District expands use of math video games

According to Texas state law, all 8th grade students must pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) mathematics test in order to be promoted to the 9th grade. They have three chances before the end of June and then a Grade Placement Committee determines their fate. Couple that pressure with the uneasiness many students already feel about learning math, and the result is some very anxious students. At Austin Independent School District (AISD), educators have addressed students’ fears by teaching math through games -- immersive educational video games, that is.

This month, AISD is expanding its use of the DimensionM educational video games to 7 middle and 15 private schools. The district first began using the immersive games in a summer pilot program that proved beneficial to math-challenged students.

Developed by Tabula Digita, the DimensionM multiplayer video games are designed to teach and reinforce key mathematics concepts from grades 3-12.The games incorporate a series of first-person action adventure missions that feature graphics, sound and animation similar to those in popular video games. By successfully navigating a myriad of embedded lessons, students can master the mathematics concepts previously discussed in class.

The introduction of the supplemental games began in July, as part of the intensive 10-day JumpStart program for 350 students in the 8th grade who failed the mathematics portion of the TAKS retest, for the third time.The program, designed to prepare students for 9th grade Algebra I, ran from July 22 – August 4 and offered students four hours of accelerated core instruction each day.

“Students were given 30 minutes a day to play the games,” said Norma Jost, Secondary Mathematics Supervisor for AISD. “What we saw next was amazing – our students were not only succeeding but truly becoming interested in learning mathematics again.”

According to Dr. Mary Thomas, who oversees state and federal accountability for AISD, “An important consideration in selecting the DimensionM gaming software for the pilot program was the mounting research showing that game-based learning is a highly successful 21st century teaching and learning tool for today’s digitally-advanced students.Equally important was its alignment to standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Texas state standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for mathematics,” she said.

During the 10-day program, students were assessed twice by way of a survey. Nearly 82 percent of the student respondents indicated they were improving in understanding key mathematics concepts such as negative numbers and generalizing patterns. Over 86 percent of the students responded positively to the question about whether they liked the games and whether they thought they were helping them to improve their mastery of mathematics.