By Giulia Bini, Mathematics Teacher
I recently was asked why I use games in the classroom. Simply put, games motivate my students, which in turn motivates me. I’ve used a variety of games over the years, from simplistic and rudimentary to highly interactive and digitally advanced. While most are excellent tools for practice, I believe that immersive and sophisticated video games go beyond the ritual of practice, captivating students’ attention and empowering them to learn new and complex concepts.
Take Variant: Limits, for example. Because it links the pedagogical goals of calculus with the game’s challenges, and because the game flows much like the entertainment games my students play outside of school, it allowed them to ‘play to learn’. Much of the content in the game was new for them, yet I didn’t have to push them to get through it. They wanted to apply what they were learning throughout the game so they could see what would happen next, and they wanted to finish the game.
I assigned the game as homework, starting with one week of Zone 1 (the first level in Variant: Limits). We used class time and lab time to share ideas about the mathematical meanings in the game, check in on the content, address any questions, and introduce the additional zones or levels. Some students were so eager that they jumped ahead and played the game before I had reviewed the concepts. Talk about sheer excitement. For some of my weaker students, who tend to practice less in general because it takes them longer to complete activities, they actually engaged with the content more using Variant: Limits than they would with other assignments. Because they were playing a game, it hardly seemed like homework.
I also created additional puzzles and activities to accompany the game. My goal was to make sure that students were not simply advancing through the game because of trial and error, but rather that they understood what it was they were trying and how it was relevant. This allowed me to further gauge how connected my students were to the content so I could reinforce the concepts. Each puzzle and activity was created within the context of the game so I knew students would engage with them. For example, I created a video that walked students through the graphing exercise of finding a limit of a piecewise function and a drag & drop assessment where they had to plug in the correct variables. The puzzles and activities were so successful, that I created an entire library of content, assignments, and assessments that I used within my course and encourage others to use when implementing Variant: Limits.
Last year, my students (4F 2016-2017) learned limits in a traditional way, and they had an 80 percent success rate on the final test. This year, I introduced Variant: Limits to my students (4F 2017-2018) and they achieved a 100 percent success rate on the final exam. No one failed, and this year’s group of students even experienced an average grade growth rate of 10 percent compared to my students from a year ago. What does this mean? To me, it means that not only did my students enjoy the subject matter more, they actually performed better.
Since Variant: Limits doesn’t cover all of the calculus curriculum mandated in Italian schools, we have had to re-engage with other learning tools and traditional resources. Yet, my students keep thinking back to Variant: Limits. It’s like replaying a favorite movie clip or song in your head. The replay both the mathematical aspects and the story elements. Variant truly changed their attitudes about math. They have become more deeply involved with the concepts, they retained the information, and they had fun. Now imagine if all learning tools resonated with students the way this game does? Lucky for us there are three more games in the series on the horizon!
About Giulia Bini
Giulia Bini has master’s degrees in Mathematics and ICT in Education and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Didactics of Mathematics of Turin University. She has been teaching Mathematics and Physics since 1993 in several secondary schools in Milan (Italy) and, since 2009, she has been a resident teacher at Liceo Scientifico Leonardo da Vinci. She develops innovative approaches to teaching including both CLIL and ICT based methodologies, collaborates with national and international publishers for evaluating textbooks and educational material, and is involved in teacher training regarding the usage of ICT in education.