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Can Video Games Enhance Learning? #diffimooc

March 19, 2013

As I was contemplating this week’s question, I watched a couple YouTube videos on the subject. One, called Video Games and Learning by Dainel Floyd, talked about tangential learning or learning that takes place while you are already engaged in something. He talked about a divide between educational games and entertainment games. According to Floyd,  educational games tend to be not that fun because they “beat you over the head with the point” or lure you in with the promise of a good time only to supply you with instructional content that you could learn just as well with a textbook.  Games for entertainment are fun, but not exactly life enhancing. But what if the two could come together? What if you planted bit of interesting information inside a game that someone was already actively engaged in? Maybe they would learn the information without even realizing they were being educated! This is the principle of tangential learning and (in my opinion) our task for this week.

In my classroom I have used some computer games. The Lexia reading program uses games to develop basic reading skills. My students like doing the games and learn from the program. We have ThinkCentral as part of our math curriculum which includes MegaMath. I can actually make assignments for specific lessons and my students can play interactive math games for specific skills. I occasionally let my students do games from the Hoodamath website and I am always amazed at how my 1st graders can very quickly figure out how to play the games and become successful at them in a very short time. My students taught me how to play BadPiggies – a game where one uses trial and error to design and test a cart carrying piggies. It actually goes along with our science unit Balance and Motion. These are all wonderful resources, but due to spring break, I had very little time in my classroom this week to actually make an honest observation of students learning specific standards from games.

I do have access to a  7th grade student 24/7 this week, so I decided to step out of my comfort zone and venture into the world of middle school math. I figured a good mom should provide their own child with some educational – I mean entertaining and educational games for Spring Break. My child agreed to help me out by trying some of the games I found.

I began by reading over the AK Math Standards for 7th grade, so I would know what types of games to try .  I went through several before choosing three or four to my daughter to try. Sometimes the games were frustrating because they offered little in the way of directions and were not that fun to play. I remember thinking, “No wonder these are free.” I did find a couple I thought would work (remember this is Spring Break, so they should at least be fun right?)

Card Clutter: In this game the goal is to clear the screen of cards in order to move to the next level. You must tap the cards in order least to greatest. The game begins with positive whole numbers than moves to include negative numbers, fractions, decimals, absolute value, exponents, and combinations of all of these. Addresses AK Math Standards 7.NS.1 and 7.NS.2.

My daughter asked me if a negative whole number was smaller than a part of the number. She was validating what she knew and was about to test it. So she got feedback from me and then again from the game. Later she told me that she had forgotten what the absolute value signs meant, but was able to figure it out by playing the game – an example of tangential learning! Yahoo!


Next I gave her the game Guess My Rule. The object is to guess the value of x and y. In order to do this, you must mentally create and solve linear equations. If you guess wrong, the computer gives you the correct y value for the x value you provided.It addresses AK Math Standards 7.EE.1.


Although I thought my daughter would like this one, I was wrong. She became frustrated and told me that although teachers think these learning games are fun, it is easier to just learn it out of a book. Hmmm. Seems like I just heard this in that YouTube video I mentioned earlier. So far, only one of the two games played were a success.

The next game I tried was called Math Pro 7. The object is to get the monkey down the ladders by tilting the IPad. Every few seconds, a problem pops up that you have to answer in order to continue playing. If you get the question correct, you earn bananas. If you get it incorrect, the monkey gets set back and you loose bananas. Also, you can click on the question mark and it will give you an explanation as well as a link to a Khan Academy video. This game addresses AK Math Standards  7.NS.1.,  7.NS.2,  7.EE.1, and 7.EE.2.


This one was a hit. There was enough fun to make doing the problems worth it and enough success with the problems as not to get in the way of the fun. I am not sure any new learning was taking place during this game, but it was definitely engaging and she was thinking. I’m sure the more she played it the more challenging it would get.

Another game I tried out was called Algeboat. The object is to load the boats with cargo (a numbered bundle which becomes the x value). Then choose a flag that satisfies the equation on the boat. If you choose correctly, the boat will sail away and you collect points. It addresses AK Math Standards 7.NS.1 and 7.EE.1.


The fun factor in this game was enough to keep my daughter doing the problems. It was very engaging and challenging because there are several possibilities and you need to plan ahead. You need to think about the answers as you are loading the boat with the x value.

The games that I found addressed the following standards:

Number System

7.NS.1. Apply and extend previous understandings of addition and subtraction to add and subtract rational numbers; represent addition and subtraction on a horizontal or vertical number line diagram.w and application of number sense.

7.EE.2. Understand that rewriting an expression in different forms in a problem context can shed light on the problem and how the quantities in it are related. For example, a + 0.05a = 1.05a means that “increase by 5%” is the same as “multiply by 1.05.”

Expressions and Equations

Use properties of operations to generate equivalent expressions.

7.EE.1. Apply properties of operations as strategies to add, subtract, factor, expand and simplify linear expressions with rational coefficients.

P.S. Tonight my daughter told me she learned about input, output today in school and thinks she might give the What’s My Rule game another try sometime. She also asked to play the “monkey on the ladder game” which was Math Pro 7. So maybe it is possible to bridge the gap between educational games and games for entertainment.

It takes time to sift through the many and varied games available. However, once you find a few that are right for you and your students, the game becomes a valuable teaching tool.

I always find great ideas as I read the blogs of my classmates as well as the tweets. Two that I happened to see this week were Learning Works for Kids and Top 20 Apps. for young kids. I recently acquired an IPad for my classroom, so I am looking for apps. and thinking about how best to use the IPad in my classroom.


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