Every spring, as part of her job as a math professor at the local community college, my mom goes to a math education conference and brings home all sorts of interesting books, games, and ideas. One of these was a set of playing cards containing the integers from -12 to 12 (two sets of -12 to 0 and two sets of 0 to 12), from Eureka Math. I can only find the cards sold in packs of 12, which isn’t very useful for a single family in terms of either quantity or price, but if you have an interested support group or co-op I’d definitely recommend them.

So far we’ve come up with two different games to play (neither of which is the game for which instructions are provided with the cards, though that also looks fun). First, we’ve been playing addition war, where whoever’s sum is closest to zero wins the round. Limerick picked up the concept of negative numbers really quickly – I introduced them with a number line while we were waiting for Rondel’s speech therapy, and he understood them and was picking up speed in figuring out the sums in our game of war by the end of the 45-minute session. Rondel is more visual and tactile than Limerick, and was struggling with the concept and calculations when they were presented that abstractly, so we made a large helpful number line that has really helped.

Unlike a traditional number line that runs horizontally, this one extends vertically, with negative numbers at the bottom and positive numbers at the top. So positive numbers are like steps up a mountain, while negative numbers are steps down into a hole underground. When we make the sums during war, Rondel knows that he can start with either number and count the number of steps either up (for a positive number) or down (for a negative number) to calculate the result. After a week or so of playing with this board every day, he’s now grasped the concept well enough to be able to figure out most of the sums completely in his head, just like Limerick.

The board also gave us an opportunity to develop another game using the Eureka Math integer cards, this one cooperative instead of competitive. Each of us starts out with one playing piece (a small animal counter, usually) on the zero tick in the center of the board. Taking turns, we draw one card at a time from the pile and move that number of steps from our current position. Every time someone goes off the board (28 or -28 – my tick marks are centimeters on standard printer paper) or lands exactly on 0, everyone gets a chocolate chip π The board is large enough that the amount of chocolate earned is fairly small, but small enough to keep everyone from getting frustrated. I usually end this game (to loud protests) when we’ve gone through the entire deck three times… more than that could lead to excessive amounts of chocolate and the concomitant hyper silliness π

From what my mom says, negative numbers were apparently one of the more difficult mathematical concepts for me to grasp (along with distance-rate-time problems), though I don’t remember learning (or struggling with) them. So I’m glad that these two fairly simple tools have made them intuitive and fun for my kids.