Category Archives: Math Games

Guest Blogger: Kathleen Offenholley – Quick Games for Any Subject

This week’s guest blogger is the CGN Steering Committee’s own Kathleen Offenholley, Associate Professor of Mathematics at BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College). Her post offers ideas of quick games for any subject using the elements of randomness and matching. Reading her post made me think of a game I use with my Music Appreciation students to review instrument classification: Each student chooses a card with an instrument name/photo at random and must roam the room to group up with everyone holding a card from that classification category. The first group to find everyone wins, then we use those pairings for group work. I can imagine a similar game for other subjects: A history professor could make cards with events from different decades or world regions, a chemistry professor could have the students form families of periodic table elements, etc. If you have a game using these ideas, we’d like to hear about it . Post a comment below about how you use randomization/matching or, as always, email to contribute to our blog.

A Bit of Random, a Bit of Matching: Small, Quick Games for any Subject
by Kathleen Offenholley

This time of year, when it’s getting cold outside and the excitement of the start of the semester is starting to wear off, it’s great to have a quick game to energize your class. To this end, I’m going to recommend two of my favorite game elements: randomness and matching. These two elements can be used together to create an impromptu game that requires little to no advanced planning or materials. I’m hoping if you try this in your class, or if you already have some fun games or activities that involve these mechanics, you’ll write back to let us know, and maybe get featured in one of our next guest blog posts!
Randomness is one of my favorite game elements, and one which is used in nearly every game – card or tile draws, die rolls, spinners, etc. – try to think of a game that doesn’t use randomness! Thus, even the introduction of a small amount of randomness makes an activity suddenly more like a game.

Are you reviewing for midterm exams? I like to put students in groups to work on the midterm exam review. I add an element of random by having the group roll a die after they have gotten four problems correct. The die then determines how far that group can move along a game board I have sketched on the blackboard. It’s funny, you’d think the direct reward of moves based on problems solved would seem fairer, but adding a die roll, so that one group might move 4 spaces while another group only moves 1, makes the students much more interested, and it keeps the slower students hopeful that they too can compete, with a little luck.

If you have a group activity you already use, you can add excitement by having students draw cards or roll dice to determine the way the activity starts – maybe a random first step to the activity, a randomly assigned first problem, or randomly assigned roles for each student.

I have an activity in which students solve multi-step problems in a group. The last time I did this, rather than just tell them their roles, I wrote the roles on paper, shuffled, and handed each person a role. Suddenly, the energy in the room shifted, and everyone was interested. For the next problem, I had people shuffle the papers again and change roles.  This works for math and science problems easily – for order of operations problems, for example, person number 1 is instructed to only do the work in parenthesis, person 2 does exponents, and so forth – but it can also work in a class on essay writing, where the first person tackles the introduction, and so forth. Likewise, it can work in a design class where the first person takes on the role of interviewing the client, the next researches the intended audience, etc. Randomly shuffling roles can work in any class where there are multiple roles or multiple steps to solve a problem.

Students can create their own matching problems by matching two concepts, or two versions of the same concept. In my math class, I have a student write the exponential form on one piece of paper, and the logarithm form on the other. The student then gives just the logarithm form to another student, who must come up with the original exponential form. You can do the same exercise with a function and its derivative – anything that has a student working backwards to try to come up with the original problem. I’d love to hear how this might apply to concepts in other disciplines!
Matching + Random
In a modification of the matching exercise, I gather all the pieces of paper with one version of the concept (for example, all the exponential forms), shuffle, and tape them to one side of the chalkboard. I gather and shuffle the other version (for example, all the logarithmic forms), tape them to the other side of the board, and challenge students to find the matches. It’s my best easy game so far, with students really thinking as they play.

 I hope you’ll try this yourself, and maybe send me some examples from your English, History or Art class!

 As one of my students once said to me, laughingly, “Professor, you’re so random!” I’m pretty sure that translates to “You’re super strange,” but I thanked him anyway.


Are you interested in being featured on the CGN website? If so, submit a blog post on any topic related to GBL in higher ed., and/or send links/descriptions of your blogs to Stay tuned for another guest contribution next week. 

Digital Algebra Games!

Three digital algebra games are now being tested in 7 sections at BMCC and are yours to try for free.

Here, Don Wei and I explain about the games: Game Plan for STEM.

Each game is in nearly completed form. Finished versions will be available here and in the Apple Store.

Our games are:

  • Project Sampson, a GIS game that shows students applications of linear equations. Download here:
  • xPonum, which helps students learn shifts and zeros for equations of all types
  • Algebots, an equation-solving puzzle-game. Download here.

Coin Games

This game is a fun way to practice word problems for systems of equations. I usually have my students play the game in math 051 or 056 after learning systems of equations. It makes a great test or quiz review game.

How to play:

  1. Pass out envelopes with coins inside. Each envelope has an algebra problem on it. I like to have every group do the same problem at the same time, so I warn them not to talk too loud about the problem that they get.
  2. Each groups tries to solve the problem written on the envelope, making sure each member in the group understands how to do the problem.
  3. Once they think they have solved the problem, I let them open the envelope while I watch *if* every person in the group understands the problem.
  4. I use real coins. I let the winning team keep the coins if they want to.
  5. The best part is the bonus round, where teams make up their own problems for another team to solve. I would love to mod this so this is the first round.

Here are some examples of the problems I use. Or you can go to the word file, coin-game.

Do NOT Open the envelope until you have solved the problem!

This envelope contains pennies and dimes.
The number of pennies IS 6 more than the number of nickels.
The total amount of money in the envelope is $0.50.
If you solved the problem correctly, KEEP the money. If you did not solve it correctly, GIVE BACK the money.
Either way, go on to the next envelope!

Do NOT Open the envelope until you have solved the problem!
This envelope contains pennies and nickels.
The total number of coins (pennies and nickels) IS 15.
The total amount of money in the envelope is $0.35.
If you solved the problem correctly, KEEP the money. If you did not solve it correctly, GIVE BACK the money.
Either way, go on to the next envelope!

Bonus Round – Double your money!!!
Put some of your money in this envelope, and write a word problem for it, here:
Ø This envelope contains _____ and ________.
Ø The….
Ø The total amount of money in the envelope is ______.
Give the envelope to another group.
If the other group solves your d the problem correctly, you get double the money you gave them,