Integrated steM is an effort to combine mathematics with at least one of the three disciplines of science, technology, and engineering based on natural connections between the subjects. One way to do this is through the integration of technology within mathematics through game-based learning, which has the potential to engage students and develop their mathematical understanding. In the past, game-based learning in mathematics education was generally limited to traditional practice problems. Moving forward, game-based learning within mathematics education should be done at the transformation level of the SAMR hierarchy (Puentendura, 2006).
There are several important implications for the development and selection of games intended for use in the mathematics classroom. Games that are implemented should be worthwhile tasks. There are two main features of worthwhile tasks. First, the tasks have no prescribed rules or methods. Second, there is no perception that there is a specific “correct” solution method (Hiebert et al., 1997). With this design, students are more willing to share and discuss their mathematical thinking. It also enables students to activate their prior knowledge to assist in gameplay because there are multiple entry points.
The games selected for incorporation in mathematics education should be those that align with mathematics standards and mathematical learning objectives. In past research, this has been noted as an issue when games have been used (Chen & Hwang, 2014; Schenke, Rutherford, & Farkas, 2014). In order to ensure that the mathematics that is used in the games is made explicit, there should be time for discussion and reflection after gameplay. Teachers can also make connections to the gameplay in their other class activities. The absence of this process in which the teacher makes connections between the games and other class content and in which students are given time to discuss and think about the gaming experience has been suggested as a reason for why game-based learning might not lead to positive results (Rutherford et al., 2014).
As further games are developed, it is important that the games be designed to help students make connections between multiple representations, provide students feedback, and enable students to do non-routine problem solving with a focus on conceptual understanding. It has been noted that most game-based learning in mathematics has been limited to number and operations and algebra (Byun & Joung, 2018). Expanding the mathematical topics that are available should be done as long as the games are well-designed and enable mathematics teachers to implement effective mathematical teaching practices (NCTM, 2014).
Technology integration is an essential element of quality mathematics teaching. Technology-based games are a relevant context for students that can motivate them to engage in mathematical thinking and discussion. Further research is needed on the impact of game-based learning in the mathematics classroom when the games are well-designed and allow for open-ended mathematics.
As further work is done with game-based learning in mathematics, it is important that the games are designed at the transformation level of the SAMR hierarchy, are worthwhile tasks, are aligned with standards, incorporate multiple representations, provide students feedback, and are open-ended.
Stohlmann, M. (2019). Integrated steM education through open-ended game based learning. Journal of Mathematics Education, 12(1), 16-30.
Christian, author, and professor of mathematics education.