Improving Math Education With Game Based Learning


math, math games, math game, boardgames, gamification, game based learning

Sitting a child down to do math sometimes involves a batch of superglue and lead weights, but put them in front of a video game and you need to remove them physically from the couch.

Despite the different reactions to the two, math and video games have a lot in common. Both involve logic, the ability to make quick decisions and a healthy dose of geometry/trigonometry when shooting is necessary.

However, what video games have over math homework is momentous: there is a quest, characters and an intricate reward system which has kids and adults hooked. These elements are called gamification and incorporating them into the classroom can have very beneficial results.

There has been a significant amount of research touting the pros of gamifying the classroom. First and most obviously, gamification makes math exciting. That’s because a lot of math relies on repetitive problems, followed by homework, followed by exams. So changing this stagnant chain of events will ultimately be fruitful. One study from Deakin University found that “…playing math games helped to alleviate the tediousness of repetitive problem solving.”

The authors of the study noted the type of motivation required for a child to engage with a subject. “When a student feels they can succeed, they are in turn motivated; motivation is tied into this belief that one can succeed.”

So where to introduce games? The study specifically separated year five and year six students into groups allocating each with differing amounts of assigned math games, while a control group contended with traditional learning methods. The results pointed to games being a positive influence in the classroom.  “Games were seen to be such an activity that assisted in their education. Enjoyment may be derived from a feeling of success. A game playing session that incorporates focused discussion about the strategies employed by the students may provide an avenue of learning for students.”

There are also aspects to gamification which are essential to a classroom environment. Students automatically engage more with something that has a fun element to it, compared to a dry equation on a blackboard. The Smithsonian Science Education Center quoted a study where levels of engagement were measured in a gamified classroom. “The researchers found that the game-like atmosphere was favorable in the classroom and increased productivity.”

And of course one of the biggest benefits of gamification is that kids also get to “play,” which developmentally is important. Dr. Alison Gopnik, an eminent psychologist, has a strong emphasis on play in her research.  “Play is not just some touchy-feely activity. And it’s not just that you want to leave children alone and not rush them. There’s hard evidence that children learn more things through play than they would in some academic setting,” she said in an interview.

When gamification is combined with technology, it can take the sting out of mistakes. Children can do math problems in their own space and at their own pace. If an answer is not correct, they simply try again. For a shy student, this method of learning is far more effective than completing an equation in front of the classroom where mistakes can be linked to embarrassment and can lead to math anxiety.

Another advantage of livening up the classroom in this manner is that makes it easier for a teacher to track progress. “A nice thing about gamification is that it provides metrics so that you can pretty easily see as a trainer or educator just how a user or participant is progressing through a particular process,” said Wanda Meloni, founder and senior analyst at M2 Research. If one student keeps tripping up on math problems with division, the teacher can individualize her approach to reflect the issue.

Given all of the above, Matific has recently has launched a great feature, which encourages students to complete math activities with an added motivator of monster cards. Students will have to complete assigned activities to collect enough cards to reunite the monsters with their monster family. This seems to work well at schools and teachers had reported a 92% increase in engagement when the cards were introduced. One teacher was impressed at the way that gamifying math really captured imaginations, “I often hear them talking about it amongst themselves, comparing which monster families they have, etc. There is definitely an increase in their use of the site at home,” the teacher said.

So there you go, if children aren’t motivated to succeed in math because their employment opportunities will increase along with their wages, then game play may be the answer.