Saturday, January 24, 2009

Math Games: Ingredients of effective math games

I love making learning fun, and as a math teacher I often tried to create and/or use math games. All teachers know the value of a game. Putting questions into a jeopardy format, can make the must dull math like scientific notation , SOHCAHTOA, or a lesson on a parallelogram into something fun. Teachers of all disciplines would probably agree that turning a regular, chalk and talk lesson into a competition or into a  game increases the overall enjoyment of learning and power of a lesson.

That said, I was reading up on what researchers have to say about the value of learning with games. These researchers point out that embedding education into a game is a tricky task, and that oftentimes, game makers do not do a good job:
Although there are many excellent educational games on the market, some 'purchase children's motivation at the expense of learning,' says Lepper. For example, he has seen some games that provide the most gripping graphics when children lose, thus motivating them to intentionally forfeit the game as well as learning that might occur. (source)

I must admit that I've seen this problem in some games, but more often I have seen the opposite: dull games with poor graphics that just aren't all that fun! Now, I'm referring specifically to math games online, something that I've explored quite thoroughly as math teacher. The best site that I have found so far is; their games do a good job of making learning the objective of the game. For instance, look at this fraction game called fraction balls, you must use your dexterity to drop a fraction ball into the proper jar. As you can probably tell from the picture, you must use your dexterity and you mathematical knowledge at the same time! Now that's a fun and effective math game!

Another good fun game is Math Blaster. Although not an online game, Math Blaster requires you to use your skills and your knowledge simultanesouly. You can buy math games like math blaster at

In the end, a good math game requires the player to 'play' the game while at the same time employ his or her knowledge. If the fun of the game is divorced from the learning, the game will probably flop. For instance, consider a game that has you shoot ten bad guys then in between levels asks you math questions on addition. Such a math game has thoroughly divorced the learning from the fun game play. A child is likely to find the math part annoying. An ideal game combines game play action and content knowledge at the same time!

A good resource  about online math games :


  1. I recall our youngest son loving Math Blaster. I'm always on the look-out for good online math games and resources to share.

  2. Yeah, Math Blaster is great! Definitely forces children to think will enjoying themselves!

  3. I'm showing my age here, I was schooled in the 1960's and spent many hours after school being tutored in math and it never worked well despite the great efforts of many tutors ,friends and teachers. Thankfully this was long before my condition was a buzzword and by accident when any means possible was allowed if the results were good my father discovered my splinter skills a now forbidden term and concept in autism circles and he tapped into my "genuis". Suddenly when he had me figure MPG on a car I was do that division problem instantly (long story).I had been working with divisor, divend quotient and remainder for years and was behind grade level until that day.

    The MPG concept and my picutre thoughts an Autism Thing all clicked and even my dyslexia problem improved as I drew out the math problem in my mind.

    I took Algebra 1 twice ( grade of c each time) and have had math trouble all my life and even today at 40 something -math even simple math is a chore but it is a task I can do thanks to the dedicated teacher and tutors of my past, I'm glad they never gave up on me.

  4. It's true: the most engaging way to practice math skills is through the use of a game. It adds cooperative, collaboration, competition, and excitement.

    It is also true that increased math skill should warrant positive reinforcement.

    I recently had students become very frustrated when they played a basketball game at: They would get the correct answer, but miss the ball; while their opponent might miss the answer and make the shot!

    How frustrating is that?!
    -Lauren (from