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DUtheMath Tournament Rocks the Rocket City

By Guest Blogger Melissa DeBacker

At a summer conference several years ago, I was introduced to educational video gaming by nCASE (National Center for the Advancement of STEM Education). Although not a “gamer,” I found the training to be most helpful in understanding the tool as an engaging way to teach and reinforce math concepts, and it was 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 allows my students to expand their gaming skills, social networking ethics, keyboarding skills, and — most important to me, a math teacher—develop their math skills and a new-found enthusiasm for learning math. Students learn new concepts and hone their skills through a series of fast-paced activities and math problems which test their proficiency. One cool thing is that I can create a 21st century learning environment that matches the abilities 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 provided an infusion of extra energy in the classroom for the students as well as for me. 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, starting 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 tremendous number of questions. DimensionU's well-developed interface provides a sense of community for our students, who have grown up as technological social beings. 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. For a student's perspective, read Rivals, Orbs and Goop: Adventures in Math Games.