For most students, games are an everyday part of their lives. For example, between June 2018 and March 2019, 125 million new players registered to play the online video game Fortnite, putting the total number of players at nearly 250 million. A large portion of these players are school-aged kids. In addition, universities now offer full-ride scholarships for students good at video games with esports scholarships. Kids can play games for hours with little to no breaks and the time can go by quickly because they are so engaged. The question becomes why can’t learning in school foster this kind of engagement?
When students play games they persevere in problem solving, try new approaches, use all of their resources, and continue to develop their strategies when encountering setbacks of failures. These are all characteristics that will help students be successful in life and in the math classroom.
In the math classroom game-based learning should move beyond just incorporating drill and practice though. An example of a typical game includes students solving traditional, non-contextual practice problems in order to get more speed for a race car and attempts to take advantage of students’ interest in video games. However, in this type of game, students only receive feedback if the answers are correct or incorrect and do not receive support for improving their conceptual understanding. These types of games also emphasize that mathematics is about speed and focus on the memorization of ideas
The following are three productive examples of game-based learning.
An escape room is a game in which teams solve multiple puzzles using clues, hints, and strategy in order to figure out how to escape from a locked room. Setting up a mathematical escape room can be a great way for students to apply and practice mathematics they have learned. When students are engaged in a task with high intrinsic motivation it creates an ideal environment for learning. Students also learn valuable teamwork and communication skills as they learn from each other. See if you can figure out the following from one of the escape rooms I have developed.
Programming and robotics
There is a movement for more schools to require computer science courses for students. Current technologies for programming are becoming more user-friendly, which can make it more likely for mathematics teachers to feel comfortable integrating programming. Exposing students to this work is essential as applications software developers is the largest STEM occupation. The following images are some example games: golf and racing.
Desmos has a collection of activities with some of the activities being game-based.
One example game is mini golf. Students plot points in the coordinate plane in order to make a slide that will get marbles to land in a hole.
Stohlmann, M. (In press). Escape room math: Luna’s lines. Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK-12.
Stohlmann, M. (2019). Integrated steM education through open-ended game based learning. Journal of Mathematics Education, 12(1), 16-30.
Stohlmann, M., & Kim, Y.R. (In review). Game-based learning: Robotics and escape rooms. The Australian Mathematics Education Journal.
Watch the following video and see how the math anxiety was overcome.
Nate, the fifth grader, dreaded these days at school. It was another math class where a chapter test was being handed back. Nate did not even want to look at his score as Mrs. Miller handed him his test. There at the top of his paper was a big fat grade of "F". Read the book to find out what Nate learns during an engineering design project that helps him to do well in mathematics.
In my book, The Natural?, Nate holds the assumption that some students are just naturally good at math and others cannot do it. This is a message that is too prevalent in schools and is something that students latch on to. This message is too often reinforced by parents who may say, "I never got math." It is vital to emphasize that all students are capable of doing well in mathematics. The table below has phrases to avoid and what to state instead. We want students to hold a growth mindset, that they can learn new things and improve, as they approach mathematics.
Positive math messages
Math like life takes effort
Math is not a spectator sport!
Have a growth mindset—you can always learn new things and improve.
Persevere- Find your grit.
Math is important for understanding life and graduating from college.
Stay positive and optimistic. Everyone can do well in mathematics!
Deliberate practice is purposeful and systematic. In mathematics it is important that students learn from their mistakes. They need to realize what they know and what they need to work on or understand better. The quality of the time spent practicing is more important than the quantity of time.
4 Components of deliberate practice
Stohlmann, M. (2019). The natural? Seattle, WA: KDP.
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit. New York: Scribner.
Engineering is increasingly being included in curriculum in schools because engineers design technologies by using applications of mathematics and science. Engineering innovations, inventions, and discoveries create new products, jobs, and a better world. Engineers work in teams, are women or men, come from all different ethnicities, and work in diverse fields from biomedical to mechanical. If the following statements seem interesting to you, you should consider a career in engineering.
Support for Veterans
Over 3,000,000 troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been over 46,000 American troops that have been wounded in action in Iraq or Afghanistan. These men and women have served our country to protect those that cannot protect themselves and to secure our freedom. Freedom is not free and they have sacrificed much for us. There are a variety of ways to thank and support these veterans. No one person can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Stohlmann, M. (2012). The little engineer that could. Seattle, WA: CreateSpace.
Christian, author, and professor of mathematics education.