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Basic Facts – Cards

September 18, 2011

I expect that the day I retire there will still be as much talk about basic facts as there is today. It seems to always crop up as part of a conversation about mathematics.

I wanted to mention one strategy I have found particularly effective. I have to admit this was not my idea and like many other strategies I use it was borrowed from my wife, Darlene. Cards can be an effective tool for working with number.

When students arrive in class I have them break into teams of two. In some cases I create the teams and in other cases I have them choose the team. It really depends on the day. I have found that creating teams can  be an effective and non threatening way of not having some students sit by others later in the class.

There are many games that can be played but the premise it pretty much the same for all of them. The cards are divided evenly among the students. The value of each card is set prior to starting (aces can be a 1 or 11, face cards are 10, jokers are worth 0).

Each student flips over one card. The desired operation (multiplication, division, addition, subtraction) is completed based on the cards showing and the student who get the correct result wins the cards. In the case of a tie the cards stay on the table and the student who wins next gets all of the cards.

There are of course some twists that can be used to make things interesting such as making red cards are negative and black cards are positive or using three cards.

We have been doing this for the first 5 minutes of class and so far it has resulted in:

  • students coming to class quicker
  • a non threatening ice breaker which starts class with a bang
  • time for me to play with students to see how well they know their basic facts
  • lots of laughs
If anyone has other ideas which work I would love to hear them.
This post was inspired by a recent tweet about an article posted by William Emeny
5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2011 4:40 am

    I love it, Richard!

    I used to hate playing battle when I was a kid because I always lost. And it was purely a matter of chance and luck. This version puts skill and learning in the mix.

    I can’t wait to try it!

  2. September 19, 2011 8:34 am

    Hi Bon,

    I would love to hear how you make it with it. I think there are lots of variations which would be great to try. I am always looking for new ideas. I would also love to see parents try this with students at home.


  3. September 21, 2011 11:32 pm

    …and when you retire there will be as much talk about how kids’ knowledge of the facts is not what it used to be. Wish I knew when I began my career that I was teaching in the golden age of basic facts. Didn’t feel like it at the time, maybe because I was having to listen to how it was much better before my time. We could probably trace this back to the Greeks (the ancient ones).

    When I hear the kids-need-to-know-the-basic-facts line, I ask what this means. I’ve been told students need to know how to do long division to prepare them for high school (this idea of needing to know something to be prepared for the next grade is a whole other discussion).

    These teachers are surprised when I say that students can actually be very successful in high school mathematics without knowing how to perform long division. Outside of learning how to divide polynomials by binomials in the old Principles of Math 10 (1 lesson!), it never really came up in my classroom. On the other hand, it is important that students understand what it means to divide. For example, 8 divided by 2 can be thought of as “If 8 pieces are shared equally between 2 people, how many pieces does each person get?”. It can also be “If 8 pieces are shared so that each person gets 2 pieces, how many people will get cookies?”. This understanding will help students as they explore division of integers and fractions. This flexibility in how they think of division will help them apply the correct operation when solving problems.

    Back to the playing cards… I’ve done this type of thing with integers. Having students choose whether to add/subtract the numbers adds more of a challenge to the game. For example (-6) and (+4) could be (-2), (-10), or (+10). The goal may be to reach (+100) or (-100). I also used memory matching games to practice number operations (and logarithms too!). I can share these with you if you wish.

  4. September 24, 2011 7:43 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the comments. I have always wondered why more stress was not placed on estimation in classrooms than long division. When I think of my life I estimate all the time. Long division does not come around much at all ….

    As a bit of a follow up … I now have the students challenging their parents (some of them) and we just moved into integers which was interesting. This allowed us to increase the group size (for addition anyway) to 4 people and we may try going bigger.

    I called the casino this week and managed to get cards for everyone in the middle school as part of their manipulative kit.


  1. Card Game – Approximate Square Roots « Math in the Middle

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