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Posts Tagged ‘mathematics

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.

I shared this cryptic tweet during the last #edsg fortnightly chat.

We had been focusing on the possible “game”-based changes to the Primary mathematics syllabus in Singapore.

I use “game” because what a teacher might understand as a game is not necessarily what students experience as gamers. A drill-and-practice “game” might be a welcome addition to the teacher toolbox, but it is not necessarily a game as the child understands it.

Hence, Godin’s blog entry was timely, specifically this part:

That’s why it’s so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.

Another dimension of differing world views is the focus of the activity. To a teacher, it is MATH game; to kids, it is a math GAME. For an adult, the game is for learning a math principle; for a child, the game is for racking up points, being the fastest, or topping the charts.

The students are likely to enjoy game initially because of the novelty effect. They might even participate over a longer term because of the extrinsic rewards provided by gamification tools (which are not game-based learning).

Neither a reliance on novelty and extrinsic drive are desirable because a teacher might be forced to take part in the race to hyper stimulate and entertain.

If a teacher does not get forced into the “engage them” race, it is because students soon realise that drill-and-practice is not really a game and they reject this practice.

Adults rarely get into the child’s headspace when trying to plan activities that are supposed to be good for kids. So here are three guiding and core questions (as contextualised in game-based learning):

  1. What does the child think (is a game/about gaming)?
  2. How do they think (as they game)?
  3. What can I design based on sound educational psychology principles and rigorous research?

For the good of kids, we need to focus on what is good for kids. We start with a focus on kids, not curricula, syllabi, assessments, or policy. To be learner-centred, you have to be kid-centred first.

By the time you read this, I will be away on vacation with my family. But I’ll try to keep up if I can get free wifi.

Village Takeaway by cH@0s, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  cH@0s 

I had two main takeaways from last week’s Educamp Singapore.

The first was @lekowala‘s (Adrain Loo) summary of his talk:

  • Science 1.0 is about didactic teaching
  • Science 2.0 is about inquiry-based learning
  • Science 3.0 is humanistic, i.e., using what you learn to do something to benefit others and/or the environment

The teaching and learning of Science is certainly evolving, but I am sure most educators would agree that the environmental conditions favour Science 1.0. That said, we ignore 3.0 at our peril because therein lies the real value in the subject.

The second was why @intmath (Murray Borne) suggested we slay dinosaur Math.

With tools like Wolfram|Alpha, Math learners can focus on higher order skills instead of things like contextless differentiation and integration. Let computers do what they are good at; let people develop what they should be good at! The other main point he made that resonated with me was contextualizing mathematics as much as possible in real problems or real life.

My audience might have liked the teaching philosophy I shared with them (“if you don’t reach them, you can’t teach them”), but practically all of us were talking about the same thing in different ways.

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