Education Opinion

Gaming in K-12 Classrooms: Fun Should Be Intrinsic

By Matthew Lynch — April 22, 2014 3 min read
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The students entering today’s K-12 classrooms are application savvy. From birth, these young students are accustomed to instant gratification when it comes to games, entertainment and learning too. Even parents who consciously avoid electronics in the home cannot escape its overarching influence in society. In many ways, students who arrive in Kindergarten with no personal technology experience are behind their peers.

The ways that schools nurture and grow these innate technical learning abilities matters when it comes to student success. Instead of fighting screen culture, schools now look for ways to at least partially incorporate those skills when students are in the classroom. The technology adaptation, particularly when it comes to the gamification of K-12 classrooms, is particularly slow-moving though. When it comes to the less-glamorous topics, like science and math, it seems that technology lags even more. But why? Isn’t the technology to make these topics fun, and easily comprehended by students, available?

Not really, at least not in the capacity that most outside the educational community would think. There are very few educational applications that are just as interesting as gaming and that can captivate students at the same level.But there are companies working to change that.

Enter Mathbreakers

Mathbreakers is a virtual math playground that takes topics as simple as counting and as complex as Calculus and puts them in a gaming environment that blows normal worksheet-esque applications out of the proverbial water. The premise of the game reads more like an action adventure role-playing, third-person shooter one than an “educational” pursuit. Players are in control, helping the story unfold with their decisions along the way. There are different scenes, a variety of conquests and even virtual monsters to battle.

It allows the players to be creative with math (imagine that!) and use it in a world environment where one choice informs the next. Each level builds on the next and uses a variety of mathematic skills - think multiplication alongside functions - to give students an in-depth learning experience that is disguised as fun. There is even a multiplayer function, similar to popular adventure applications, which give students the opportunity to challenge each other by toppling fortresses or summoning armies through mathematical prowess. The game is targeted at grades 1 - 6 but I think it has the potential to rise in grade levels. Teachers are able to use the game as both a way to draw in gamers who are not necessarily math fans and to enhance the mathematical concepts being taught in class in fun ways.

How Mathbreakers works

Math is part of every single move, or interaction, in the game. The challenge walls and enemies are numbers and players have to work through puzzles to get to higher levels. The Mathbreakers game has been tested on over 400 students, many from San Francisco Bay Area schools. So many students are coming up with their own ideas for game play that incorporate the math premise that the Mathbreakers creators are working to add an editor so students’ ideas can become game play realities. In other words, students are getting excited about the game, even with the realization that it is math-based, and that makes it an exciting prospect for all educational learning games.

In a review, gamer Christian Perfect said “Most ‘fun with math’ games...provide extrinsic motivation: do the math, and then you get a reward. In Mathbreakers, the math is the game, and the reward for doing it is more math. Heaven!”

Mathbreakers is a great tool for teachers too. It allows them to watch a student’s dashboard and track what is being learned and mastered. Based on how a student performs on certain levels and on particular skills, the teacher can better develop in-class lesson plans and customize them to each student.

As gamification of K-12 classrooms grows in scope, games like Mathbreakers are proving that there is a way to combine both learning and what kids already like to do: play. Other educational game technology should take a hint from Mathbreakers when it comes to developing offerings that are both fun to play as well as rich learning experiences. For K-12 students, the reward should be in the playing of the game - not mastering a boring level that has a prize at its completion. By incorporating the act of learning with the act of play, educational gaming can be both successful and impactful to the students it serves.

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the followinglink.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.