How Teachers Can Gamify Math
Gamification is the process by which game elements, like competition and badges, are used in conjunction with other tasks to increase motivation and engagement. Games have emerged as a powerful tool for teachers due to their ability to provide students with a hands-on method to engage with the curriculum. For educators, gamification can be applied to a variety of subjects, including math, to increase student’s motivation and subsequently increase student proficiency. Gamifying math lessons does not have to be difficult; teachers can use a variety of techniques to add game elements to their courses.
Educators primarily use one approach for gamifying math; they incorporate math-based games into the existing curriculum by inserting them into relevant lessons to replace less engaging content. There are several game elements that are of particular importance to the motivation and engagement of students including competition, rewards, cooperation, self-driven pace, and feedback. These elements can be found in most video and board games. One very popular video game that can be utilized in the classroom is Minecraft (https://education.minecraft.net).
According to Leila Meyer in her article 4 Innovative Ways to Teach with Video Games, Minecraft can be used to teach all of the Common Core math standards, “During the 2014-2015 school year, Asselstine used Minecraft for project-based learning with his students in third through sixth grades. His fourth-grade students designed a zoo in Minecraft.” In this setting, the teacher designed lessons that could be accomplished within the game. Students were required to research all of the animals before they could be incorporated into the virtual zoo, which also presented interdisciplinary study opportunities.
The specific tasks that students were required to complete for their math units included mapping out the spaces for each animal’s exhibit area, calculate a staff budget, and develop a general budget for the zoo construction. Students completed the work for the project during their weekly math lab sessions. Teachers can easily apply the concepts from this example to other classes by adding the Minecraft gameplay to important math lessons.
For teachers that would like to take gameplay in the classroom to the next level, they should consider having students use their skills to build and play computerized math games. Qing Li, Elise Vandermeiden, Collette Lemieux, and Shahista Nathoo discuss how game building and gameplay can be used in the classroom to increase student proficiency in their article, Secondary students learning mathematics through digital game building, “The game-based learning project included five essential components: Kodu tutorials, game planning, game building, game completion, and game play.”
According to Li, Vandermeiden, Lemieux, and Nathoo students were able to use their love of video games to create their own games on either the Microsoft Kodu or Scratch platforms. Students produced the games during their self-directed math classes in pre-calculus and consumer finance. Before students began using the software, they were trained on how to use both the Kodu and Scratch platforms. Once students completed the training lessons, they created a proposal for their game and submitted it to the teacher for review and approval.
A key requirement for each student’s game proposal was that the game had to focus on a particular math unit from the class. Students were required to develop the game using the game platform of their choice. After the game had been designed, students submitted a written report on their activities. The project culminated with the students getting to take turns playing each other’s games and submitting peer-evaluations. Following the game building project, the instructor’s assessment showed that students who participated in the gamified curriculum displayed increased proficiency in the related math lesson units.
Educators can gamify almost any lesson with the right application of game principles to motivate students. The game components that are particularly relevant to student engagement are competition, rewards, cooperation, self-driven pace, and feedback. Most video and board games incorporate these elements and can be added to lesson plans to help students achieve a higher proficiency in the curriculum. Teachers at all levels can add games to their classes with as much frequency as they feel necessary to motivate students in the course content. The key to designing gamified math lessons is that the course content should be engaging for students.