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Gamification: Making Math Fun!

posted Nov 18, 2017, 12:19 PM by Shayla   [ updated Dec 2, 2017, 1:45 PM ]
Gamificiation is a tool used to increase participation over any activity. Simple, right? In layman's terms it is the process of adding elements of gaming as a way to get more people to participate by incorporating the element of fun.

Take this example, Volkswagen created a campaign called "The Fun Theory Initiative" with the goal of taking ordinary tasks and coaxing people to participate by making them enjoyable. For instance, we all know it is better for our health to take the stairs rather than the escalator.  Yet so often for a multitude of reasons, we chose the later. Volkswagen, transformed a Sweden staircase into a piano where each step played a different note. They found that 66% more people used the piano stairs than the escalator (Yuan and Soman, 2013). This is an excellent example of gamification. By making the stairs more "fun" it increased participation.

This theory, while a great tool across all platforms, is uniquely suited to aid in education, particularly mathematics. Why? The first reason is because the majority of students are of a young age, where toys and games are always sure to pique their interest. Yet, even in older or college-level students, playing to learn is sure to make a lesson more intriguing and with the right set up can also help retention rates as well as understanding. Think of how many adults are addicted to phone apps like Candy Crush! This shows that humans love to play at any age. The second benefit of gaming in mathematics education is that it is easy to do and the repetitive nature of many games solidifies concepts. Let's look at an example.

Example of Gamification in Mathematics
When I was young, car trips, even short ones could become a bit monotonous. My father introduced me to the game Buzz. It is simple to play, so the driver can participate without any risk of distraction. To play begin counting in a clockwise pattern so that each player says the next number. If upon a players turn, the next number is a multiple of 3, they must reply "Buzz" rather than saying the number. The following player continues on. If a player fails to say Buzz, they are out and game play continues until only one play remains.

Click here to see a fun animation of a typical game of Buzz.

Buzz is an easy game that can be played in a classroom setting or at home to help children learn their multiples. As students play more, they begin to notice patterns. Educators can then discuss these patterns in class, helping students to gain a deep understanding of the topic. Buzz can also be expanded to using multiples of 4 or other values or even additional topics outside multiplication!

This is one example of gamification, but this tool can be as simple or as complex as you'd like. Educators can apply this to one topic or lesson plan, or it can be an ongoing game that spans the semester. This brings us to another great aspect of gamification; it's flexible! There is no right way to add elements of gaming to a mathematics course. But, any addition is sure to pique student interest which can then trickle down into increased participation, attention, retention and topic mastery.

Gamification & Technology
We can also connect technology to gamification in math, making for a rich experience for students. The animation I created above is an excellent example. Using GoAnimate, students and educators can create videos and games connecting to the mathematics' concepts being learned. Games can also be created using block coding through the website Scratch. This is a great tool because students can learn mathematics concepts such as logic and problem solving through coding (for additional information on Coding and Math click here) while creating games based on the current mathematical topic being studied. Below is a screenshot from Scratch. You can see some of the possible commands, which are written in a clear manner to allow game making and coding easy for all.


However, many teachers have a set curriculum and activities already planned out by their school or district. Thus, it may present difficulties when trying to add these new elements. That is where Logical Learning comes in. We have a host of resources with already created games that we can connect to individual student needs. One example is the site MathGameTime.  This site offers a ton of video game style math activities by grade level that will have your student practicing essential math skills while feeling like they are just playing another video game. CoolMathGames and MathGames are other websites that offer similar play for students. However, these sites may be difficult to navigate. Having an experienced educator find the right game for the skill you are looking to practice is an important part of achieving educational goals. PBSkids is another great tool for younger students as they can play with their favorite television characters while improving mathematical fluency. 

Tips for Gamification 
If you are an educator looking to incorporate gamification, or a parent, here are a few tips on how to add elements of gaming to any lesson or math topic.
  1. Motivation. Huang and Soman state (2013), "In today's digital generation gamification has become a popular tactic to encourage specific behaviors, and increase motivation and engagement." They go on to state, "Young adults and adolescents commonly lack motivation. When another task is more interesting or the task at hand is too hard, they lose motivation to finish it." Thus, the first goal of gamification should be to create an activity that will capture the student's attention. Making a concept fun as to motivate students to complete and learn while participating should be among our first considerations when gamifying.
  2. Use what is out there! Gamification may seem daunting to parents and teachers alike. Inventing games is a talent that not everyone possess. Thankfully, there is a plethora of tools to help you along. You can use networking through sites such as Twitter to connect with other teachers who are more than willing to share games they have already created. Wednesdays at 8pm EST is when a group of educators meet using the hashtag #XPLAP to discuss gamification. Another great tool is Classcraft. It is a role playing game that teachers can personalize to fit their lesson needs.
  3. Points and Rewards. Part of the fun of gaming is winning! Adding rewards such as small gifts or coupons helps to increase motivation. Having a point system allows for teachers to keep track of student progress much like grading.  
  4. Gamification may be hard to incorporate for new topics. This is because students do not yet have a solid understanding of the concept. But don't let that dissuade you. I recommend using gamification for basic skills. For instance, suppose this week students are learning about solving quadratic equations by factoring. Rather than making a game for this topic, consider making a game based on factoring. This way, students can practice the important base skill which will in turn make solving the equation easier. 

Overall, gamification is a great tool for educators. But its possibilities in mathematics are enumerous. Particularly, because mathematics is a subject where students often have difficultly getting motivated or lack mastery of introductory knowledge that is vital for understanding new concepts. Playing games can help to master these basic topics while creating a fun environment where students do not feel like they are learning or practicing something they may view as mundane. Jump in! Try gamification at home or in the classroom today. Sign up for Logical Learning and we can help find the right resources for needed skill development using gamification!

Resources:

Hsin-Yuan Huang, W., & Soman, D. A practitioner's guide to gamification of education. Toronto, ON, Canada: Rotman school of management; 2013.