The 'Pits': A Game to Help Develop Skills and Promote Active Learning: Eula Ewing Monroe and Marvin Nelson Share Their Ideas for Enhancing Basic Computation Skills through Active Participation in a Game They Have Developed. A Highlight of the Game Is the Opportunity for Students to Share Their Computational Strategies by Verbalising Their Thinking

Article excerpt

Mathematics games have been found to be useful in promoting basic mathematics skills, particularly in addressing the following goals: (a) reviewing basic skills at the beginning of the school year, (b) helping students retain their skills and improve their performance throughout the school year, and (c) assisting students in developing new skills. They are also motivational and promote active learning. This article presents 'Pits', a game to help in developing basic computational skills in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Rules and variations are included.

Why use games in mathematics instruction?

In a review of the literature on the use of games in mathematics classrooms, Randel, Morris, Wetzel, and Whitehill (1992) reported on eight studies; seven of those studies found games to be superior to traditional instruction in improving mathematics achievement. Games have been found to be useful in addressing content at both lower and higher levels of mathematics: '[G]ames can be effective for more than drill and practice and for more than low level learning of skills and concepts ... [they] can be used along with other instructional methods to teach higher level content' (Bright, Harvey, & Wheeler, 1985, p. 127). Games are also a beneficial addition to the learning environment because they increase motivation (Onslow, 1990).

Most current mathematics programs have included games in some way or another. In some curricula, games are used primarily as a supplement for paper-and-pencil practice; for others, games are an integral part of the development of concepts (e.g. TERC, 1998). In working with students, the authors of this article have found games to be effective in promoting basic mathematical ideas, especially in addressing the following goals:

(a) reviewing concepts at the beginning of the school year,

(b) helping students retain mathematical ideas during the school year (McBride & Lamb, 1991), and

(c) assisting students in developing new skills at the knowledge and comprehension levels (Bright, Harvey & Wheeler, 1985).

When students begin elementary school, most of them enjoy mathematics and have confidence in their ability to learn mathematics. However, their enjoyment of and confidence in mathematics declines as they continue in school (Carpenter, Fennema, Franke, Levi & Empson, 1999; Dossey, Mullins, Lindquist & Chambers, 1988). As students move through the grades, they perceive fewer and fewer opportunities for interaction among themselves. Allowing students to work in groups is 'an extremely effective technique for getting students actively involved in doing mathematics' (Van de Walle, 2001, p. 440). Teachers invite positive attitudes toward mathematics by providing occasions for peer interaction (Artzt & Newman, 1991). The 'Pits' game provides such opportunities, promoting basic ideas in whole number computation at the same time.

What is 'Pits' and how can it be used?

Players compete with a partner by using mental computation to add, subtract, multiply, and/or divide the numbers rolled on number cubes in order to fill all of the pits on a playing board. The game is flexible enough so that students of varying abilities and ages find it equally engaging. Even students with low-level mathematical skills immediately enjoy playing the 'Pits' game. This game offers both immediate success and a meaningful challenge for students whatever their computational abilities.

How to play 'Pits'

Object of the game

The winner is the first player to put a bead in each of the pits on his/her playing board.


A playing board for each player (see Designs for playing boards) 36 beads (two colours, 18 of each) Three number cubes, each labelled 1-6 with dots or numerals

Filling pits

Roll a number cube to determine who will be Player 1. …