Math Games with Factors, Multiples, and Prime Numbers

factor game

Students can explore prime and non-prime numbers with these free favorite classroom games:

For $15-20 you can buy a downloadable file of the beautiful, colorful, mathematical board game Prime Climb. Or pick up the full Prime Climb game box at Amazon.

Or you can try the following game by retired Canadian math professor Jerry Ameis:

Factor Finding Game


Math Concepts: multiples, factors, composite numbers, and primes.
Players: only two.
Equipment: pair of 6-sided dice, 10 squares each of two different colors construction paper, and the game board (click the image to print it, or copy by hand).

On your turn, roll the dice and make a 2-digit number. Use one of your colored squares to mark a position on the game board. You can only mark one square per turn.

  • If your 2-digit number is prime, cover a PRIME square.
  • If any of the numbers showing are factors of your 2-digit number, cover one of them.
  • BUT if there’s no square available that matches your number, you lose your turn.

The first player to get three squares in a row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) wins. Or for a harder challenge, try for four in a row.

Feature photo at top of post by Jimmie via flickr (CC BY 2.0). This game was featured in the Math Teachers At Play (MTaP) math education blog carnival: MTaP #79. Hat tip: Jimmie Lanley.

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How to Understand Fraction Division

by Scott Robinson via flickr

photo by Scott Robinson via flickr

A comment on my post Fraction Division — A Poem deserves a longer answer than I was able to type in the comment reply box. Whitecorp wrote:

Incidentally, this reminds me of a scene from a Japanese anime, where a young girl gets her elder sister to explain why 1/2 divided by 1/4 equals 2. The elder girl replies without skipping a heartbeat: you simply invert the 1/4 to become 4/1 and hence 1/2 times 4 equals 2.

The young one isn’t convinced, and asks how on earth it is possible to divide something by a quarter — she reasons you can cut a pie into 4 pieces, but how do you cut a pie into one quarter pieces? The elder one was at a loss, and simply told her to “accept it” and move on.

How would you explain the above in a manner which makes sense?

Continue reading How to Understand Fraction Division

The Cookie Factory Guide to Long Division

choc chip cookies

[Photo by scubadive67.]

Help! My son was doing fine in math until he started long division, but now he’s completely lost! I always got confused with all those steps myself. How can I explain it to him?

Long division. It’s one of the scariest of the Math Monsters, those tough topics of upper-elementary and middle school mathematics. Of all the topics that come up on homeschool math forums, perhaps only one (“How can I get my child to learn the math facts?”) causes parents more anxiety.

Most of the “helpful advice” I’ve seen focuses on mnemonics (“Dad/Mother/Sister/Brother” to remember the steps: Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring down) or drafting (turn your notebook paper sideways and use the lines to keep your columns straight). I worry that parents are too focused on their child mastering the algorithm, learning to follow the procedure, rather than on truly understanding what is happening in long division.

An algorithm is simply a step-by-step recipe for doing a mathematical calculation. But WHY does the algorithm work? If our students could understand the reason for the steps, they wouldn’t have to work so hard on memory tricks.

Continue reading The Cookie Factory Guide to Long Division

Game: Target Number (or 24)

ace of spades card deck

[Photo by stevendepolo.]

Math concepts: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, powers and roots, factorial, mental math, multi-step thinking
Number of players: any number
Equipment: deck of math cards, pencils and scratch paper, timer (optional)

Set Up

All players must agree on a Target Number for the game. Try to choose a number that has several factors, which means there will be a variety of ways to make it. Traditionally, I start my math club students with a target of 24.

Shuffle the deck, and deal four cards face down to each player. (For larger target numbers, such as 48 or 100, deal five or six cards to each player.) The players must leave the cards face down until everyone is ready. Set the remainder of the deck to one side.

Continue reading Game: Target Number (or 24)

Prime Numbers Are like Monkeys

squirrel monkey

[Photo by mape_s.]

I’m afraid that Math Club may have fallen victim to the economy, which is worse in our town than in the nation in general. Homeschooling families have tight budgets even in the best of times, and now they seem to be cutting back all non-essentials. I assumed that last semester’s students would return, but I should have asked for an RSVP.

Still, Kitten and I had a fun time together. We played four rounds of Tens Concentration, since I had spread out cards on the tables in the library meeting room before we realized that no one was coming. Had to pick up the cards one way or another, so we figured we might as well enjoy them! She won the first two rounds, which put her in a good mood for our lesson.

I had written “Prime numbers are like monkeys!” on the whiteboard, and Kitten asked me what that meant. That was all the encouragement I needed to launch into my planned lesson, despite the frustrating dearth of students. The idea is taken from Danica McKellar’s book Math Doesn’t Suck.

Continue reading Prime Numbers Are like Monkeys

Do Your Students Understand Division?

Cheerios by sixes
[I couldn’t find a good picture illustrating “division.” Niner came to my rescue and took this photo of her breakfast.]

I found an interesting question at Mathematics Education Research Blog. In the spirit of Liping Ma’s Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, Finnish researchers gave this problem to high school students and pre-service teachers:

  • We know that:
    498 \div 6 = 83.
    How could you use this relationship (without using long-division) to discover the answer to:
    [No calculators allowed!]

The Finnish researchers concluded that “division seems not to be fully understood.” No surprise there! Check out the pdf report for detailed analysis.

Continue reading Do Your Students Understand Division?

Contig Game: Master Your Math Facts


[Photo by Photo Mojo.]

Yahtzee and other board games provide a modicum of math fact practice. But for intensive, thought-provoking math drill, I can’t think of any game that would beat Contig.

Math concepts: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, order of operations, mental math
Number of players: 2 – 4
Equipment: Contig game board, three 6-sided dice, pencil and scratch paper for keeping score, and bingo chips or wide-tip markers to mark game squares

Set Up

Place the game board and dice between players, and give each player a marker or pile of chips. (Markers do not need to be different colors.) Write the players’ names at the top of the scratch paper to make a score sheet.

Continue reading Contig Game: Master Your Math Facts