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.
Christian, author, and professor of mathematics education.