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MathBait™ Multiplication


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Have a blast multiplying with this fast-paced "card" game. Players attempt to reach a target number by passing and discarding. Using problem-solving skills they consider what rods they should be on the lookout for to reach their goal. This game supports a deeper understanding of factoring, common multiplies, and algorithmic thinking.


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Playing with Napier's Bones







This game is ideal for older students working on multi-digit multiplication and/or factoring.

Have you ever played Spoons? In this fast-paced card game, players attempt to gain a specific hand of cards through passing and discarding. Once a player has their hand, they grab a spoon. When one spoon is grabbed, any other player can also take a utensil. Here's the catch, there is always one less spoon than players. Thus, each round, one player is "out" and play continues until there is a single winner.

In this activity, we replicate the fun of Spoons with some fast-paced math knowledge. Group students into teams of 3-4 and place a full set of 20 rods on the table upside down. Have each student draw 3 rods. When the game begins, teachers will call out "discard" every 30 seconds (you may adjust the timing based on student level). On this call, students will discard one of their rods to the center pile as well as draw another.

Before beginning, teachers select a target 3-digit number. At the start of the game, announce the target number to all groups. Students will have the first 30 seconds to strategize before the teacher calls out "discard" and game-play begins. Students must discard one of the bones in their hand and draw a new bone.

To replicate spoons, consider adding the utensil element by allowing a player to grab a spoon when they find the target number amongst their bones. Like in the card game, players must be mindful of their surrounds as once one spoon has been grabbed, all players are eligible to try to snag their place in the next round. The player left without a spoon is out and play continues until only one player is left standing. Alternatively, once a player has the target number, they gain a point and the game continues with a new number as time allows.

In order to win, students must collect rods in their hand that contains the target number. For instance, if the target number is 120, students may notice the 0 rod along with any rod that contains a 12 will fit this requirement. As 12 is a multiple of 2, 3, 4, and 6, students could collect a 20 (as 20×6=120), a 30 (as 30×4=120), a 40 (as 40×3=120), or a 60 (as 60×2=120) to win, as any of these rods will contain the value 120. Note there are other rods they may collect too! For example, 24×5=120, thus a student could collect a 2 and a 4 rod as well.

This game has many benefits. At its core, it encourages students to consider larger multiples, or how to "build" a number. It also preps students for working with larger values and multiplying two-digit numbers. As they play, students are carefully examining the rods, gaining exposure and familiarity.

There are many strategies to find and discuss. Another to consider is the sum of the middle joint. Students may notice that to achieve a value of 2, the only options are 0+2, 1+1, and 2+0.

The depth of strategy here makes this game great for beginners as well as very advanced students. Spoons is especially excellent for students learning to factor. After each round, create a factor tree to show all the possibilities. The only option we have not yet mentioned for 120 is 8×15. In MathBait™ Multiplication Part 7, we will focus on factoring as another strategy to help students build strong multiplication skills. 

The material on this page is copyrighted by MathBait™. Please use and enjoy it! MathBait™ provides a temporary license for Non-Commercial purposes. You are not permitted to copy, distribute, sell, or make derivative work without written permission from MathBait™. 

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