DUtheMath Tournament Rocks the Rocket City

At a summer conference several years ago, I was introduced to educational video gaming by nCASE (National Center for the Advancement of STEM Education). Not being a “gamer,” I found the training to be most helpful in my understanding of the tool as an engaging way to teach and reinforce math concepts, and it was quite easy to see that my students would embrace it immediately. Since then, I have provided a host of opportunities for my students to engage in the DimensionU math game. DimensionU provides my students the chance to develop their gaming skills, social networking ethics, keyboarding skills, and -- most important to me, a math teacher -- math skills and a newfound excitement and enthusiasm for learning math. The skills are introduced, practiced, and achieved through various fast-paced actions in the games resulting in a math question being asked. A cool thing is that I can create a 21st century learning environment that meets the ability needs of my digital natives. And as I tell my fellow digital immigrant teachers, being a non-gamer is ok! The students ‘GET IT’ and take care of the game; hence, I can focus on helping an individual student or provide whole class review of particular math skills for all ability levels.

This month we ramped up the role that gaming plays in our daily class work by signing up for DimensionU’s “DUtheMath” competition and tournament. The weekly rounds (there are five) have boosted the classroom energy level for teachers and students alike. I walk about the room and teach, reinforce, motivate, and guide the learning, while the students play the games. It’s fascinating and rewarding to hear the sounds during gaming time. It starts off with students helping each other solve math problems followed by many students reminding each other of math rules and gaming tips. When a game finishes, the sound changes to loud roars of laughter, cheers, sighs, and sheer excitement.

Students create their own game name and develop their own strategies; thus, the level of thinking during gaming is high on Blooms taxonomy. For example, one of my students, bigcat22, placed in the top 50 of week one in the tournament. Since then, several peers have changed their game name to a form of bigcat22’s name to form an alliance with our winner. Others have decided it is time for them to outdo bigcat22 and are answering a crazy number of questions.

DimensionU's well-developed interface has created a sense of community among our students. They can easily challenge a peer to a game of Meltdown or GadgetWorks via the gaming environment, and doing so helps reinforce their math and technology skills and knowledge. Engagement and purpose are instructional design principles that are a must for today’s classroom. DimensionU has done that, and the tournament just kicks up that learning environment to the point that the majority of the students are on board and want their personal and school percentile ranks to go higher! And it’s working. We placed 5th (among schools from across the country) in week one of the competition. Game on! Engagement happens, and with engagement, learning happens on a multitude of levels for my fabulous digital natives!

Melissa DeBacker teaches math at Mountain Gap Middle School in Huntsville, Alabama.