The Gamified Math Class

Here’s how one teacher replaced the fear of math with the joy of playing—and learning.

By Joan Buck

When my students, even those struggling the most in class, begged to participate in game-based math learning, I knew I was on to something special. Since this realization, I started using online games and small-group instruction to create a student-centered learning environment in my classroom. I turned to small-group lessons to make sure every student’s needs were met.

While I work closely with one group of students, the other groups choose which self-directed activity center they want to participate in. Among the centers is a station featuring standards-based math games on Chromebooks, and I can’t keep students away from it. They’re enjoying themselves so much, they don’t realize they’re learning. Learning games promote hand-body connection. Playing games and being active uses metacognitive thinking and results in deeper retention. Through the interaction, games promote a love for mathematics that these students might not develop otherwise.

Letting Games Conquer Fear

Whether I’m introducing them to a new concept or building on a standard, I use games as a fun, stress-free way my students can practice math. Math is scary to some students, but their love of technology can ease that tension. The less some students feel they are “doing math,” the better they feel. Through this interactive and fun way of learning, my students are understanding everything from decimal places to multiplication tables.

Most of the games I use in the classroom are self-made. When I teach fractions, I have the students compete using a deck of cards to create fractions and mixed numbers by drawing two cards from the deck. I help my students understand how to compute area by using grid paper. I have them roll two dice and color in correlated area on the grid paper. Whoever fills up the most area wins the game.

Whether it’s relay style or dice games, I’ve found that students retain the information if the topic is something they are interested in. Since most students are interested in games and problem-solving, their math skills grow along the way. They can memorize songs, they can memorize lines to a movie, but give them their multiplication facts and it’s not the same. Through the games and repetitions, though, they’re practicing their math facts and memorizing them just like they would a song.

Giving Students Autonomy

The game-based approach enables students to fail in a safe environment, and encourages them to keep trying until they understand. It builds their confidence as they go. One day I was doing small groups, and one of my students shouted, “I got it! I finally understand it!” That just wowed me. The games promote collaboration between students so they can learn both as a class and independently. I’ve even overheard conversation about math among students on their own.

Two of the online math games I incorporate are MobyMax and Matific. Matific, an online gaming platform that offers fun and challenging math activities for students of all ages, has an integrated reporting tool that allows me to see which students need more practice with specific math concepts. From there, I can assign games that provide more practice in that area.

My students like the freedom to choose from what I’ve assigned. It gives them a sense of autonomy. I see them working through concepts they hadn’t understood, and now they’ve got it, and I know the games played a part in that.

Joan Buck is a general education teacher at Hallsboro-Artesia Elementary in Hallsboro, North Carolina.

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