Deal Me In: Using Playing Cards to Reinforce Math Skills
Coming from a Vocational Home Economics background, I am constantly searching for ways to teach my lessons with a practical, hands-on approach. As Adult Education Instructors we are encouraged by the workplace and the workforce entities to help our students learn and use skills that can be carried into their jobs. I have never been a textbook- questions-at-the-end-of-the-chapter teacher (or student), so manipulative tools are my cup of tea!
My class is the lowest student level and most have learning difficulties which call for different methods. When starting a new semester, I decided to use playing cards as a math manipulative. As each new skill was introduced, I found new ways to use the cards. After seeing my students enjoy each session, I was challenged to come up with even more ways. You might say I became a card shark!
The new Texas Adult Education Content Standards and Benchmarks presented me with a reason for rewriting my curriculum and scope and sequence. Armed with my new wonderful tool, I inserted this into each math lesson where possible. I tried to keep a log of all the games and quickly filled several pages (senior moments required me writing them down). Several teachers asked me to share the games, so I decided to write this article.
I began with number sense and had the students lay the cards face up one at a time and say the numbers as fast as they could. This was difficult for some. Next, we did two cards and did greater than less than. A simple game of solitaire provides the skill of arranging in descending order and determining greater than less than. After the game was finished, I had the students add all the cards using the calculator and by pencil and paper. Another number sense game was for four of the students to draw a card and place the students in the order that would give the largest number and the smallest number. This brought out the leader traits in the students.
Moving on to addition, we started by laying two cards up at a time and timed ourselves in adding them as fast as we could. For several days we tried to increase our times and created a progress chart. Increasing the number of cards to two on top and two on bottom made more of a challenge. All these games saved making copies therefore I am making a “greener” class! I expanded the cards to four on the top and bottom, and this made for real practice. Subtraction was a different story. The students dreaded getting the face cards which were a value of 10 and all agreed that those 0’s made is hard to borrow. I reminded them that this was “The luck of the draw.” In subtraction you always have fewer cards on the bottom row.
Higher level skills such as fractions were fun because two cards can make some strange fractions. We used the larger number on the top and then reversed the order. We added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided card fractions and used lots of skills to convert and reduce. For fun we even drew cards and made up word problems. I have not found many math concepts that could not be reinforced with the use of playing cards from the Dollar Store. Gifts of cards make great prizes and incentives. The students don’t realize you are giving them endless homework!
By sharing this manipulative, I hope I have interested you in trying to use cards in your classroom. I will continue to come up with more games to try. Teaching presents us with many challenges, and we are usually open to use anything that works. Be willing to put down the textbooks, manuals, and worksheets and give this a try. Then you can deal your students in to better math skills and gains in their progress.
About the Author
Karen Greer is a native Texan from Garland and has taught in many areas. She is an avid sewer and has been a sample maker for a high end company. Having 10 grandchildren gives her opportunity to practice her hobby. She is currently training in the learning disabilities area with Texas LEARNS. Victoria College Adult Education is her current teaching home.