Saturday, May 16, 2015

Exploring Algebra Games

Maria Andersen recently wrote a blog article with a nicely-made Prezi video giving an overview of existing games out there in the market to learn elementary school algebra.

Many of these games are commercial and they seem to have good and catchy graphics. It seems that most of the game design are primarily quiz-based. There are also a few puzzle-like ones that require players to develop a playing strategy. It will be interesting to think of different game design for learning algebra. 

Another observation is that many of these games are mobile apps that run on smartphones or tablets. Imagine the super duper ease of getting the games off-the-shelf from Google Play and Apple app stores and playing them instantly. Mobile app platforms have thus made mathematical games more accessible for many people. One wonders the possibility of a math teacher deploying these apps in a real classroom, and how would such math games complement the teaching curriculum? 

In the first place, teachers have to vet these games and find one that suits the curriculum. Given that teachers are busy, it is not easy to get real statistics or data to show how useful the mobile games are as a teaching aid and whether the students actually learn. But suppose a teacher picks a mobile game, then what game design might attract the teacher and the students?  

Quiz-based games in some sense "digitize" the paper-and-pencil approach to working on a fixed set of questions, possibly providing hints in the form of multiple choice. Quiz-based games can certainly be useful for drilling. On the other hand, puzzle-type games are typically harder to design, because it involves the element of strategic thinking. If we can instil in students the idea that learning mathematics is to think strategically, then this can be a more efficient way for students to build self-motivation and take on challenging problems as compared to the quiz-based game design.

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