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Andrew Flolo, 9, shakes the dice Friday during his first round of the game Bunco at Roosevelt Elementary in Willmar. Volunteers were teaching the game that tests students' skills in a variety of ways. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Volunteers help Willmar, Minn., students learn math skills through dice game

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Volunteers help Willmar, Minn., students learn math skills through dice game
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- After a few minutes of instruction, the fourth-graders at Roosevelt Elementary School started rolling dice and learning the fun and challenge of playing Bunco.


One boy called it "the best game in the world," as the students developed their skills at adding numbers quickly, listening and working together.

Teaching Bunco were a group of former teachers who get together to play the game once a month.

When fourth-grade teacher Cindi Kroona heard about it, she asked if they might help teach her students to play Bunco. Child Guide Heidi Burton helped line it up.

The volunteers -- Diann Anderson, Joan Kuhn, Mary Larson, Nancy Carlson and Connie Spartz -- each took a classroom Friday afternoon.

When the Willmar district's elementary schools got lower-than-expected marks in state rankings earlier this year, School Board members and administrators talked about the need for the entire community to support the schools. It appears many people took that to heart.

"It seems like we're getting new people coming every week," said Roosevelt Principal Nathan Cox. He estimated the school averages about two dozen volunteers every day.

"It's very much appreciated," Cox said. "The number of retired teachers who help us is a godsend."

With all the volunteers, "students are able to recognize there's a whole host of adults who care about them," he said.

Bunco involves rolling three dice and counting how many dice show a certain number. Players play in groups and use hash marks to tally their scores. When a player gets three of a kind and calls "Bunco," play stops, and players add up their scores before moving on to the next round.

It's a fast-moving game that tested the fourth-graders' skills in several ways, though the kids may not have noticed that through their laughter.

Mary Larson explained the rules and scoring to the students, and then told them, "The biggest thing here is to have fun. Go ahead and start." Within seconds, dice hit desks around the room.

Kroona said she heard about the game and the retired teachers who play it and thought it sounded like a good math game.

"Even with all this excitement, they're on task," she said as she looked around the room.

She listed the ways she thought it would help her kids. They were communicating and cooperating with each other and thinking quickly, she said. They were tallying their scores, something they learned just recently.

"You learn a lot about kids by watching them interact with each other," she said, and the game was helping some build their confidence.

"I've got some really shy kids in here," she added, "and today I'm seeing them shine right along with the others."

Kroona said her students have learned some other dice games, too, and she hopes they might play the games with their families during their winter break.

Teacher Lee Gauer said he has always enjoyed having his classes play math games. In recent years, a greater emphasis on testing has left him with less time to use games, he said, and he was enjoying watching Bunco on Friday.

"It's a quick-thinking, quick-adding game," he said.

Spartz was working with the kids in Gauer's room. She said it was fun to see the kids develop their strategies to roll the dice and record their scores quickly to keep them moving.

When the women play Bunco, they usually put $5 each into a pot to be used for a random act of kindness. The winner for the evening gets to choose where the money will go. Often, it is donated to the Child Guide Program, so they were glad to help Burton and the teachers with Bunco lessons.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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