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Teaching Mathematics Through Games

Mindy Capaldi, ed.
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Classroom Resource Materials
[Reviewed by
Cristina Runalls
, on
Teaching Mathematics through Games, edited by Mindy Capaldi, is a collection of mathematics lessons that describe various tasks and activities centered around board games, card games, games of chance, and more. Each chapter consists of a lesson idea, including elements such as the instructional context in which the lesson has been conducted, background information on the game, implementation notes, goals for learning, question prompts, extension ideas, and/or challenges arising from implementation. The chapters are written almost conversationally, giving the reader the feeling that they are conversing with a colleague over a new lesson idea, sharing challenges and reflections in the process. 
The activities provided in the text have an enormous range, including mathematical topics appropriate for survey mathematics courses, up to calculus, abstract algebra, and graph theory (and many topics in between). There is impressive variation in the types of games featured, some familiar (e.g., Sudoku, Battleship, Risk) and some more unusual (Arkham Horror Card Game, author-designed board game). Fortunately, the opening section of the book offers tables which categorize each chapter according to topic, suitable course(s), and length of activity. This opening section was key to helping the reader find the activity type/topic they may be searching for in an otherwise eclectic assortment of chapters. 
One sometimes challenging component of the book was the lack of consistency between chapters in the types of information shared and level of detail provided. While all chapters included key game background and implementation details, beyond this material varied. Some chapters offered more in terms of extensions of the mathematical ideas, while others shared more about specific challenges, for example. Together with the breadth in topics and games, the differences mean that the process of adapting a particular lesson may vary substantially between lessons.
The book is also accompanied by supplementary materials provided online. Although the supplementary materials are somewhat limited (provided for only six chapters), the materials shared may help instructors more easily adapt tasks and implement them in their classrooms.
It is vital to note this textbook should be taken more as a long-term, ongoing resource for use, rather than a quick “pick up and go” classroom activity resource. The level of detail in implementation notes and resources vary greatly between lessons, with some chapters (e.g., Chapter 3, Chapter 8) providing extensive notes, question prompts, and complete game sheets and answer guides, to other chapters providing more of an overall idea and structure for the activity. The tasks also ranged in length from a single class period to an entire semester, with those on the longer end of the spectrum likely requiring significantly more thought and adaptation before implementation. 
This book may be recommended for mathematics faculty at all levels, particularly those who may be new to mathematical games, or those who are looking for something more unusual to add to their class. It appears most useful for those who often teach a wide variety of mathematics courses, or who would like to share some of the ideas in this book with their colleagues. The enormous breadth of the types of courses addressed in this book is in many ways a strength, in that it offers valuable variety in topics, games, and class styles. However, for the instructor who teaches a limited selection of courses, there is less of a benefit from this breadth, and they may be better suited with a more course-specific resource. 
Ultimately, the book fulfills its promise of sharing the ways in which mathematics may be explored through play, in ways that are engaging and thought-provoking to students. There were several games that were new and interesting to the reviewer, and as a resource reference book (coupled with the online supplementary materials) it offers great potential value to the mathematics instructor looking for something new to add to their active learning repertoire. 


About the author: Dr. Cristina Runnalls is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics & Statistics at Cal Poly Pomona, with a focus on Mathematics Education. Her research focuses primarily on the mathematics education of emergent bilingual students, with additional work in both pre-service and in-service teacher education.