that there are mathematical outcomes that can be addressed with this activity across a wide range of grade levels. At younger ages, students are practicing subitizing and adding numbers. One variation of this game is to play it solo. This might be a nice option for a math station. I found several examples of "Roll and Cover" games where students have a sheet of paper filled with numbers (from 1 to 6 or from 2 to 12) and students roll the die or dice and cover the number (with a token or a bingo dauber) when they roll it. Just do a Google search for "roll and cover math game" and you'll find lots of examples posted online.
For students looking for an opportunity for enrichment, they can make variations of this game. They could also write computer code to simulate this game (using Scratch or Python or some other language). They could also do some statistical analysis of the game to see how fair it is. There are so many options with this simple game. Nova Scotia Mathematics Curriculum Outcomes Mathematics 1 N02  Students will be expected to recognize, at a glance, and name the quantity represented by familiar arrangements of 1 to 10 objects or dots. Mathematics 1 N09  Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the addition of two singledigit numbers and the corresponding subtraction, concretely, pictorially, and symbolically in join, separate, equalize/compare, and partpartwhole situations. Mathematics 2 N10  Students will be expected to apply mental mathematics strategies to quickly recall basic addition facts to 18 and determine related subtraction facts. Mathematics 5 SP04  Students will be expected to compare the likelihood of two possible outcomes occurring, using words such as less likely, equally likely, or more likely. Mathematics 6 SP04  Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of probability by: identifying all possible outcomes of a probability experiment; differentiating between experimental and theoretical probability; determining the theoretical probability of outcomes in a probability experiment; determining the experimental probability of outcomes in a probability experiment; comparing experimental results with the theoretical probability for an experiment. Mathematics 7 SP06  Students will be expected to conduct a probability experiment to compare the theoretical probability (determined using a tree diagram, table, or other graphic organizer) and experimental probability of two independent events. Mathematics 8 SP02  Students will be expected to solve problems involving the probability of independent events. Mathematics 10 Essentials G1  Express probabilities of simple events as the number of favourable outcomes divided by the total number of outcomes Mathematics 12 P03  Solve problems that involve the probability of two events. Mathematics 12 MRP01  Research and give a presentation on topic that involves the application of mathematics. EL
Scale is a concept that is found at numerous grade levels in the Nova Scotia Mathematics curriculum. Scale drawings and models, similar polygons, and proportions are all found in mathematics outcomes. In math, scale is the ratio of the length in an image (or model) to the length of the actual object. Below is a question relating to scale factors. A scale factor is the ratio of any two corresponding lengths in two similar geometric figures. Take a look at the three different versions of Connect Four. Estimate the scale factor between each pair of game boards from the given pictures. Estimate the radius of each of the coloured chips. Is the scale factor of the radius of each coloured chip the same as the scale factor of their volume? You might ask students how scale is different from proportion. Try out this question: How big would a game board of Connect Four Hundred be (or even Connect Four Million) compared to Connect Four? In visual arts, scale refers to the size ratio between objects within an image. Using a consistent scale will make a drawing look more realistic. Objects do not appear too large or too small when compared to each other. Sometimes however, an artist might intentionally change the scale of certain objects in an image. One such technique is called 'Hieratic scale' or sometimes 'Hierarchical proportion'. This technique can be seen in paintings and sculpture from the middle ages where powerful or holy people were sometimes painted larger than ordinary or less important people to show their relative importance. The larger a person was, the greater their importance.
It would be fun to show students examples of how visual artists play with scale in order to make an impact on the viewer. Students might even be given an opportunity to create a piece of art that has an exaggerated or inconsistent scale or plays with forced perspective. Nova Scotia Mathematics Curriculum Outcomes Grade 6 N05  Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of ratio, concretely, pictorially, and symbolically. Grade 8 N04  Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of ratio and rate. Grade 8 N05  Students will be expected to solve problems that involve rates, ratios, and proportional reasoning. Grade 9 G03  Students will be expected to draw and interpret scale diagrams of 2D shapes. Math at Work 10 G03  Students will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of similarity of convex polygons, including regular and irregular polygons. Mathematics Essentials 11 D9  calculate scale factors in 2D scale diagrams and 3D scale models understand the relationship among the scale factor and the related change in area or volume.Math at Work 11 G02  Students will be expected to solve problems that involve scale. Mathematics 11 M03  Demonstrate an understanding of the relationships among scale factors, areas, surface areas and volumes of similar 2D shapes and 3D objects. EL
High school exams in Nova Scotia (grade 1012) typically run in the second to last week in June. This is the time that grade 9 students are writing some exams as well. The week prior to exams is often set aside by teachers for a cumulative review. This is a time to revisit the curriculum outcomes, consolidate learning and make final connections. What teachers do with this review time can vary greatly from class to class. Many teachers create a booklet of review questions that cover the main topics from the course. This can be a helpful resource for some students but not all that engaging. Here are some additional ideas for reviewing outcomes that might increase student engagement and allow for some differentiation.
No matter how you decide to review for the exam, by the time you get to exams, "the hay is in the barn". Here is a note from Alberta Education... "The best way to prepare students for writing the achievement test is to teach the curriculum well and to ensure that students know what is expected. Many of the skills and attitudes that support test writing are, in fact, good skills and strategies for approaching all kinds of learning tasks." EL
Coins in a Row is a simple game that I have used in lots of classrooms at different grade levels. It is a great way to tackle some mental math and logical reasoning. I first learned about this game in an article from Ivar Peterson's Math Trek. The game originally appeared in Peter Winkler's Mathematical Puzzles: A Connoisseur's Collection (2004). The Rules: Arrange a bunch of coins of various denomination in a row (any even number of coins will do). The first player chooses a coin from one of the ends and slide it over to her pile. Your opponent then chooses a coin from one of the ends of the row of remaining coins. You and your opponent take turns removing a coin in this manner until they are gone. The player with the highest total value of coins wins. The fun part of this game is that it is unfair. Unfair games are a great way to get out of doing some chores while you're visiting inlaws over the holiday break (e.g. "Lets play a game, the loser has to wash the dishes"). The player who goes first can always win if they know the correct strategy. After playing this game a few times, I let students know that it is an unfair game and ask them if they can find a winning strategy. Here is how the winning strategy works. Label the coins from 1 to n going from left to right. Add up the value of all the odd labeled coins then add up the value of all the even labeled coins. The first player can choose either an odd or even labeled coin. The second player only has two evens to choose from if the first player took the first coin from the row. The second player only has two odd coins to choose from if the first player to the coin from the end of the row. The first player then just takes a coin from whichever end the second player chose from and the first player can guarantee that they get either all the odd or even labeled coins. This strategy guarantees at least a tie for the first player. It is not necessarily the "best" strategy however. According to Ivars Peterson, no one has yet worked out an optimal strategy that works for any number of coins.
Alternate versions are quite easy to create for this game. For example, Coins in a Circle. In this version, the first player can pick any coin, then play continues as in the previous version. Another way to play would be to use a deck of cards (remove the face cards) and deal out 10 cards in a row. EL

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