Math games: High 5s program brings the ‘math out of play’

April 11, 2022

Contact: Greta Guest, 734-936-7821, gguest@umich.edu

TAYLOR—While groups of first graders work in clusters at pods around the classroom, four children face their teacher at a U-shaped desk, backs straight and eyes alert as she deals cards to each of them.

They’re playing “Chocolate Chip Count,” a game that will teach them basic math skills almost without them knowing it. It’s the educational equivalent of hiding vegetables in the macaroni and cheese. And the kids at Randall Elementary School in Taylor love it.

The cards feature chocolate chips that the kids count and then write their sums on a blank card. One young girl reads out her cards “10 plus five equals 15.”

“How did you know that?” the teacher asks. After they answer, the teacher tells them to feed the card to the monster face attached to a plastic jar.

“I really love math. Playing the game really helps me find out more math problems and, it’s really fun,” said Kendall Goins, 7.

Another game the kids call stinky socks involves children hanging numbers on a clothesline in order from 1 to 20. If they pull a stinky sock card, all the cards come down and the game begins again.

“I’m really good at stinky socks,” said Colten McClure, 7. “When I play math games, I feel nice.”

Liz Biddle, a school improvement coordinator for the Taylor School District in Wayne County, was the first to suggest trying High 5s, a math enrichment program developed by the University of Michigan to help close the achievement gap. The hands-on, small-group program is being implemented for kindergartners and first graders at Randall and Myers schools in Taylor.

Biddle said that results from the 2017-18 school year indicated that 50% of Randall’s kindergarten students were scoring at grade level by the end of the year. One year later, 70% of the students were performing at grade level.

“So we had almost all kids on grade level before they left us, which was amazing,” she said.

The first five years of a child’s life are considered the most critical for development, but learning opportunities lag for many children, particularly those from low-income households, said Robin Jacob, associate professor and founder of U-M’s Youth Policy Lab.

A study found the program increased kindergartners’ math performance by 15%. As the name suggests, students are given plenty of positive reinforcement as they progress.

Programs such as High 5s are important to balance out the emphasis placed on literacy skills in the early grades, Jacob said.

“We wanted to make math learning fun. There’s a lot that is fun about math, and it is often taught in a way that makes kids feel anxious and not inspired,” she said. “And so we wanted to have their early first experiences with math be something that was really joyful and exciting so that they would have positive feelings toward math as they continue their education.”

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