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Game adds up to learning experience

May 18, 2007|by LISA PREJEAN

"I got it!

5 + 3 = 8

8 divided by 0.2 = 40

40 x 0.6 = 24"

It was a fine moment for me several weeks ago. We had bought a set of the fractions and decimals 24 Game math cards so we could play as a family. I had solved the first card and earned one point.

A 24 Game card has four numbers. The numbers can be added, subtracted, multiplied or divided, in any order. Each number is used only once. The answer is always 24.


That first evening when I opened the box and read the rules, I hesitated. We're going to multiply and divide fractions and decimals in our heads? I can do this on paper, but how am I supposed to keep the numbers straight? The side of the box reads, "Ages 11 and up."

If a sixth-grader can do it ... .

Besides, this was something my son had requested that we do as a family. That was enough to cause me to put my whole heart into it.

The first night, we spent about a half-hour playing and came up with two solutions. My husband's glance as he walked out of the room seemed to ask, "This is supposed to be fun?"

I smiled apologetically in his direction just as our son triumphantly said, "I got it!"

He was looking at a one-point card with these numbers: 1/2, 4, 4, 3.

"4 x 3 = 12

4 x 1/2 = 2

2 x 12 = 24

The score is one-to-one, Mom."

I nodded and told him it was bedtime, so we'd have to leave it at a tie.

At least he wasn't going to beat me as fast at this as he does at chess.

The next day I admitted to my co-workers that we were struggling with the game. Another teacher suggested using calculators to get the solutions, just until we understood the patterns and could solve them faster.

That evening I broke out a notepad and a calculator and started solving card after card. I got so hooked that I took the calculator and notepad to bed so I could continue solving the cards.

I began to see the patterns.

If a card had the fraction 2/3, could the other numbers be added, subtracted, multiplied or divided to equal 16? The next step would be the solution: 16 divided by 2/3 = 24.

For 1/2, could the other numbers become 48? ... 48 x 1/2 = 24 ... or 12? 12 divided by 1/2 = 24.

Math was beginning to be fun. My son and I played a few cards each night at bedtime.

As the weeks passed, I thought we had become pretty fast. Then we attended last Wednesday's 24 Challenge at Hagerstown Community College.

It was impressive to watch the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders solve the cards within seconds. These students obviously had worked hard to prepare for this mental math challenge.

The competition was intense and exciting, but even if your child never makes it to the county level, you could encourage him or her by learning how to play this game together.

What a fun, effective way to improve math skills.

The box of cards is compact and costs less than $25. Our family has carried our box to doctor's offices and on day trips, and we plan to take the cards on vacation this summer.

There are various levels, starting with the Add/Subtract Primer for ages 7 and older, going up to the Algebra/Exponents cards for ages 12 and older.

The cards are available online at and at local stores, such as Home and School Connection.

If you buy a set of the cards, don't be surprised if your math skills become stronger and you feel more alert.

Your mind might trick you into feeling like you're 12 again.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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