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3 Ways Game-Based Learning Can Boost Math Skills

From providing motivation to assisting struggling students, games can help educators with tricky concepts.

Games can be a great tool for teaching students about complex topics like digital citizenship, politics and even science. With about 47 percent of kids aged 4 to 13 playing digital games every day, game-based learning is poised to further engage children in the classroom.

One classroom in Tampa, Fla., has discovered that digital games can help some children with mathematics. Gregory Smith, a fifth-grade teacher in Hillsborough County, tells Education Week that after incorporating math-strategy games — think word problems with corresponding interactive elements — his students’ math-skills scores went from an average of 49 percent to 83 percent. The students themselves also reported more enjoyment from math.

“I’ve seen enthusiasm in some of the children who normally didn’t do as well, paper-to-pencil, but when they’re doing it because of the game, they’re doing better at it,” Smith tells Education Week.

Based on Smith’s classroom experience, the Hillsborough school district is conducting a study this summer to see what impact math games make on a larger scale, as well as what difference they might make to standardized test results.

From engaging a wider variety of students to assisting with the visualization of complex problems, game-based learning is a good fit for math students.

1. Game-Based Learning Can Boost Math Engagement Among Girls

One of the initial findings of Hillsborough’s study was that many of the top scorers of the math game were girls.

“I think it’s an engaging, fun way [to learn math] that is nonthreatening, because it’s utilized in a very social manner — students play each other one-on-one,” says Larry Plank, the district’s director of K–12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in the Education Week article.

Recognizing the diversity of its users, the game allows the students to pick avatars that reflect their gender and skin color.

2. Learning with Games Keeps Struggling Students Motivated

For many students, math isn’t an easy subject, but a lot of research has found that mixing up how it’s taught can be beneficial.

“Some of the best game-based instructional tools provide students with a judgment-free learning environment, helping them achieve many small wins over time that lead to higher motivation and less stress,” reports Think Through Math. “This counters the pass/fail model of testing and evaluations, allowing students to focus more on learning the material and improving on the next level.”

In a post on Edutopia, math educator and author Matthew Beyranevand writes that one of the best ways to help struggling students is to introduce math topics using multiple representations in order to allow for many different learning styles.

Also, solving the same math problems using different approaches, including creative ones, can reinforce what students are learning.

“The more strategies and approaches that students are exposed to, the deeper their conceptual understanding of the topic becomes,” writes Beyranevand.

3. Games Can Provide Unique Insight into Standards

Since its release, "Minecraft: Education Edition" has become a force in the classroom. Educators have embraced the tool to teach complicated topics like logic and algorithms.

“I enjoy teaching this new tool as part of a computational thinking introduction to computer science, in part because of the visual way I can explain algorithms, loops and logic,” writes educator Melissa Wrenchey in an EdTech article.

With a large store of lessons developed by expert teachers, "Minecraft: Education Edition" is the perfect tool to assist with teaching a wide variety of math topics that students might otherwise have a hard time visualizing. From geometry to fractions, teachers can access lesson plans for any age group and add them into existing curriculum — most educators indicated the standards each lesson plan meets.

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Jul 31 2017

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