Math Video Games, Today’s Modern Story Problems

Word problems, also known as story problems, have long been used as a teaching tool in math. From the most basic addition and subtraction riddles to more complex algebra and calculus equations, story problems create relatable visual scenarios. Students must show that they can decipher the information they are given, understand the question(s) at hand, and pick the correct mathematical calculation(s) that will help them solve the puzzle.

Game-based learning does much the same thing. Albiet a bit more sophisticated, a video game can be viewed as an advanced story problem. The best math video games set the stage; present an engaging and challenging situation; highlight the variables that students need to consider, including information that may or may not be relevant; and require the student to think, not just memorize and regurgitate.

Stanford study a in 2015 concluded that playing math-based video games can dramatically improve one’s mathematical skills. The study compared two classes of third graders, one who played for just 10 minutes per day, 3 days a week, for four weeks and another who received the same materials and the same instruction but didn’t participate in the game. The class who played the game experienced a 20.5% improvement, contributing to the student’s number sense, problem solving skills and algorithmic thinking.

Another game-based learning endeavor is the Escape from Mathproject that took place at a high school in Italy essentially, students sought to explore “how they can learn about mathematics creating puzzles and escape rooms and then playing together.” Using games, students became less afraid of math, and learned to appreciate the engaging and funny side. They also improved their storytelling skills using mathematical knowledge in their plots. In the end, the “use of gamification gave very positive results”. Those students who tend to be more passive were active participants, even students who traditionally had sufficient or negative marks achieved good results. Full details are on Scientix, a site dedicated to the science educational community in Europe.

Math is the kind of subject that lends itself well to a video game, easily taking story problems to the next level. Students can make a visual connection between the story itself and the mathematical equations necessary to advance the character(s) and storyline. Through instant feedback, math games empower students to quickly learn from their mistakes and motivate them to continue trying.

That said, some math video games are certainly more effective than others. An immersive, strategic game like Variant: Limits not only engages the learner in an exciting story that students want to see it through to the end, but it also presents a logical flow of calculus concepts that build upon each other. In a recent game-based learning validation studyVariant: Limits proves a  positive impact on student engagement, motivation and knowledge acquisition, and in one instance even led to a 100% success rate on a teacher’s final exam.

The timeless story problem is taking on a new life through more modern game-based learning opportunities. Have you thought about introducing games in your math class?

Game-Based Learning Validation Study – Where Do We Go From Here?

Our year-long game-based learning validation study has inspired teachers worldwide who are interested in pursuing gaming in the classroom. According to the study, participating teachers agreed that ARTé: Mecenas and Variant: Limits had a positive impact on student engagement, motivation to learn and knowledge acquisition.

But that’s not all. The study also gave researchers an opportunity to weigh in and make some recommendations based on teacher feedback to further advance the game-based learning market.

Recommendation #1: Consider and further investigate cross-national differences
Developing a game that aligns with academic standards across multiple countries and cultures is no small feat. What’s applicable in one classroom may not be in another. For example, we learned that the range of content of ARTé: Mecenas was less relevant for the curriculum in Norway, but seemed too restricted for the curriculum of Italy, where they do a deeper dive into the Renaissance. Language also proved to be both a barrier and an opportunity. Our games are currently developed in English, which for some was difficult to implement in the classroom, but for others helped them improve upon their English language skills. We are also working on localizing our games based on interest and market potential in specific countries.

Recommendation #2: Consider and enhance teachers’ preparation and support
All participating teachers were involved in face-to-face trainings and webinars prior to using the games in their classrooms. That said, it was clear that careful technical and pedagogical preparation, as well as ongoing support for teachers is vital. This isn’t specific to our games, but rather game-based learning in general. Game-related exchanges (forums, chats and other learning networks) not only make teachers feel supported, they boost camaraderie, connections and ideas.

Recommendation #3: Review, amend and add didactic and pedagogical materials
Instructional and informative materials can help teachers build on the experiences of teachers more seasoned in game-based learning. Specifically, scenarios that were used in the validation study would be of value to future game-based learning instructors. For example, newer teachers may want to follow the approach used by many of the study’s participating teachers whereby they used the games in a flipped classroom setting, allowing students to play both at home and at school, which gave students room to play freely and minimized the classroom time needed.

Recommendation #4: Strengthen and further research game-based learning
The positive outcomes in our study spurred a desire for additional information and research, among more classrooms and involving more games. Because study results suggest the powerful potential of game-based learning, there is an urgency to capitalize on these results and further practice and promote the act of learning through games.

We would like to express a huge thank you to our partners and European Schoolnet and the evaluation team at The University of Würzberg for giving us the insights we can act upon. As a trailblazer in game-based learning, we’ve come a long way, but there is still so much to learn, to do and to achieve!