Education Letter to the Editor

Mathematics and Game Playing: Nothing New Under the Sun

June 04, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

There is truly very little that is new under the education sun, or so many veteran teachers such as I will be more than happy to tell you. Your article on the value to children of playing board games, as a way of developing their math skills, is a case in point (“Playing Games in Classroom Helping Pupils Grasp Math,” April 30, 2008.)

In the late 1960s, Lloyd Wynroth developed his math program Learning Math by Playing Games as an outgrowth of his Ph.D.-dissertation research at Cornell University. The program was adopted by my district in Ithaca, N.Y., and many others throughout the Northeast. The program introduced new math concepts through game playing and then followed up with written math when the children demonstrated their conceptual grasp. They progressed through the games and written math at their own pace, allowing gifted or highly motivated students to advance while ensuring slower students the time they needed to “firm up” their basic concepts and skills.

In my 30 years of teaching, I found Wynroth Math superior to every other program I was mandated to use, including Everyday Mathematics, which was featured in your article. The latter introduces so many concepts to the children so quickly, and has so much written math, that the games it suggests are merely an afterthought rather than the centerpiece of its methodology.

While I used Wynroth Math, my students routinely scored in the top quintile of the Stanford Achievement Tests in grades 1-3. But alas, the Wynroth program was sentenced to the dustbin by my district’s administrators when they were caught up in the latest wave of educational thought.

Wouldn’t it be grand if teaching methods and programs were actually evaluated for their efficacy before teachers were mandated to use—or discard—them?

Denise Gelberg

Ithaca, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the June 04, 2008 edition of Education Week as Mathematics and Game Playing: Nothing New Under the Sun