Head Math: Ditch the calculators & iPhones. We’re doing this old school!

Head Math: Ditch the calculators & iPhones. We’re doing this old school!


This article was written for the Games for Educators March 2012 Newsletter, you can view the whole thing HERE.  

My mother was a math teacher and my father’s a CPA so there was never any lack of math “learning opportunities” when I was growing up.  Unfortunately, not every child lives with parents who love and embraced math as much as my parents did.  In fact, when my relatives brought out a calculator to total up their Yahtzee scores, I could see the horror in my mother’s eyes growing with every number that was pressed.

Many adults and parents don’t like math, and I’ll be one of the first ones to admit that most of the calculus I learned has fallen right out of my head.  But what remains strong are my basics.  Adding and subtracting accurately and quickly is something no calculator app on your iPhone can compete with.  So then, what’s the best way to become good and quick at basic math?  No, not boring flashcards – GAMES!

To prove my point, I’ve selected a couple games that require quick, easy calculations to be successful – and of course the game masks the fact that everyone playing is actually brushing up on their speed math skills. YAY!

Adios Amigos, by Pegasus Spiele 

A game for 2-4 players that takes 10-20 minutes is about Wild West desperados having a shoot out over gold.  Players place 3 cards in front of them and each card has 2 numbers that can be added together or the lower number can be subtracted from the higher number (no negative numbers here folks!)  At the start of a round players get to flip over tokens and if any numbers on their tokens match the sum or difference of any of their opponents cards they place their token on the card effectively “shooting” at the other player.  Once all three of your cards have been shot, you’re out.  Last desperado standing wins the loot from the round. There are other fun tidbits to the game that involve wooden bullets and dynamite, but the key to winning is quick adding and subtracting.

Adios Amigos stats:
$25 Amazon and mom & pop retailers
2 or more players
10-40 minutes (depending on HOW you play)
Ages 8 and up

7 Ate 9by Out of the Box

A great speed math card game from Out of the Box publishing, 7 Ate 9 is comprised of numbered cards with a +/-1, +/-2 or +/-3 in the corner.  After a number card is played, the next card must be a number that is either plus or minus the number in the corner.  So if the card is a 4 with a +/-2 in the corner, you can play either a 2 or a 6.  First player to get rid of all of their cards wins so doing quick math in your head is the only way to win this game!

7 Ate 9 stats:
$9 Amazon and many others
2 -4 players
10 minutes
Ages 8 and up

Math DiceThinkFun

Unlike the last two games, Math Dice requires more advanced math including multiplication.  You start by rolling two 12-sided dice and multiply the numbers to get your target number.  Then you roll the three 6-sided dice and use those numbers to create an equation that gets you as close as possible to the target number.  So if the target number is 36 and you roll a 2, 3, and a 5 you can get 3*5*2 = 30 or if you’re ready to use roots and squares you can use: 2 to the 5th power + 3 = 35.  Now with a name like Math Dice you’re not going to be fooling anyone about what they’re learning, but it’s definitely fun, challenging head-math – if you’re ready for it!

Math Dice stats:
$6 Amazon and many others
1 or more players
5+ minutes (depends on how you play)
Ages 8 and up

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