Math games are a great way to get students involved in math. Just like chess, math games get students hooked. Each time they play, they have more confidence and better strategies. With the competitive itch, they strive to do better each time they play.
Math games should be specifically designed to work on math skills. It may work on addition, multiplication or fractions. Having the skills as part of the game makes it easy to make learning seem fun. Just like mothers often sneak vegetables into a casserole or pasta dish, teachers can sneak learning into games.
The games should have some elements that make it playable. The game should have simple rules. If there are too many rules, kids will lose interest. Soccer is relatively simply. You need to kick the ball into the net without using your hands. In golf you try to hit a ball into a hole in as few strokes as possible. With Scrabble, you try to make words with the highest point value possible. The general goal or core rules of the game should be relatively simple.
Once this is established, there should be room for developing strategy. The game Tic Tac Toe is not played by adults or even most kids as it is too simple. The game of chess however allows players to make choices that affect the outcome of the game. If you can't develop strategy or feel like you are affecting the outcome, you probably won't continue playing.
There also needs to be an element of chance. Even though players may have different abilities, each one should feel as though they have a chance to win. You wouldn't enter a 100 meter race if you knew the other runner was a great deal faster. In Scrabble the element of chance comes when players randomly choose letters. When chance affects the game it evens out the playing field.
Games in the class create hours of solid practice. Students actually focus on the skills and develop their skills quickly. Aside from the math skills students learn, they also learn some much needed social skills by working with partners that they can't get from video games. Games are the way to reach children and make learning a truly fun and inspiring activity. The skills they learn will last a lifetime.