Starting an elementary math club can be as simple as starting a casual after-school or lunch social group. Or, the math club can be as competitive as any other group. The important part of any activity group, however, is enjoying the time. Adding these math club activities to math clubs for elementary students will add a fun side to traditional studies.
Fun Math Games
Whether the club is social or competitive, members should have a good time. Don’t limit activities to grade-level math; instead, plan activities that provide challenges without excessive frustration.
Card and Dice Games
The card game War uses number values to determine the winner of each round. More complex games like Cribbage use counting and multi-step addition to evaluate the score for each hand. Gin Rummy and Contract Rummy require logic as well as addition skills to count scores. Commercial games like Yahtzee use number recognition, logic and probability skills. Solitaire builds pattern recognition and sequencing skills.
Chess and checkers use logic and spatial reasoning to plan and anticipate moves. Commercial games like Sorry and Monopoly incorporate a variety of math skills, from counting spaces on the board to arithmetic skills. Monoply also requires money skills for buying properties and paying rents.
Mancala, the classic board game from Africa, has many variations of the game ranging from simple to quite complex. Oware and Bao resemble the commercially available version; however, Oware uses two rows of six hollows and Bao uses two rows of eight hollows. A more complicated version called Bao La Kujifunza uses four rows of eight hollows.
Traditional games from different cultures provide new challenges as students create the boards and learn the rules (see Resources).
Jigsaw puzzles offer the opportunity to develop both spatial and logic skills. If the club enjoys team competition, provide several puzzles of the same size and complexity to have teams compete to complete their puzzles. Use different puzzles to differentiate teams for different skill levels.
Online Math Games
Many online sites provide activities for developing math skills. While many students enjoy these games, the social aspect of an elementary math club should not be ignored. If the club includes using online game sites, be sure to balance the time with interactive activities.
View Math as Art
Math and art interconnect more than many people realize. Share art from artists like Crockett Johnson, MC Escher and Vincent Van Gogh. Let math club elementary school students explore math through art.
Use geometric shapes to develop patterns. Graph paper with large (1-inch) squares can be colored in geometric patterns. Draw diagonal lines on the graph paper to increase the complexity of patterns. Study and recreate geometric quilt patterns, or have students create their own.
Create 3-D geometric mobiles using pins and straws or pretzels and marshmallows. Use origami to create a variety of geometric shapes.
Color tessellation patterns using Escher-style printable pictures. Or, create tessellations using poster paper. Start with a square cut from a file folder or poster board. Smaller squares will create a more complex pattern but starting with a 4- to 6-inch square teaches the principle of tessellation and can be completed in a shorter time.
Explore Multicultural Mathematics
Explore mathematics from other cultures. Visual multiplication with lines, sometimes called Japanese multiplication, makes multiplying large numbers easy. Try Mayan measurement using knotted strings to create proportional geometric shapes.
Join Math Competitions
Although many national math competitions are developed for middle and high school students, some competitions allow students from 4th grade up to compete. The Mathematical Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools accepts student teams from 4th through 8th grades. The MathCON National Student Math Competition is open to 5th through 12th grade students.
Math Clubs for Elementary Students
Before starting any school-based club, check with school administration for the proper protocol for starting a student group. If adult volunteers will be involved, be sure they complete the school or district clearance procedures. Work with students and teachers to develop a plan for club meetings. Talk to teachers about grade appropriate activities and skills, but don't let the club become a remedial math group. Let student interest and schedules guide the direction of the club.
- Washington Student Math Association: Leading a Math Club
- Masters Traditional Games: The Rules of Mancala
- Coolmath Games: Free Online Math Games, Cool Puzzles, and More
- Science Kids: Math Games for Kids
- Smithsonian Institution: Where Art Meets Math
- Krokotak: Let's Draw Escher-Style (Coloring Pages)
- University of California Irvine: The Geometry Junkyard – Origami
- Harvey Mudd College: Visual Multiplication With Lines
- Mathematical Association of America: Maya Geometry in the Classroom
- MOEMS: Mathematical Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools
- MathCON: National Student Math Competition
- chess board image by Michael Shake from Fotolia.com