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► Blog: How Game-Based Learning Can Support Strong Mathematical Practices
Kristen Dacey is seeing her first-grade students pick up advanced math concepts through the use of visual learning aids.
It's a crisp fall morning in Kristen Dacey's first-grade classroom. The usual buzz that starts the day has faded and students are settling into their seats. Everything is scaled down to fit 7-year-old bodies -- small chairs, tiny tables, and pint-sized laptops. At first it’s quiet as the students concentrate on their screens, but soon the room begins to fill with “dings”.
The "dings" are coming from an online visual learning application. "Jiji has made it through another obstacle.” Dacey explains with a smile. "We like to call it the sound of hundreds in the morning."
How Math Can Be Visual
Jiji is the beloved penguin in ST Math -- a game-based instructional software program created by MIND Research Institute. Students help Jiji get past obstacles by solving math puzzles.
-- Angela Markley, Salem’s K-8 mathematics director
The visual approach to teaching and learning offered by game-based programs such as ST Math engage students in the learning process and helps them to develop a deeper understanding of math concepts.
For her first-graders, Dacey sees ST Math as a fun way to get her young learners to explore and problem-solve. The games have no instructions, no prompts. It’s not always clear what to do. “When they first start out, there’s a lot of looking to me for instructions,” Dacey explains. However, the students quickly feel free to explore on their own. Dacey uses a few common prompts to encourage students to problem-solve -- “What do you see?” or “Let’s watch what happens.”
While self-discovery is an important tenet of the learning process, Dacey loves how the program allows her to use a "teacher mode" to slow things down and model specific tasks based on an individual student's needs.
Learning Through Experimentation and Exploration
The students face interactive, animated puzzles that provide visual representations of math concepts with immediate, instructive feedback. In one challenge, Jiji sits atop three blocks and is faced with getting over an obstruction 10 blocks high. Students click on a number of blocks then a forklift pushes Jiji toward the obstacle adding the new blocks to the three on the way to the wall. If not enough blocks were added, Jiji runs into the obstacle and falls. The challenge repeats until the student selects seven blocks and Jiji clears the wall.
“In this example,” says Dacey, “I don’t have to teach 3 + 7 = 10. They visually see the height of the wall, the height of Jiji’s current blocks. Then they calculate the rest. Some will see 10 - 3 = 7. Others may see it another way. It’s immediately obvious when they haven’t added the correct number of blocks.”
Identifying the Conceptual Gaps
While Dacey says it’s rewarding to hear “Yes! Another 100%.” from her students, there is also value in the struggles experienced in the game. Dacey observes students as they work through the challenges to identify the underlying conceptual gaps that need development. In these cases, she often reaches for ‘old school’ tools such as blocks or number charts.
“ST Math is a valuable tool,” she adds. “It’s not enough to memorize numbers and addition tables. The real value is in developing conceptual thinkers that look for patterns and make visual connections.”
Created by MIND Research Institute, ST Math is a game-based instructional software for K-12 and is designed to boost math comprehension and proficiency through visual learning.
Spatial-Temporal (ST) Math software games use interactive, graphically-rich animations that visually represent mathematical concepts to improve conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills.
In the classroom, computer lab, or at home, ST Math games help students make connections between the visual representations in the activities and symbolic representations in their core instruction.
JiJi is the beloved penguin in the ST Math software games. Children help JiJi get past obstacles by solving math puzzles – and they associate JiJi with challenge, learning and the thrill of success. Every time a child demonstrates understanding of a math concept, JiJi crosses the screen, signaling success and leading the student to the next more challenging puzzle.
MIND Research Institute