Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Gamification of Math: Research, Game Theory and Math Instruction

Math 180 - Student Dashboard
In my last blog entry I said I would be visiting the Scholastic Math 180 booth because I was intrigued with their promotion via snail mail. (See previous blog.) According to their website: "MATH 180 is a revolutionary math intervention program for the Common Core. Designed for struggling students in grades 6 and up, the program builds students’ confidence and competence in mathematics, while providing teachers with comprehensive support to ensure success." After listening to their promo and playing around with the demo on the laptops provided in their spacious (mostly empty) booth I came away wondering where's the revolution? Nothing unique or compelling here. That's what I thought until I attended Alex Sarlin's and David Dockterman's session entitled "The Gamification of Math: Research, Game Theory and Math Instruction." It turns out that both David and Alex work for Scholastic and are the brains behind Math 180. It didn't take me long to realize that the goals of Math180 are more involved than my visit to the booth indicated.
David went first and described a typical student who doesn't consider himself a good math student. The question David raises is what will it take to turn this student's self image around and believe that he can be good at math. At this point David introduces Alex who explained how gamification of math can help a weak math student have a much better experience with mathematics. Gamification is not just about games. Its mechanics can be applied to non-game settings like math classrooms. To help explain these mechanics he uses as an example the very popular download Temple Run 2. "You want the game to be easy to learn, exciting, compelling and which elicits a desire to keep playing by introducing appropriate challenges at appropriate times." he explains.  "You are autonomous in certain ways, using your skills to maneuver past obstacles." Also there is a  narrative similar to Indiana Jones.
Gamification techniques leverage people's natural desires for competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, and closure. - Wikipedia*
So how do you gamify a math classroom? Using a curriculum like Math 180 according to Scholastic. The main problem with traditional math approaches is that students don't see the point of what they are learning. Math 180 provides a roadmap to success by providing a "GPS" so they see the larger picture and know where they are going. 

I was excited about learning more about Math 180 so I went to the booth to see more.

The demo only included a small piece of the curriculum: Block 2 the Distributive Property. It was pretty boring. I tried to find some "Indiana Jones" motivation but didn't see anything like that in the software. I complained to a Scholastic representative about it. Her reply was: "The demos will get better." Sigh.

There was no sign of either Alex or David in the booth or any advertisement for their session. 

I'll try to contact David and/or Alex about my disappointment at the booth. I'll keep you posted.

Anybody else visit the Math 180/Scholastic Booth? Impressions? 

*Here's more from Wikipedia about Gamification:
A core strategy for gamifying is to provide rewards for players for accomplishing desired tasks. Types of rewards include points,[6] achievement badges or levels,[7] the filling of a progress bar,[8] and providing the user with virtual currency.[7]
Competition is another element of games that can be used in gamification. Making the rewards for accomplishing tasks visible to other players or providing leader boards are ways of encouraging players to compete.[9] Another approach to gamification is to make existing tasks feel more like games.[10] Some techniques used in this approach include adding meaningful choice, onboarding with a tutorial, increasing challenge,[11] and adding narrative.[10]
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  1. Meh - "Gameification" is just another carrot ins search of crappy stick.

    1. Depends on the game. The winners encourage the intrinsic learning of math - like Green Globs does.

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