The Potential of Rich Digital Game-Based Learning Environments to Promote Low-Achieving Students' Participation in Mathematics

The Potential of Rich Digital Game-Based Learning Environments to Promote Low-Achieving Students' Participation in Mathematics

Orit Broza (Levinsky College of Education, Israel) and Yifat Ben-David Kolikant (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2020100103


This study focuses on the interactions between students, their peers, their teacher, and digital game-based multiple supports provided by a rich learning environment designed in order to promote meaningful mathematics among low-achieving students. Attempting to identify which aspects of the setting facilitated meaningful learning and which were ineffectual or even detrimental to it, the authors traced the knowledge building processes of 11 fifth grade LAS over eight weeks in which they studied subtraction of decimal numbers. Pre- and post-program data were also collected through diagnostic interviews. Microanalysis of lesson transcripts, videotaped computer activities, and individual worksheets revealed differences in tool-use and in interactions among supports, which led to different learning results. The results suggest that digital game-based learning environments may be a key to promote meaningful learning in terms of mathematical strategy building. At the same time, it highlights the complexity of each tool in the environment as well as interactions among tools.
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1. Introduction

A key challenge in Mathematics education is to actively engage students with mathematical knowledge building that’s based on meaning and avoid routine procedural learning. Inadequate teaching accumulate gaps among young students in elementary school, leading to the fact that around 22% of young Israeli students do not reach a minimum level of basic skills in mathematics (PISA survey, 2015) and define as low achieving students (LAS).

Lately, digital game-based learning format was recommended for teaching and learning mathematics, and specially LAS (OECD, 2016) to address the above need, arguing that it can allow disengaged students to gain interest for math and science learning, support motivation to perform difficult tasks and maintain effort, and it can also help children with anxiety to overcome it. Our research goes a step forward diagnosing not only their progress in academic achievements but examine the quality of LAS learning processes in such environment using microanalysis of their knowledge building, trial by trial.

We have designed a rich learning environment based on three theoretical tenets: (a) the ‘Learning in Context’ approach in which mathematical concepts and procedures are presented in a context relevant to a child’s day-to-day life (Gravenmeijer, 2004), (b) game-based learning theories (Gee, 2003; Squire, 2008), (c) teacher mediation which focus on creating a safe and constructive space for building new knowledge by establishing norms and provide opportunities to talk mathematics, as well as share thoughts and ideas within the group in order to (Chapin, O'Connor and Anderson 2009).

We aimed at transforming students’ social and socio-mathematical norms (Cobb, 2010), from passive to active, from isolated to social collaboration, from impulsive to thoughtful. We were aware of the possibility that a hands-on minds-off strategy might emerge, especially because of the tendency to impulsivity. This is one of the reasons students were asked to work in peers in front of the computer. We assumed that the collaborative settings would trigger twofold interactions, with the system and with the co-learner. Peers would explain their calculations to each other, and question other action, what would bring about reflection and thoughtfulness (Dillenbourg & Ficher, 2007).

In a previous work, we endeavored to characterize the meaningful learning of mathematics among LAS in a support-rich environment combining learning in context, interactive digital game and supplementary game based computerized activities, and teacher mediation, and to highlight the challenges their learning difficulties pose. Though the majority of LAS that participated in our study (Broza and Ben-David Kolikant 2015) showed evidence of meaningful learning of mathematics in constructing and using new computation strategies, their learning processes were found to be inconsistent and difficult to predict, and were characterized by progressions and regressions.

This begs the question: what was it about the learning environment that allowed some LAS to capitalize on learning opportunities? What were the hindrances that prevented similar progress in other LAS?

In an attempt to address these questions, the current study re-examines LAS' learning in the same rich environment, using the same data. This time, the focus is on the interactions between the students, their peers, the teacher and the tools in the interactive environment, attempting to identify which aspects of the setting facilitated meaningful learning and which were ineffectual or even detrimental to it. The next sections highlight the theoretical principles at the base of the design of the learning environment, and describe the supports it includes.

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