Learning (Math) in Multi-User Virtual Games – Session 3

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Session 3 had so many good sessions I had a tough time deciding where to go.  Part of me wanted to go to the cell phones in the classroom session (especially for Val who I know really hopes I use cell phones with my students on a regular basis), but I ended up at “Learning in Multi-User Virtual Games” and to quote Val, “It was phenomenal!”

The presenter, Ntiedo Etuk who Founder & CEO of Tabula Digita talked about his company’s online multi-user mathematics game, Dimension M.  Yes, he was sort of selling a product, but it looks like and interesting product.  Etuk’s comments also have me reflecting again on Pensky’s summer reading and thinking about using video games in the classroom.  At the moment schools in New York City, Chicago, and two counties in Florida are using it.  There are about 2.6 million users playing this game to increase their math and algebra skills.  If you are feeling a little deja vu, it might be due to the fact the New York Times featured Dimension M a few weeks ago.

The format of DimensionM involves students solving math problems to travel places in a virtual world.  For example, in an obstacle course game a user is asked “Land on platforms with Integers that add to 7.”  They fly with a jet pack from one numbered platform to another (say from 4 to 3).  If the answer/action is correct the user goes to next level or question.  If they get the answer wrong they are sent back.  During the game users have access to “Cheat Codes” which are actually content instruction.

Throughout the presentation a couple of good questions came up.  Below are the questions and Ntiedo’s responses.

“Aren’t you just drilling?”
Ntiedo explained that they are finding teachers will use the game as a way to develop teachable moments and intrinsic motivation.  Teachers place students on a game before the lesson and let them lose a few times.  Students will then turn around to the teacher and say, “Johnny keeps beating me.”  “Will you show me how to do these problems so I can win?”

“How does it fit into instruction?”
If you are teaching a chapter on a topic (decimals, fractions, etc), the game can be used  initially as a reward. “If you pay attention this week, we’ll play DimensionM for part of the period on Friday.”  At the end of the week everyone plays for 15 minutes.  Most will the students will be immediately engaged.  Can also split students into groups based on math level.  Kids will immediately ask to play the game again.  “Power user” teachers use DimensionM 1-2 hours per week.

“What’s the cost?”
Depending on the purchase, the cost runs $10-20 per student per year with a four school minimum.  Single player games can be purchased for home at $69.95 for all 4 parts or $19.95 for each part.  During the middle of next year a multiplayer online  version will be available for home use.  If you want to test out the game, there is a free trial that can be downloaded.

I like the idea of using games with students.  The price for this DimensionM is a concern for me and I am also worried that these games could very easily be used as a drill-and-kil activity by some teachers.  However, video games present an untapped power there just waiting to be harnessed.  In my own 1:1 classroom I see on a nearly daily basis that if students have only a few moments to spare they will immediately find there way to an online game.  Many times these games are educational and they can’t wait to play them.  To ignore that fact is to ignore a very powerful teaching tool.

Joe

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