Algebra games can help even young children make sense of complex ideas about number relationships. I’ve got two games I think you and your kids are going to LOVE…but first we should probably answer an important question: what is algebra, anyway?
What is Algebra?
Algebra is more than just “math with letters”. Elementary kids are ready to grapple with these important algebraic ideas:
1. Balance is an important idea in algebra…the idea that the numbers on the left and the right of an equal sign need to have the same total. 2 +x = 9 – 3 requires kids to think flexibly and test out different numbers for x until both sides are equal.
2 + x = 9 – 3
2. Algebra equations often include a variable: a letter or symbol that stands in for a missing number. 5 – x = 3 is just the same as 5 – ? = 3. Even young kids can solve problems like these once they understand the x means the same thing as a question mark.
3. Algebra often involves looking for patterns. If two people receive 4 cookies, and three people receive 6 cookies, how many cookies will 4 people get?
4. Integers (positive and negative numbers) make an appearance with algebra, because in trying to balance both sides of the equal sign, quantities can dip down below zero.
Here are some fun algebra games that will have your kids scrambling to do more algebra!
Algebra Balance Game
PLAYERS: 2-3 players
BEST FOR: Flexible math thinking and the concept that equations balance each other out. The equal sign does not mean “the answer is __”, but shows each side is the same quantity.
PREP: Give each player 6 dice. These can be regular 6-sided dice, or you can use 10-sided dice with digits from 0 to 9.
HOW TO PLAY: Roll all 6 dice. Use the numbers to make a problem that is equal on both sides. Let’s say you rolled a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
The goal is to use as many of the dice as possible to make an equation. You cannot use a number more than once unless you roll it more than once. Get a point for each die used.
This solution used 5 dice, so would get 5 points.
4 x 2 – 3 = 6 – 1
And here’s a solution that used all 6 dice, so gets 6 points:
(4 x 2) + 3 = (5 + 6) ÷ 1
You can also combine the digits to make larger numbers. This solution also gets 6 points:
42 ÷ 6 = 3 + 5 – 1
Play 8 rounds, then add up your scores. The highest score wins.
VARIATION: Work together to see how many different equations you can make. You can re-used your six dice for each new equation. Give your team a point for each time a die is used. When you’ve found all the solutions possible, roll again for a new round.
PLAYERS: 2 players
BEST FOR: Understanding positive and negative integers
PREP: Get a deck of cards. Remove the face cards. Give half the deck to each player. Tell the players that red cards are negative numbers, and black cards are positive.
You might want to make an integer number line before you start (see notes below).
EASIER VERSION: Each of you turns over the top card of your deck. Compare the cards. The player with the higher number takes both cards. Play continues until you run through your deck. The player with the most cards wins.
In the play above, the 7 is larger than the negative 9. Tricky!
HARDER VERSION: Each player turns over TWO cards and adds them together. If you turned over a black 7 and a red 9, your total would be -2. The player with the higher total takes all four cards.
NOTES: Draw a quick number line of positive and negative numbers to help kids make sense of integers. Comparing is easy with the number line.
To add integers 7 + (-9), tell kids to start on the first number 7, then jump towards the negative side nine times.
See? Algebra doesn’t have to be scary. 🙂 Give these fun algebra games a whirl, then let me know how it went in the comments section below!
Want more games like this? I recommend The Best Bingo Game Ever.