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5 Reasons to Design a Math Game with Your Kids

By: Marc Humpert, User Experience Designer

The K-12 Game-a-thon Challenge gives students the opportunity to design and build their own math game, film a video of it, and submit it online for everyone to see.

At a fundamental level, the challenge is accessible and easy to implement as it is entirely self-directed by the students themselves. Teachers, parents and guardians can play roles as mentors and facilitators to varying degrees of involvement, and the materials are inexpensive – students can make digital games with free tools like MIT’s Scratch and Adventure Maker, or physical games with recycled materials like cardboard, wood, plastics and more. While the challenge is open-ended, mentors can facilitate deep mathematical learning by incorporating it into existing summer learning.

Families worked hard at designing and building math games at MIND’s traveling Math Fair. These two girls built a game that utilized mathematics to ascend a tower to save a damsel in distress.

At its core, the Game-a-thon follows a project-based learning model in which students are given a meaningful and open-ended challenge: design and build a math game. The flexible nature of the challenge lends itself well to student engagement and ownership of the project, where they can learn both hard and soft skills.

This adaptability lends itself well to learning within a structure such as a school or summer program, or outside of the classroom. Here are five reasons to design a game with your students this summer:



Schools, programs and parents can incorporate the Game-a-thon directly into their summer curriculum as a new project, aligning it with math concepts currently in the syllabus. Students can then design a game around the concepts they are currently learning.

At one Game-a-thon participant’s school, her math class was already assigned to make a board game, so she designed her entry, “Candy Thief," for both her class AND the Game-a-thon.

In "Candy Thief," players manage resources of money and candy as they develop strategies to be the first to deliver three pieces of candy to the candy king.

Another approach is to give students the choice to pick from a range of math concepts they have already learned throughout the year or their school career. You can also make a game of it by having students randomly pick flashcards with math concepts on them.



In both the classroom and at home, students can get creative by combining their personal interests with designing a math game. For example, last year, a team of sisters submitted their game “The Math Odyssey,” which combined mathematics with their love of mythology.

"The Math Odyssey" sends players on an epic quest through Greek mythology where they face mythical and mathematical challenges.



The benefit of project-based learning is making cross-discipline connections that simultaneously cover understanding in multiple subjects. Common complementary pairings in PBL are English and history, and mathematics and science. This group’s Game-a-thon entry “Geometry Plants” was an exciting mix of mathematics and biology.

Players build a tree of knowledge by answering math and biology questions correctly to advance across the board in Geometry Plants.

Another Game-a-thon group combined mathematics with physical education in their game “Math Track,” in which players run a relay race and hand off a “baton” of math problems to be solved before moving on.

"Math Track" is a clever combination of mathematics and physical activity that has players running a relay and answering math questions at each checkpoint before moving on.



The Game-a-thon approaches problem solving through the use of game design principles. An optional Game-a-thon Starter Kit (download here) breaks these game design principles down to individual steps, such as defining learning goals, game mechanics, target audience and more. Students can spend time focusing on each one, strengthening their understanding of each.

The Starter Kit also includes a Feedback Form to help students learn how to critique others’ games. Cut-out templates can inspire students to start with their games. Templates include cards, dice, spinners, grids, shapes and more.



While the Game-a-thon is about students designing math games, they also gain experience in a variety of universal learning outcomes including:

  • Collaboration - students have the opportunity to work collectively towards a shared objective and benefit from peer interactions

  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving - students challenge themselves to view math from the perspective of a game designer and determine best approaches to evoke meaningful play

  • Creativity & Innovation - students push the boundaries of game design by taking risks and thinking outside the box to find creative solutions

  • Design Thinking - students learn design processes including ideating, prototyping, testing, iterating and giving feedback, all in tandem with core game design principles

  • Communication - students communicate their ideas and thoughts to others through a summative video presentation of their game

  • Math Literacy - students engage meaningfully with math concepts in new ways to build deeper understanding

  • Digital Literacy - students have the opportunity to learn and utilize digital tools like video editing and game creation software.

The Game-a-thon is a fantastic opportunity for students to learn skills that apply not just across subjects in the classroom but also prepare students for personal and professional lives. The game design experience provides students the opportunity to discover connections between mathematics and the creative outlets that they like. It also builds connections with other students and the community of participants who share their games in-person and virtually.

Don’t hesitate! Expand the Game-a-thon community by bringing the Game-a-thon Challenge to your kids today:

Enter the Game-a-thon Now  Download the Game-a-thon Starter Pack

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About the Author

MIND Research Institute welcomes guest blogs that highlight best practices in math education, blended learning and innovative learning strategies that inspire students at all ages.


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