Learning Math and Science With Dominoes

Domino is a game that can be played by two or more people and which uses a series of tiles marked with an arrangement of spots, or “pips,” like those on a die. Each domino has a unique identification on one side and is blank or identically patterned on the other. The pips are usually arranged in a line, but there are other patterns as well. The pips are used to identify the domino’s placement within a sequence of tiles called a chain or a row.

There are many different games that can be played with dominoes, and the rules for each vary greatly. Some are quite complex and involve strategies for advancing a piece from one position to another, while others are very simple. There are also a number of different ways to score a game, depending on the specific rules of the game.

Although dominoes are primarily used in games for entertainment, they can be an effective tool to help students learn math and other subjects. For example, using a set of dominoes to demonstrate the commutative property of addition is an excellent way to illustrate this concept to first graders. Students create equations for the total numbers of dots on each end of a domino and then find that the sum of the addends can be changed without changing the value of the overall number of dots.

Other mathematical concepts can be learned by using a domino to represent a linear relationship, a proportion, or a fraction. A video by University of British Columbia physicist Lorne Whitehead shows the true power of a domino, which can knock down objects one-and-a-half times their size.

Unlike the name of the game, the word domino has no single origin. Its roots are obscure, but it appears that domino was originally a word of French denoting a hooded cape worn together with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. A much earlier sense of the word, found in English, referred to a black domino, which contrasted with a priest’s white surplice.

Some dominoes are made of metal, wood, or ceramic clay and have a more rustic feel than sets made from polymer. Such dominoes are often slightly heavier than those made from polymer, and may have more substantial or delicate markings on the pips. In the past, European-style dominoes were often made of silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on them.

A standard domino set consists of 28 tiles, called a double-six set. The tiles are shuffled and form a stock, or boneyard, from which each player draws seven. Once a player has drawn the number of tiles for his hand, he begins playing them by placing them on the table. Each tile must be placed so that it touches one of the ends of a previous domino, or a double, and thus forms a chain that continues to grow in length. Each player must then play a domino in turn, positioning it so that its matching end is touching a previously played tile.