March 28, 2009
-- The last decade or two has seen the rise of simulated realities and games. The education industry is no exception to this trend. Gaining more and more respect as a new and powerful medium to educate, sims (simulations)
have become a standard way of training workers in various industries. Within education, researchers and teachers have been attempting to utilize games to better engage students and increase learning. In the end, not all games are created equal and some are far more effective at entertaining and educating.
It is no secret to parents or to teachers that games have engrossed this generation of youngsters, and it is this very fact that makes educational games such a potentially potent tool. If you’ve ever watched a youngster play the popular math game, Math Blaster—a platform based PC game in which you must complete mathematical tasks –you know exactly what I mean. Students can spend hours running around the levels trying to advance by doing math!
So what qualities make an educational game good? What is it that Math Blaster does so well? What separates it from some of the less effective games out there? Before we answer the question, let’s look at some common experiences that game players have. All of us who have played video games know that some parts of a game can be much more enjoyable than others. (Personally, I get really sick of running around Zelda’s world in some of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series!) Well, in an educational game it is important that the education is directly embedded in the ‘fun’ and is not the boring part of the game. Because it is the fun parts that will be more memorable to the player. For instance, consider a fictitious game called “Zombie Math Shooter.” In this poorly designed game, imagine that you run around shooting Zombies—something most kids would probably enjoy doing and consider fun. Also imagine that, in between zombies, a math question pops up, and you have to answer it to gain points. Well, as you could probably tell—this imaginary game does not do a very good job embedding the education into the entertainment of the game! In the end, the efficacy of game comes down to the ability to engage students with the intended educational goal. (1) In other words, is the ‘fun’ of the game based on learning?
There are a few different sources of quality math games. Some are neither entertaining nor educational;
some just educational, but let’s look at an example or two of the successful ones. Although Math Blaster is a good one, this game is not available online so you have to purchase it and play it off your PC. Of the various sites on the internet, http://themathgames.com
is the only one that seems to have the same high quality melding of education and entertainment as Math Blaster. The games at this site are mainly geared towards middle and high school students who are trying to understand the order of operations or the meaning of a fraction,; in the end what distinguishes this site from others on the internet is the way that the educational goals and the entertainment are indistinguishable.