Wednesday, 20 December 2017

How playing darts can help numeracy skills

As a child, my mother realised I was having difficulty rote learning, the corner stone of the Irish education system but equally recognised my love of games and competition. So for as long as I remember, my Mam played Scrabble and my Dad played darts with me. 

Way to go ‘Rents, I ended up learning and having fun, not even knowing I was learning.  If you are stuck for a stocking filler, you can't go wrong buying a dart board (magnetic and velcro ones are available for children). Playing darts covers the most important elements of numeracy; addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In fact if you don’t have these skills the rest of maths may as well be written in ancient Aramaic. 

AND, I know we have smartphones and calculators but we still need basic numeracy skills to get by in everyday life and work.  Anyway, here’s how darts teaches numeracy skills...

The circular board is numbered in segments 1-20, there are 2 inner circles, the larger worth 25 and the centre 50 points (The Bullseye or Bull).  There are striped bands (alternating red/green below) in each numbers segment denoting a doubling or tripling of that score.

(picture from

So, if you look at the number 7 segment going from the outside towards the middle...

1st band = 7 doubled = 14
2nd band = 7 single = 7
3rd band = 7 tripled = 21
4th band = 7 single = 7

That’s the multiplication element.

A player throws 3 darts at the board and adds up their score.  When I played with my Dad, I had to add up his score and mine!  Bloody hell.  That’s the addition element.

When you start a game you start at 501 and subtract what you scored for the round.  So if on your first turn you scored 57 points, you are left with 444.  There’s your subtraction element.

And finally to the end game.  You must go out on a double.  So say, you have 43 points left.  There are several ways to go out.  You could score 3, leaving you with 40 points so that’s a double 20.  You could score 13, leaving 30 points so that’s double 15 etc.  There’s the division element.

The real challenge is being able to add up the round score in your head, write that number down and then work out what you have left.  After a while your sheet of paper or blackboard will look like this:

If you are afraid of children “accidentally” stabbing each other with darts, there are velcro and magnetic versions to buy in any good toyshop, especially good for the classroom or library.

Darts will bring a fantastic level of accuracy and speed to numeracy skills.   A great quiz to have with a group of children is the “what’s left” quiz.  The teacher calls out a number and the children have to write down an option for going out using up to 3 darts.  The highest possible number that can be gone out on is 170.  That’s 2 x triple 20’s and the bullseye which is a double 25.  Take note that there are sometimes many ways to go out using a given number.  Top players will sometimes prefer a particular number so they will use that one to go out. 

As a top player is throwing, they will work out the numbers in their head and score accordingly when getting close to the finish point.  Some numbers cannot be finished with three darts even though they are lower than 170 so players will work towards those numbers if they can.  The ultimate dart game is playing a whole game using only 9 darts.  Work out the math for that one!

Not to gloat or anything, but I can work out simple math like this quicker than my colleague can work it out on a calculator all because of playing darts and Scrabble as a child. Anyway, get throwing, adding and have a great Christmas.  

John The Captain Ryan.   

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