Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sesame - a number game for young children

This is the title of a maths game devised by Zoltan P Dienes.  He thought up a lot of games.  This one is a way of gradually familiarising children with the ideas underlying place value.  To play, you need Duplo or Lego, though you could use any construction toy, and you need a dice marked with only the numbers 1, 2, and 0.  The players throw the dice in turn and collect bricks according to the number they throw.  When they have enough to stick 3 bricks together they must do so and shout SESAME!  If they don't, another player can say SESAME, claim their three bricks and make their own SESAME with them.

With very young children the winner is the first to make a SESAME.  Later on they can carry on playing until they have 3 sets of three when they must shout SUPER SESAME!

In the same way, the game can be played with money.  Using a dice marked, say, with numbers from 0 to 4, a player who has enough for 5p must shout SWAP! and change their 5 pennies for a 5p coin.  Once they have enough for 10p they shout SWAP! again.  And so on.

Using Dienes blocks you can play another similar game, this time with an ordinary 1-6 dice.  The first to collect 10 cubes shouts TEN! and trades them for a ten rod.  And so on up to a hundred (if you have plenty of time to spare.)  Or you can set a time limit and have fun working out who has the most at the end.  Is one TEN worth more than nine ones?

To quote Dr John Olive, and there's a link to his article below, "One of the key aspects of the Dienes’ mathematics program was the notion of “multi-embodiments” of the same mathematical structure (Dienes, 1960, 1971; Seaborne, 1975)."  Dienes advocated working/playing with different number bases with very young children, and this game demonstrates a very practical advantage of doing so.  The mathematically inclined among you will have noticed that SESAME is a base 3 game, and because of this you can play it quickly.  It doesn't take too long to get three bricks and put them together to make this new thing, the SESAME, and even a SUPER SESAME doesn't take an impossible length of time.  Thirty years ago most schools had a beautiful wooden set of Dienes Multibase equipment.  I would love to have one now.  More about Zoltan Dienes to come, but I'd recommend this article about one educator's experience.  (You'll have to download the pdf.)

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