Using Dominoes to Teach Math and Number Concepts

A domino is a flat thumb-sized block of wood or ivory bearing from one to six pips (or dots) and usually divided visually into two parts. It is used for playing games in which the player aims to make as many dominoes as possible touch each other or form some specified total, and then to lay them down according to the rules of the game. Any of the various games played with dominoes may be based on blocking or scoring, but the most common involves placing the tiles edge to edge, either vertically or horizontally, so that they form lines or angular patterns. Dominoes are also known as bones, cards, men, or pieces and are normally twice as long as they are wide.

Hevesh, who goes by the moniker Hevesh5 on YouTube, started creating intricate domino arrangements at age 10. Now she’s a professional domino artist whose creations include sets for TV shows and events, including an album launch for Katy Perry. Her largest creations take several nail-biting minutes to fall.

She has built a following by sharing her videos of domino setups, and her domino designs can range from simple straight lines to grids that create pictures when they fall, stacked walls, or 3D structures like pyramids and towers. She also plans and creates complex domino art for private clients.

But in addition to its physical beauty, the domino is also a great tool for teaching basic math concepts such as number and equations. For example, teachers can use a set of dominoes to help students understand the commutative property of addition. To begin, a teacher can select a domino from the set with the numbers 4 on one side and 2 on the other. She can then show the class the dot pattern on the selected domino and name an addition equation. For example, she can say “2+4 = 6,” and the class will respond correctly that the equation is equal to the sum of the numbers on both sides of the domino.

As an alternative, the teacher can ask students to draw the dots from the selected domino onto a blank domino and then write an equivalent addition equation. This is a good way to reinforce that the addends can be written in any order as long as their total number is the same. It’s a great transition from using moveable manipulatives to writing only symbolic representations of numbers and equations.

Another fun and educational activity is for students to build a domino train. In this variation on the classic train game, players try to build a line of dominoes end to end without letting any of the dominoes touch each other or break off their ends. The first player to do so wins. This can be challenging as dominoes tend to have inertia and will resist motion until a slight nudge causes them to fall. Depending on the design, domino trains can be as short as a few inches or extend up to tens of feet.