Exploring the Educational Potential of a Game-Based Math Competition

Exploring the Educational Potential of a Game-Based Math Competition

Kristian Kiili (Tampere University of Technology, Pori, Finland), Kai Ojansuu (Tampere University of Technology, Pori, Finland), Antero Lindstedt (Tampere University of Technology, Pori, Finland) and Manuel Ninaus (Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, Tuebingen, Germany and LEAD Graduate School, Eberhard-Karls University Tuebingen, Germany)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2018040102


The main aim of this article was to investigate the educational potential of a game-based math game competition to engage students in training rational numbers. Finnish fourth (n = 59; Mage = 10.36) and sixth graders (n = 105; Mage = 12.34) participated in a math game competition relying on intra-classroom cooperation and inter-classroom competition. During a three-week period, the students were allowed to play a digital rational number game, which is founded on number line estimation task mechanics. The results indicated that students benefited significantly from participating in the competition and playing behaviour could be used to assess students rational number knowledge. Moreover, students were engaged in the competition and the results revealed that intrinsically motivating factors such as enjoyment and perceived learning gains predicted students' willingness to participate in math game competitions again. This article provides empirical support that educational game competition can be an effective, engaging, and a fair instructional approach.
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Numerical competencies have increasing importance for success in modern society (Siegler & Braithwaite 2017). In fact, Parsons and Bynner (2005) argued that, insufficient mathematical competencies might be even more detrimental to individual career prospects than reading or spelling deficiencies. Knowledge about rational numbers or fractions, respectively, seems to be particularly relevant as proficiency with fractions is strongly associated with high school students’ current math achievement and is predictive of future math achievement and algebra performance (e.g., Bailey, Hoard, Nugent, & Geary, 2012; Booth & Newton, 2012). However, students often struggle to learn this challenging domain in mathematics education (Gigerenzer, 2002; Siegler, Fazio, Bailey, & Zhou, 2013 for a review). Therefore, more effective and engaging ways to teach basic numerical skills, such as rational number magnitude understanding, that form the foundation to learn more complex mathematics are needed. Devlin (2013) has argued that video games can provide new interfaces to learn mathematics that are far easier and more natural to use than symbolic expressions that we have used to employ primarily. Thus, digital learning games have the potential to provide effective ways of training mathematics and can also engage persons who are anxious about mathematics. In line with this, previous research has indicated that digital learning games can be used to support mathematics instruction (e.g., Ninaus et al. 2017; Kiili & Ketamo 2017; Fazio, Kennedy, & Siegler 2016; Bakker, van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, & Robitzsch 2015; Riconscente 2013).

Today there is a large number of mathematics learning games on the market (e.g., Apple’s App Store lists over 20,000). However, the majority of these math games do not utilize the real power of game-based learning, but focus on traditional drill to develop mastery of basic skills and procedures. Most importantly, they often lack empirical evaluation of their actual effects. Therefore, in an era of digitalization of education, teachers face huge challenges to select good games from the different market places that slows down the diffusion of game-based learning and decreases the possible benefits of digitalization. According to Liu et al. (2015) game campaigns and competitions provide possibilities to raise awareness of games and can be used to distribute games to schools. That is, such campaigns might be used to raise awareness of games with an high educational value and support teachers in selecting appropriate games for learning to be used in their classrooms. This is particularly relevant in teaching fractions and rational numbers as they are considered to be one of the most challenging problems in mathematics education (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). Therefore, the current paper employs a math game competition in order to raise awareness about number line based Semideus games that have shown to be a valid assessment tool of rational number knowledge (Ninaus et al. 2017; Kiili & Ketamo 2017). In the following, we will first consider the meaning of competitive aspects in game-based learning and report the few previous results of educational game competitions. After that, we provide a brief summary on the empirical foundations of the employed Semideus game to foster conceptual rational number knowledge. Finally, we describe the aims and hypotheses of the current study.

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