Bridge to learning

Teacher using card game to teach math, reasoning skills to students

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When seventh-graders at Steamboat Springs Middle School began playing bridge, they quickly shed a popular assumption about the intricate card game.

"At first they said, 'That's what old people play,'" said Lisa Lorenz, a math and science teacher at the school. "Now, about 95 percent of the kids are really excited about it -- I'm shocked."

Students in Lorenz's classes began playing the game Tuesday to take a break from Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, standardized testing. More than 10 community volunteers, including parents Sharon Rogan and Steve Gale, are teaching the students how to play bridge, which involves bidding on how many "tricks," or hands, you can win in each round of play.

Lorenz said time spent playing the game is "totally worthwhile" for her students.

"It stimulates critical thinking, reasoning and number sense," she said, before adding problem solving and mathematics to the list.

Bridge is played with four people, and the entire deck of cards is dealt at the beginning of a round. Face cards, such as kings and queens, have different point values, and the value of different suits can change with each round. At the start of each round, players bid on how many tricks they can win before all 52 cards are played. If you don't make your bid, you lose, even if you win the most tricks.

"It's kind of confusing at first," said Maura Hartley, 12. "The best way to learn is just to play."

"It takes strategy, and there's some luck to it," said Chris Grimes, 12.

The bridge sessions will continue twice a week until the end of the school year. Rogan and Gale said the sessions are designed from a bridge curriculum developed by the American Contract Bridge League, or ACBL, a nationwide nonprofit organization that promotes the game through lessons and tournaments.

The middle school students will participate in a tournament at the end of the year, Lorenz said. Prizes will include instructional books, T-shirts and other items to be provided by Rogan and Gale.

Advanced bridge players can enjoy the game by starting with a daily hand, such as the one printed in most newspapers. Lorenz said Rogan e-mails the class a hand of bridge every day.

"But we don't know how to use it yet," she said. "Right now, we're just playing with cards -- we had to start at the most basic level."

Lorenz said she hopes some of her students will continue to play bridge throughout their lives. Her students aren't the only ones learning a new game.

"I've never played bridge," Lorenz said. "Until now."

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