Thinking Thursday: Invent a Game 3

“Invent a Game 3” is an excerpt from 312 Things To Do with a Math Journal, available as an ebook at my bookstore (Thank you for cutting out the middleman!) and in ebook or paperback through many online retailers. Read more about my playful math books here.

Do you want your children to develop the ability to reason creatively and figure out things on their own?

Help kids practice slowing down and taking the time to fully comprehend a math topic or problem-solving situation with these classic tools of learning: See. Wonder. Create.

See: Look carefully at the details of the numbers, shapes, or patterns you see. What are their attributes? How do they relate to each other? Also notice the details of your own mathematical thinking. How do you respond to a tough problem? Which responses are most helpful? Where did you get confused, or what makes you feel discouraged?

Wonder: Ask the journalist’s questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how? Who might need to know about this topic? Where might we see it in the real world? When would things happen this way? What other way might they happen? Why? What if we changed the situation? How might we change it? What would happen then? How might we figure it out?

Create: Create a description, summary, or explanation of what you learned. Make your own related math puzzle, problem, art, poetry, story, game, etc. Or create something totally unrelated, whatever idea may have sparked in your mind.

Math journaling may seem to focus on this third tool, creation. But even with artistic design prompts, we need the first two tools because they lay a solid groundwork to support the child’s imagination.

How To Use a Create-Your-Own-Math Prompt

When students create their own math, they forge a personal connection to mathematical concepts and relationships. And it’s fun!

Children might make up a math game, write a story or poem, draw a comic, or pose a problem. Create math art, think up a challenging question, or write a puzzle. Since earlier chapters focused on writing and math art, most of these prompts involve creating puzzles or problems.

The “Story Problem Challenge” is one of my favorite math club activities. My students invent their own word problems in any style they like. They don’t have to know how to solve the problems they create. We read the stories aloud, and everyone works together to find the solutions.

For puzzles where the child already knows the answers (for example, “Two Truths and a Lie”), let them trade with a friend. Can they each solve the other’s puzzle? Can they stump each other? Or save the child’s work and let them come back to it another day, after they’ve forgotten the answers.

And when students create something they’re proud of, let them share it with the world. Visit the Student Math Makers Gallery at to learn how your students can submit their own math creations.

Journaling Prompt #308
Invent a Game 3

Create a variation of tic-tac-toe. What size gameboard will you use, and what are the rules for marking squares? How do you win (or lose) the game? Is it possible to have a tie?

    Try your game with a friend, and tinker with the rules until you’re satisfied.

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