Friday, November 11, 2016

Multiplication & Fractions Math Games from Denise Gaskins (a review)

I really like Denise Gaskins's new book: Multiplication & Fractions Math Games (links to paperback edition and accompanying printable.) How much do I like it? Well, I had already written a lengthy review that, somehow, I managed to lose and am now back writing another one.

I'm going to forego my preferred Good (what I liked), Bad (arguable weaknesses) and Ugly (unforgivable sins) because I don't really have anything to say in those two negative categories. Instead, let me just talk about who would find the book useful and why.

Group 1: Parents who feel their own math skills are weak.

Maybe you never really understood what multiplication means or what fractions are? As long as you start with an open mind and are willing to engage playfully, the activities in the book can help you as you help your kids. It starts with models that are visual explanations of the concepts. Gaskins also breaks learning these concepts into comfortable steps that emphasize patterns and relationships, the real ideas that are behind properly understanding multiplication and fractions (indeed, math generally). The sequence of games in each section starts by building familiarity and then fluency (speed) to solidify all of that work.

Group 2: Parents who worry about their kids struggling with these concepts

Anecdotally, these two areas are the first major stumbling point for students in their math studies. As I noted above for parents themselves, the sequencing in the book will help kids develop a strong foundation, beginning by understanding what multiplication means (and what fractions are). Beyond that, playing the games will make these concepts familiar and, I believe, lead them to recognize examples around them in their daily lives.

Group 3: Families who like to play games

Kids (and parents!) find these games fun. I've been field testing math games for the last 18 months and keep seeing how engaged kids get when playing math games. I have played many, though not all, the games in Multiplication & Fractions and strongly believe the games in the book will be winners with most kids.
Now, let's face it, you might not be thrilled with every game. For example, I wasn't so excited by the idea of playing War variations. However, a lot of other games in the book that are strategically and mathematically rich. Also, truth be told, my kids and students have really enjoyed playing multiplication war!

So, there's really nothing weak in this book?

There is only one worry I have about making a blanket recommendation: parents who start with a completely wrong mindset. If you believe in speed over understanding or mathematical gifts instead of effort, then this book is the wrong place to start. Instead, read Dweck's Mindsets and spend time with Jo Boaler's website. Maybe also re-watch Karate Kid (no joke, this is what I'm currently playing.)

A disclaimer, sort of

I'm friends with Denise Gaskins and got a review copy of this book. However, you should understand that we're friends because I'm a fan of her math teaching work and not the other way around. We've never even met in real life and, in fact, live in different continents. I know of her because advocacy of play-based math learning. I admire her because she is one of the best at creating resources that bring this material into the reach of the typical parent.


  1. The Amazon link is to a kindle edition, which doesn't work for me. Do you know if there's a print edition? Possibly easier to make copies of game boards from too.

    1. A paperback edition is also available. Here's the link (which I'm also adding to the post): paperback. In addition, there is a pdf with printables, so it is easy to print game materials.