When there was a rumor in early 2019 that Microsoft was shutting down popular math games site coolmathgames.com, people freaked out. There were online petitions and general hand-wringing amongst educators especially, who use the site in elementary school math classes.
For the record, Coolmath Games is not shutting down. They’re just transitioning away from Flash, and most of their games have already been converted.
But Coolmath Games is aimed at elementary school students, and a little dose of daily math is good for everyone. Harvard recommends math problems as one form of mental stimulation to help keep the brain young.
Unfortunately, for many people, math isn’t a particularly fun activity. In fact, a study at the University of Chicago found people who are especially averse to math experience it like a physical threat in their brains ().
The trick to learning to love math is to find cool math you (or the kids you’re trying to teach) actually enjoy doing. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of cool math games and everyday math activities for every age group.
Hands-On Math Games for Elementary School Kids
Looking for something for the young school age group? We’ve got you covered with the options below.
1. Math Memory
Memory is one of the simplest games for young kids to play, and it engages several different brain functions:
- Remembering where cards are placed
- Matching the cards
- Turning over the cards
It also involves math, even without making the game math-specific. In memorizing where cards are, players must engage a “two down and three over” thought process or some other counting technique.
Even if they are too young to truly understand the numbers behind it yet.
Math Memory takes the game of Memory and ups its math aspect. By making some of the cards math problems and others math solutions, it becomes a game of both problem-solving and memorizing.
There’s a great explanation complete with simple flashcards over at Playdough to Plato.
And while Memory may be a game mostly associated with younger kids, you can easily use more difficult math problems, giving it some staying power through middle school.
2. Math Simon Says
Studies have shown that acting out scenes increases children’s reading comprehension. That’s true whether the book is a fictional story or a book of math problems.
Playing Simon Says with math-related phrases is a great way to give younger kids a basis in Geometry shapes and terms.
Words like obtuse, acute, parallel and perpendicular can sound foreign, but they are easy to demonstrate using the arms. Here’s a simple guide from High Expectations.
3. Shape Building Challenges
Sort of like Simon Says above, only kids create actual physical likenesses of geometric objects. Paper straws or popsicle sticks are ideal for this game.
Give kids a supply of equally-sized straws or popsicle sticks and state a geometric shape. Kids must use their straws or sticks to build the shape.
Since shapes require different numbers of straws to build – a rectangle will need two longer sides than a square, for instance – it helps kids visualize how shapes are mathematically different.
This game is especially beneficial when it comes to triangles and polygons, giving kids an early visual representation of how triangle and polygonal formulas add up.
Online Math Games for Elementary Kids
When it comes to online math games, elementary age kids are the luckiest group. Many online math game sites are geared toward them specifically with games they can start playing before they even know math is math.
Some top math sites for elementary kids include:
These gaming sites all feature bright colors and big buttons that are easy to navigate and appealing to the younger set.
Hands-On Math Games for Middle School Kids
Need some games to boost math skills for middle school age children? We’ve found some great options for you.
Studies have shown that six-year-olds have a loose understanding of probability . Most schools, however, don’t start teaching probability until middle school.
There are numerous ways to test probability in the real world.
One way is with an inflatable globe.
Choose a digit, such as the right thumb, as a marker and let kids toss the globe between them. If performing the experiment alone, simply toss the ball into the air 10 to 20 times.
Compare the number of times the marker lands on water versus land. Since Earth is 70% water, the ratio of times the marker lands on water to land should be roughly 70% of the time.
2. Math War
Don’t worry, you won’t need bunkers. This is a twist on the card game War.
In traditional War, players each get dealt half a deck of cards and turn up one card at a time. The player with the higher card takes both.
Unless the cards are equal. Then, it’s war!
Here’s a basic overview of how to play: How to Play War (and 3 Unique Variations)
In Math War, non-face cards (number cards) are equal to the number they show, while face cards and aces are assigned numerical values:
- Ace = 1
- Jack = 11
- Queen =12
- King = 13
(You don’t have to use these numbers, but they’re the easiest to remember.)
Instead of turning up one card at a time, players turn up two cards at a time and add, subtract, multiply or divide one from the other to determine who has the higher card value.
If the answers are equal, they turn over their next set of cards until someone wins and takes all of the cards shown.
The difficulty of Math War can be increased by using three cards at a time and multiple operations (such as multiplying the first two cards and dividing by the third).
3. Measuring the Real World
Young kids will be into the sheer magic of being able to estimate the heights of things that are too tall to measure by hand, but middle schoolers will better understand the math behind it.
There are multiple means of guesstimating the size of real-world structures and landforms, some requiring more difficult math than others.
Turn the measurement of real-world objects into a game by making it a scavenger hunt (find 3 structures between 30 and 40 feet, find two non-identical objects that are the same size, etc.)
To get started with estimating and calculating real-world heights, check out this simple guide on measuring trees from Science and Plants for Schools: How to Find the Height of a Tree
Online Math Games for Middle School Kids
Middle schoolers fare almost as well as elementary age students when it comes to online games. Most well-known math games sites have games geared toward their age group.
Middle school kids are more likely to recognize what areas of math they need to work on, which makes the number one site for middle schoolers on our list, Math Games, a particularly beneficial site.
Games allow players to choose both their grade level and the skills they need to practice.
Hands-On Math Games for High School Students and Adults
Whatever you call it and however you play it, billiards is a game of angles. And angles are geometry.
Playing pool won’t make you a whiz at geometric concepts, but it will increase your real-world perception of how angles work.
Pool also requires a basic understanding of physics, namely velocity and collisions, doubling its math-y benefit.
Okay, so it’s more of a puzzle than a game, but it’s widely available and math-intensive.
Common to many newspaper puzzle pages, KenKen is a great way to use your math skills on a daily basis.
KenKen requires the literal solving of math problems, which means you probably won’t like it if you don’t actually enjoy doing math. If you want to practice basic skills, though, the more difficult of these puzzles will certainly put them to the test.
Just don’t rely on math puzzles to prevent cognitive decline. According to the Global Council on Brain Health, brain games like KenKen don’t do much to prevent brain decline. Learning activities, like playing an instrument, and physical activities, like dancing, are better for that.
3. Casino Games
Want to get better at probability? There are few classrooms better than a casino.
Poker and Blackjack are both just probability. Knowing the odds of a card coming up makes you a better player and increases your chances of winning.
Just keep in mind the house always wins, and don’t lose your entire paycheck.
That’s bad math.
Online Math Games for High School Students and Adults
Need some math skills improvement games for teens in high school and adults? We’ve got a decent option for you to check out.
When it comes to math games for high schoolers and adults, this site pretty much wears the crown. Unfortunately, there’s not much competition. But there are some decent games on here for the grown-up set.
Games to try:
Both games are focused on quick responses and get more difficult as you move through rounds. This makes them ideal for keeping your math mind sharp.