Program Profile: Bureau Henry Stark ROE 21st CCLC Transforms Math into Everyday Fun

Cats Commitment is one of the 22 afterschool sites that form the Bureau Henry Stark Regional Office (ROE) of Education 21st  CCLC program. Located at Galva Elementary School, Cats Commitment serves some 110 kindergarten through sixth-grade students in the largely rural community in Henry County. In addition to snacks, homework help, tutoring, and outdoor recreation, students participate in a range of enrichment clubs that help them develop math and other academic skills in a fun, safe, and supportive learning environment.  

Many of the clubs help students develop skills by connecting activities that students enjoy to mathematical concepts. For example, during Piano Club and Musical Wednesday, students work with basic beats and counting. In Robotics Club, fourth-grade students work on measuring and plotting, and in Board Games Club, fifth- and sixth-grade students play games that help them develop math strategies and work within time limits. Other clubs target math skills more directly. One example is the Math Club for third-grade students.  

Two girls practicing an interview   

Two students practice computational skills while playing a game with dice.


Math Club supports the improvement of basic computation skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division through different games. Students play mathematical games with a variety of manipulatives, such as dice, cards, dominoes, Unifix ® blocks, and tablet computers to master math facts. (A list of some of the games is at the end of this article.) Like other clubs at Cats Commitment, Math Club has specific learning goals and desired student outcomes and has activities aligned with Common Core State Standards and Illinois Afterschool Standards. Math Club, combined with other enrichment activities, provides the necessary practice and reinforcement that allows students to master core math skills. “Practicing and using skills daily is what makes the difference,” says third-grade teacher and afterschool instructor Tina Moore, noting that regular participation in these games can support students’ development of computational fluency.  

Some of the ideas for Math Club came from a professional development class on math games that Moore attended at the Bureau Henry Stark ROE office. “The professional development helped provide her with more ideas for her little box of tricks that each teacher has and needs for her students,” says site coordinator Amy Jackson. The games are appropriate for both the school-day and afterschool setting, and the Cats Commitment team makes sure there is time for the games afterschool, something that is not always possible during regular school hours. “Afterschool programming allows the time and resources to encourage staff to learn new things and try new games and activities,” says Jackson. “This is the way to keep your program fresh and different from the school day.”  

   Student and teacher working on a storytelling piece

A student explains his math practices to a teacher and a classmate.

In addition to Moore, two aides support Math Club. Moore has worked closely with her colleagues to share the strategies she learned from professional development. These practices ensure that all of the team members are familiar with the math games and related instructional strategies so that they can work effectively with small groups of students and one on one.  

So far, Math Club has been a hit with the students, who describe it as “fun” and “cool.” Although Cats Commitment has not yet collected math achievement data from participating students, 21st CCLC staff have observed that some of the students have improved computational skills and math grades. In addition, more students are reporting that they like math or that math is their favorite subject, mindsets that can lay the foundation for future success in math.

Jackson sees the instructors’ love of math as a crucial component to making Math Club fun and educational. “It is not a requirement to be a math teacher to teach Math Club, but . . . finding that teacher who has the love for math is a key place to start a good experience for all,” says Jackson. “Having that passion for math helps keep students and the teacher engaged and fosters learning.”  

In addition to offering enrichment clubs, Bureau Henry Stark 21st CCLC staff work with community partners to integrate math into their activities as well. For example, The University of Illinois has a team that makes monthly visits to several 21st CCLC sites to work on nutrition and youth development. Math-related activities include measuring food servings and calculating nutritional information of food, as well as distance traveled and calories burned for different types of physical activities. The local YMCA facilitates exercise and games, which includes working with younger students on basic counting and mathematical operations in these activities.     

For 21st CCLC programs that want to offer math games or other enrichment activities, Jackson notes that many of the Math Club materials can be found at home or purchased at minimal cost. “Math activities do not have to be expensive games played on a device; they can be the simple things of daily life,” she says. “When I walk into Mrs. Moore’s Math Club I see the students using cards, rolling dice, writing computations on white boards and paper, all things that do not cost a lot of money and can be used by all. But the best part is to see the students enjoying [the activities] and smiling while they are building on their skills.”  

Math Club Games

  • Dice: Roll a die two consecutive times and create and solve math problems with the results.
  • Addition or multiplication War: A variation on the traditional card game, War, where two players turn cards face up and the player with the higher card wins the round. In addition or multiplication War, each player gets two cards and either adds or multiplies them together. Whoever has the highest total takes all the cards, and the game continues until one player has won the whole deck.
  • Headband math: This game is played by three students, with three headbands and a deck of cards. Two students place a card in their headbands so that only the other players can see it. The third player shares the sum of the two cards, and the other two students then have to determine each of their respective cards by only seeing the card on the other player’s head.