B, I, N, G, ohh… (Or, why bingo doesn’t work)

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Bingo. A favourite pastime of many and for some teachers, a staple in their repertoire of activities.

I can see why it has some appeal. It’s easy to do; it’s a generic game that can be tweaked for many different topics; the children like it. But let’s be clear: these should not be the reasons for curriculum design!

The problem with bingo

Lets take the scenario that you want children to practise quick recall of, say, the 7 times table. A typical use of bingo would be to ask children to split a whiteboard up into 6 parts and write a multiple of seven in each box. The teacher then asks a series of 7 times table questions while the children tick them off. The winner being the first child to tick off all their numbers.

First, consider the experience of the child who does not fully know the 7 times table. They wrote down 7, then 14. Then they get told to hurry up so that game can start. So they write something like 30 (not doing good maths). As the teacher is keen to start the game, maybe they miss this…

Next, consider the experience of the child who knows the 7 times table fairly well. They sit patiently (not doing maths) while the teacher hurries some other children along.

The game starts. The teacher reads some questions – both agonisingly slow and unhelpfully fast at the same time. This is when a raft of triumphant sibilances ripple around the room as some children get closer to winning. Those that are struggling to keep up know where they can look for ‘help’ and look to see what others have crossed off (not doing maths).

The teacher notices that some children have missed an opportunity to cross off a number. “You’ve missed one!” The child has no idea which one and, feeling watched, crosses one off by guessing (not doing maths).

All the while, the children who need the most improvement in learning the 7 times table have done one or two calculations, possibly incorrectly, with no feedback.

Eventually, a child calls bingo – always a higher attaining child. That child then reads out the numbers while the teacher confirms it. The rest rue their missed opportunity and perhaps beg the teacher to play again. See? They love bingo!

One child got feedback on their calculations. One. The most calculations that any child did could be as low as 6. Six. And this child will have undoubtedly known all this anyway. “I can’t believe that so and so stilldoesn’t know their times tables!”

We must question the validity of the things we do. If children are to learn times tables they must do far more practise than bingo offers them. They must get feedback on their thinking and then appropriate intervention.

Don’t get me started on loop cards…

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