A Game to end all times tables drills: Damult Dice

October 1, 2010

Every kid needs to learn their times tables at some point, and this means practice. Unfortunately, practicing times tables can be unmotivated and boring for kids. We adults, rightly, ask, “How can we make it fun?”

(Important note: times tables are not math. Math doesn’t need to be made fun; it already is fun. Memorizing your times tables is a rote activity, it requires a fair bit of repetition for most, and it may need to be made fun. Just saying.)

Well, here’s an idea: play a game that requires multiplication. Of course, there are literally bajillions of multiplication practice games available online. (Ok, not literally. But google returned 820,000 hits on a search for “multiplication games online.”) I guess these games are ok, and some kids like them, but I honestly don’t care for them so much. They’re more time looking at a screen, to start. Also, the multiplication is totally arbitrary. If you’re just sticking some packaging around it, I don’t think you’ve solved the fundamental problem. To wit:

Principal Skinner: Here’s a whole box of unsealed envelopes for the PTA!

Bart: You’re making me lick envelopes?

P.S.: Oh, licking envelopes can be fun! All you have to do is make a game of it.

Bart: What kind of game?

P.S.: Well, for example, you could see how many you could lick in an hour, then try to break that record.

Bart: Sounds like a pretty crappy game to me.

P.S.: Yes, well… Get started.

Can we concoct fundamentally more interesting games that still give multiplication practice? Well, here’s my latest, so you can tell me what you think.

It’s called Damult Dice.

The Rules: Each player takes turns rolling 3 dice. First to break 200 (or 500, etc.) wins. On your turn, you get to choose two dice to add together, then you multiply the sum by the final die. That’s your score for that turn.

Simple; no bells, no whistles. For example, I roll a 3, a 4, and a 6 on my turn. I could either do (3+4) times 6 for 42 points, OR (3+6) times 4 for 36 points, OR (4+6) times 3 for 30 points. I’ll take the 42 points.

I spent some time playing this with kids the other day and I saw that (1) it was genuinely fun, and (2) it gives you almost all the multiplication practice you could ask for. In fact, it gives even more, because the choice of which dice to add and which to multiply reveals some interesting structure of numbers. Seriously, get a kid hooked on this game, and it’s the equivalent of dozens or hundreds of times table practice sheets.

Maybe I’m speaking with a bias of someone who learned his arithmetic from games and then went on to become a mathematician, but games like this are great. If you know a kid, try this game out on them, and let me know how it works! I need to know if it needs tweaking.

I have three variations on Damult Dice, but I’ll save those for later. Did you come up with a cool augmentation of the game? Let me know in the comments.

Even better is when kids start inventing their own games. I met with a student who invented two dice games in less than an hour this week! I’ll share those soon as well.

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