Math Games from Sproglit – Play Smart, Get Smarter!
Each year 1.2 million United States high school students fail to graduate. Given that graduation requirements are not onerous, other factors beyond academic rigor must be driving students away from completing high school. No doubt, socioeconomic obstacles can be severe. Yet many students report that their high schools create a discouraging environment, even for those who would easily pass academic tests and for those whose parents have substantial incomes.
Are Games for Learning or Just Fooling Around?
Twenty-eight million people harvest their crops on Facebook’s FarmVille every day. Since many players insist that this game serves virtually no other purpose than to spam Facebook notifications, it’s odd that so people keep coming back. Why do they return each day? Clearly, they are getting positive rewards, whether psychological, spiritual or monetary. In contrast, many students perceive school as a negative environment, administered through threats, capricious rules, and red pen scrawled across their papers. In the world of games, threats are replaced by pretty notifications, rules by fun guidelines and red pen by various rewards.
According to MIT’s Game Lab, “Play, as expressed in games, is the most positive response of the human spirit to a universe of uncertainty.” This is important because, as described above, humans will come back to a positive experience. Thus, if learning is successfully tied to games, those games can encourage more learning. From this theory, a new term in game design and education has evolved:
Gamification[n]: The use of game design elements in non-game contexts. For our purposes, this non-game context will be education.
How can games be suitable for education?
Well, certainly some games are not. Those that exalt crime or plunge players into a world of felonious fantasies can’t be recommended. But games that are designed to be entertaining, played repeatedly, and embedded with educational goals can bring great rewards to students.
When parents and teachers compare educational games we recommend that they embrace games that clearly display whether the child is making progress. In Math Arrow games like Kyle Counts and Kira Counting Game, when Kangaroos Kyle and Kira return home safely to his mom, the parent/teacher can see how the child has succeeded and what counting multiples he/she has mastered. Furthermore, the child gets a psychic reward, encouraging him/her to play more and achieve more. Children are also rewarded with token coins, which they can use for purchasing Boomerang avatars. This is a visual marker of their success, like a trophy. Then, of course, begins the fun of competing with friends to see who can win the most powerful or the prettiest Boomerang, and who can unlock the most levels! We’ve visited classes where children play in teams and share their winnings.
Counting games from Sproglit.
Kyle Counts and the Kira Counting Game are designed with several elements that keep children intrigued and learning. First, we have the crocodile, known as Croc-e-dile. Croc-e-dile, with his cute but ominous presence, acts like a sort of countdown, adding dramatic tension to the game. Of course the tension isn’t scary; it is simply an additional reinforcement tool for quicker math processing. Next, there is the “discovery” aspect of the games: each level looks different and presents a new challenge. Discovery elements keep kids intrigued and avoid monotony. While there are many more aspects of gamification, the last one that I will touch on is the “perfectionist” aspect. There are always going to be kids who will want to earn three stars or finish faster than before. This allows the child to continue learning until she has achieved mastery. And mastering elements of mathematics is, ultimately, the goal of our games.
Around the world psychologists, teachers, engineers and neuroscientists are researching to uncover more and more information about games, in an effort to make them more compelling and more effective. For now, play smarter with Sproglit!