Effective Math Intervention: Engagement or Gamification?

I’ve noticed more posts and articles lately touting either the benefits or detractions of “gamification.” It seems that not that long ago “edutainment” was the buzz word and then, just as quickly, it fell by the wayside.

Why do we keep cycling back to the idea that for educational software to be effective it needs to involve games?  Well, it comes as no surprise to anyone that students of all ages, especially boys, really like apps and games.  What’s more, it is not hard to see opportunities for learning within the game structure.  But, rather than trying to insert learning into a game, doesn’t it make more sense to find what it is about games that motivates these struggling students and incorporate that into their learning?

Interactive engagement, not entertainment, is at the core of a game’s ability to motivate.  Finding ways to make math more interactive and more engaging is the key to making math software better.  One of the keys to designing any popular game is to build in a series of obstacles that increase in difficulty.  Sounds a little like math, doesn’t it?  In order to overcome the obstacles, the gamer must first have some knowledge of how to overcome the obstacle, or at least where to begin, plus the willingness to try multiple times.

When we set students down to fill in their math skill gaps, we must first be assured that they have the background knowledge to take on the objective.  We do this through assessment.   After that, the willingness to try multiple times is the key to success.  And  this is true in any endeavor: sports, games and learning. This is where engagement kicks in.  The student who is engaged will put forward the time and effort required to succeed. Gamers often call this “the grind.”  The best I’ve seen it described is by Dr. Ivan Joseph as the skill of self-confidence.  Watch him describe it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-HYZv6HzAs

Let us borrow from games only that which drives young people to attempt solving problems multiple times and with multiple approaches. Let us make it engaging and interactive, not necessarily entertaining.  This is where we at Ascend Education begin each time we set out to create a new or improve upon an existing objective in Ascend Math.

I’ll share more on this in later blog posts.

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