Another dot in the blogosphere?

Gamified math gone wrong

Posted on: April 27, 2018

Yesterday my wife and i sat through a series of cinema ads that screened before the latest Hollywood blockbuster. One ad made our stomachs turn and churn.

The ad was from a regional publishing and edtech company. It claimed to have a cool new app that gamified math. Their solution was a problem: It combined slick-looking graphics of a town and data “analytics” with conventional worksheets.
 

 
I have described this type of “gamification” as chocolate-covered broccoli. It is an attempt to get kids to consume something good for them (broccoli/math) by disguising it with something they would actually eat (chocolate/game).

Doing this spoils the taste of good chocolate and healthy broccoli. It also sends the wrong message and expectation that games are for incentivising the unpleasant work that is math.

Consider another way to picture the app in the hands of a young learner. Imagine sending a child on a mission to collect recyclables from her apartment block. Every time the door opens at each household, she is given a math worksheet to complete. As she walks up each floor, the math gets more difficult and she receives stickers for each completed worksheet. Oh, and chocolate to fuel her climb.

Was the point of the exercise the collection of recyclables or the completion of math worksheets?

The point of math is logical thinking and problem-solving. There are aspects that need memorisation and even drilling, e.g., multiplication tables. But math should not be extrinsically driven by game mechanics.

Case in point — consider the approach of Eddie Woo, a math teacher who was a finalist in the Global Teacher Prize 2018 and winner of Australia’s Local Hero award.


Video source

Woo leverages not on games or gamification but on the wonder, utility, and authenticity of math.

To the developers of gaming or gamified math apps that say “it just works”, I ask WHY.

You cannot be a-theoretical with your answer. If you are, you have not done your research. If your answer is that it works in the short-term, consider what it does in the longer-term with learners who rely on incentivisation over actualisation.

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