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EduGames for Developing Mathematical Practices

A little while ago we posted about using a game-like simulation for authentic assessment. We used a different approach with Drop Zone, a two-person EduGame Victory developed for the NCTM Calculation Nation web site. Here there’s no pretense of authenticity; the goal is simply to make adding fractions fun (and develop CCSS Mathematical Practices). Please watch this 4-minute video and use the Comments to give us feedback on this EduGame. You can also play against the computer or sign in to play a human.

Will It Engage a 10-Year Old?

Many math games encourage practice, but some fail to make it engaging for a 10-year-old. What are the ingredients for success? And how can a 40-something subject matter expert answer that question? We utilized direct student testing with hardcopy variations of the EduGame before we started programming. This kind of research can be informal, because we didn’t need to prove efficacy – we only needed to see smiles of satisfaction. After two rounds of testing, we were ready to start wireframing.

Developing Mathematical Practices

Lots of products talk about developing mathematical practices, but it’s challenging to deliver on this promise. An EduGame is a great medium for developing mathematical practices because of the central paradigm of a player making choices. Students don’t construct their own models in Drop Zone, but they do interpret the given model and then use it to devise strategies. This is key for several of the Common Core Mathematical Practices, especially MP 5 (Use appropriate tools strategically) and MP 8 (Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning).

Will the EduGame Mechanics Work?

EduGames, like internal combustion engines, need a cycle that can repeat.  The state at the end of each round must be a suitable state to start the next round. In this game, if students make a sum greater than 1, the computer subtracts 1 from the improper fraction to leave a “remainder.” That sets up the fractions for the next round. It needs no explanation because the visualization is intuitive.

An alternative might have been to forbid adding to make a sum greater than 1 – the fraction would “bounce back” if you try. But we felt it was critical to allow students to make this kind of mistake. The side benefits of this choice were enhancing the possible strategies and fostering an intuitive understanding of mixed numbers.

Connecting EduGames Back to the Curriculum

Games are great for engagement, but teachers and parents need guidance on how and when to use them. NCTM developed an Illuminations fraction lesson that culminates with Drop Zone. After a series of formal instruction activities, students play the game and then complete a journal entry explaining the strategies they used.

Join the Conversation

Drop Zone is one of the top three games on the CalculationNation web site, but we’re always open to seeing how it could be improved. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Join the conversation by leaving your comments!

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