Education Week - May 17, 2017 - 11
searchers say the games can help students
both improve their math skills and enjoy
math more. Nearly three-quarters of K-8
teachers report using digital games for instruction, according to a 2014 study by the
Games and Learning Publishing Council.
Experts in the field say that these games are
becoming more common in preschool, too.
As long as these digital games are meaningful and motivating to children, they can
have a real impact on learning, said Douglas Clements, a professor of early-childhood
learning at the University of Denver, who
has studied the effectiveness of digital math
Digital games allow students to take an
active role in their learning and see the visual connection between the game play and
the math. The games also provide constant
positive or corrective feedback that is "really
hard for teachers to provide to individual
kids," Clements said.
And while there has been some pushback,
especially in the early years, against students having too much screen time, Clements said the research shows that children
don't need to play the games for hours to see
"We have found that a focused five-to-15
minutes, just a couple times a week, can
make a big difference for kids," he said.
The 206,800-student Hillsborough district
is now expanding on Smith's informal study
by looking at all 148 elementary schools
and matching classrooms that are playing
the digital game with those who aren't. The
paired groups will have similar student demographics, so the district can get a better
sense of how the game is improving student
outcomes, said Larry Plank, the district's director of K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, education.
The district is also looking at whether the
improved math performance shows up on
state assessments as well as the district's
formative assessments, he said.
And this summer, the district will conduct
a study across approximately 50 K-8 afterschool programs to gather data on digital
games' use in that context, Plank said.
SAS Games, which makes TiViTz, is not
paying for the study or otherwise involved,
said Siobhan Mullen, the company's CEO.
That's key to producing trustworthy results,
she and other game company executives
"I know from personal experience that
games play a role in engagement. ... [But]
the only way I know they work is by running a large, controlled study in the field,"
said Vadim Polikov, the CEO and founder of
Legends of Learning, which creates digital
games for middle school science and other
Legends of Learning recently partnered
with researchers from Vanderbilt University
to test the effectiveness of an 8th grade U.S.
history digital game. Over 1,000 students
participated across seven states. Thirteen
teachers each taught two sections of 8th
grade U.S. history: One section would receive the teacher's regular instruction, and
the other used curriculum-aligned games for
at least half of class time.
After three weeks, both sections were
tested, and students who had played the
games outperformed their peers at a statistically significant level.
In addition to learning that student outcomes increased, the researchers found that
both students and teachers enjoyed the
games. Teachers reported that their students were more engaged while using the
game, and that the games were easy to incorporate into the existing curriculum.
The digital-math-game company Motion
Math was born out of a research project by
Stanford University graduate students. The
company, which develops games for students
in kindergarten through 6th grades, has
since worked with a researcher to study the
efficacy of the games.
That peer-reviewed study, published in
2013 in the journal Games and Culture,
tracked 122 Los Angeles 5th graders who
played Motion Math's fraction game for five
days for 20 minutes each day. The students
improved by 15 percent on their fractions estimation, and 10 percent in their attitudes
toward fractions, based on standardized-test
A Bright Spot for Girls
One of the early findings in the Hillsborough County district's adoption of TiViTz is
that 55 percent of the players and many of
the top winners are girls like two of the top
scorers in Smith's class.
As research shows that girls are typically
more anxious about math than boys, "that
did raise an eyebrow or two," Plank said.
"I think it's an engaging, fun way [to learn
math] that is nonthreatening, because it's
utilized in a very social manner-students
play each other one-on-one."
Motion Math CEO Jacob Klein said his
company consciously chooses female characters for the games, and stays away from
the "violent tropes of video games." Students
can choose avatars in their play that reflect
their gender and skin color.
Since the math gender gap widens as students progress through school, Klein said,
"early grades are a great time to build up
almost a reserve in interest and skill."
That's critical for both genders, SAS
Games' Mullen said, since there are not
enough people in the pipeline to meet the
demand in the STEM fields.
"If we focus on elementary math, we could
catch them before they drift away and decide they don't like it," she said. "Show why
[math] is relevant to their future world and
make it part of their current world."
"We shouldn't look to old media such as
a paper-and-pencil quiz as the arbiter of
knowledge," Klein said. "If a student can do
something smartly in a digital environment,
that matters, that counts. Even if they can't
yet introduce that in paper and pencil, that
doesn't lessen the skill. ... It's just a different
place for knowledge."
Coverage of early-math education is supported
in part by a grant from the CME Group
Foundation, at www.cmegroupfoundation.org.
Education Week retains sole editorial control over
the content of this coverage.
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EDUCATION WEEK | May 17, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 11