Home School Math Games
Home school Math Games, Homework Games and More A month ago we did an episode on Gamification. In that episode, you may recall that I invited people working in home school math to write to us if they wanted to hear James's ideas for how to apply gamification to their home school math games. And indeed they did. Lots of teachers watching this show, apparently. The response was overwhelming. Teachers wrote in from all over the world In fact so many of you wrote in that we haven't yet even been able to answer all their emails (for which I apologize) Because the response was so huge and it will be a while before we can finish replying to all of you, we decided to just go ahead and do an episode on the topic of home school math education. There are flaws in the way we teach today, systemic flaws which cover every subject and every age.
Today we'll be looking at just a few of those flaws and how home school math games might solve them in hopes that it sparks a broader discussion about how we can make education, the foundation of our future more engaging. Our first topic: Grading Right now we're using a grading system that is essentially de-motivational and sets up a reinforcing feedback loop for failure. Today's students first walk into a classroom or approach new assignments thinking of themselves as having an A+ (at least subconsciously) and from there, with every mistake, there's nowhere to go but down.
We need to re-contextualize grading. In home school math games, we've learned that progress encourages progress and the human desire for efficiency is a far stronger motivator than the fear of falling further from one's goal. To this end, if you simply make all assignments worth points (let's call them "EXP" for a lark) have all students start at zero EXP and always gain points as they go continuously progressing towards clear and tangible 'levels' with their own benefits) each assignment and each test feels rewarding rather than disheartening... it's more fun to gain stuff than to lose it. Additionally, this methodology never leaves a student at a point where they feel like they should just give up. Home school math games and homework games give students incentive to learn. The best part is that you don't even have to change anything about the way you already grade the class to do this You'd still have the same total number of possible points the class was worth and divide them in the same manner that we normally divvy up letter grades.
All you're doing is counting upwards instead of down and corresponding the letter grades to "levels" as you go. Lee Sheldon did a basic version of this for his class at Indiana University and found it to be highly effective. The only thing I felt that he could have done more was to give the kids "skills" as they leveled. "If one student gets to 25,000 EXP the whole class gets a free bonus 100 EXP" or "If five students get to 15,000 EXP the whole class get a bonus 150 points (or maybe a field trip or something, whatever you prefer)." With this sort of reward system, you encourage the whole class to be rooting for one another and you encourage the best students to help out their classmates. You encourage your students to function with camaraderie and as a team. The best kids can't get the maximum possible score unless they can help their peers pull up their grades. And at the same time, the kids who are struggling, rather than resenting their classmates who are doing well, are cheering them on, because other kids succeeding is going to help their own grade.
Next, let's talk about School. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in education is dealing with kids who have no sense of agency over their lives. What do we mean by students having a sense agency? It's simply the idea that they feel like they control their own destiny that their choices matter. A lack of agency can manifest itself in numerous ways... students feeling like they "don't have an option to go to college", the perception that "pregnancy is something that just happens" or students feeling like they simply have no power over the life path and choices that their parents make for them.
Without school, it's almost impossible to be motivated. Rather than making decisions for the future, people without a sense of agency simply stumble through life day to day without any long-term goals. But a sense of agency isn't a binary thing, it's a scale; the more agency you feel over your life, the better you tend to do and the more ambitious goals you tend to be willing to set for yourself (surprisingly I once read a study saying that people who had a high sense of agency were actually more resilient when external forces beyond their control messed up their plans too. Rather than having the expected ego shattering realization that they didn't have any control, people with a high sense of agency just started off towards their goals again, undeterred, because that was the way to control their destinies). So how do we impart agency? Games. Almost any game can help hammer home the idea that you control the future. In a game, the cycle between choice and result is generally much shorter than that in life and much more clearly indicated.
Home School Math Games Failure
In a game, the player tries something, fails, tries something new and keeps making new decisions until they succeed. Games teach us that different choices have different outcomes, and we control the choices we make. James has spent some time working with inner city kids as well as some high schoolers in suburban Pittsburgh testing this idea, attempting to draw a connection between the control the kids had in the game they played and the control they had in their own lives. I don't want to claim expertise here because this was only a brief experiment in an area that needs to be thoroughly tested, but this early test did show a clear impact on a least a portion of the student body, and I wholeheartedly believe further research will prove this connection.
James conducted his tests using Mario, but games could easily be created for any subject that helped reinforce the idea that life isn't something that just happens to you, while at the same time encouraging other skills. Finally, let's talk a bit about External Motivators. I don't want to speak for everybody, but at least here in the US, there aren't enough teachers and there isn't enough time in the school day to teach everything that children need to know. We need kids to remain engaged and continue to learn voluntarily once they leave the classroom. In the long run there are a lot of ways we can use games to do this, but for now, I'll just assume that we're looking for a solution that's implementable right away and has a low to zero cost... Now if you're really ambitious and willing to put in the time, a homemade Alternate Reality Game (or ARG) is the way to go for students in middle school or up (look up I <3 Bees or Year Zero to see the sort of thing I'm talking about).
Use the information that you want them to learn as the pieces that unlock the next section of the game - in their search for this information they're bound to stumble on and learn about lots of other tangentially related topics. To do this well you MUST integrate it into the classroom and get everyone excited about progressing. The key here is to create mystery and make schooling more magical and wonderful by not really being schooling, but being part of something much larger. You can even pretend to not know about it or be on their side by trying to work out a few specific parts of the puzzle yourself (yeah, your students will know, but you don't want to shatter the fantasy of this other world). ARGs are about communal solutions and information scouring; your students might even be holding after-school ARG parties to go searching for information if you do it right. On a practical side of things, you should make sure that your unlocks are scattered across the board subject-wise, you don't want the same couple kids figuring out the answers every time. You want the kid who is good at sports to be the star of the class one week, then the kid who is good at history the week after.
This will get them sharing ideas and communicating. The very best problems are cross-disciplinary ones that force the solvers to know about two very disparate fields. The tricky part when giving these problems is that you want to make sure that when a student only figures out part of the answer, they still know they're on the right track. Obviously, creating something like this involves a pretty big initial time investment, but really it's not substantially higher than creating and grading a few good tests, especially if you already know some basic HTML.
Still, not everyone has that kind of time, so if you're looking for something a little more simple, you can always try what I call the "Plot Your Route" game. In this game you choose two arbitrary but interesting topics, let's say "Sekigahara" and "monarch butterflies", and have students come back the next day with the series of links that got them from one to the other. It's easiest to do this with Wikipedia, but the game still works with most any set of websites. Any student who does the home school math gets some EXP (let's assume you're using the grading system we talked about) but the 'winner' is the student who can make the connection in the fewest number of links, and they get some additional bonus (maybe their homework that day is worth an additional 10% XP or they get a reward of 50 extra points or they get to choose a question on the next quiz that everyone in the class will get full credit for automatically).
If your class is responsible, you can even let them choose the topics, two different students choosing a random topic each day. This exercise encourages curiosity, gets students to comb through information that they might otherwise not have ever examined, and, by incentivizing the shortest path, you have a reason for students to go back over the information and explore new directions that that information could branch to. Most importantly though, this exercise trains them in understanding the connections between information. It gets them to think about how ideas are linked. In the 21st century, this will be a vital skill for any adult and one that will help them contextualize their homeschool education and understand the importance of home school math that they might not immediately be interested in. And, if you want to make sure they're not just scanning for links, simply have them write a sentence between each link explaining the connection. Man, are we ever out of time. This rabbit hole goes deep. But I hope those suggestions have helped catalyze some ideas of your own. And if so, share it in the comments! It'd be pretty awesome if this week's comments thread just turned into a giant education improvement think tank.
Oh, and... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Sekigahara http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife_of_Japan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_butterfly Beat that. See ya next week! See ya next week! Subtitles by X-Raym extremraym.com.
As found on Youtube