Not All Math Games Are Created Equal

As a former classroom teacher, I was a big proponent of using games to support mathematics learning. Games were inherently motivating for my students, and helped turn otherwise tedious tasks like memorizing the times tables into exciting competitions.

However, I noticed that not everyone enjoyed games involving competition. While my "top" students relished the opportunity to shine, the students I knew were struggling and whom I hoped the games would motivate--were nervous and anxious when we played.

Why was this I asked myself?

Well, think about it from the kids perspective. When you were a student, you knew exactly who the top students were and where you stood in the pecking order. Imagine you're asked by your teacher to run a race against Usain Bolt. You and everyone present know you're going to lose.

That's how my struggling students felt when I asked them to match their skills against the more advanced students. If the game involved speed of recall--think a flashcard competition--then the game was just another opportunity to feel bad about yourself.

Math Agent was purposefully designed to avoid this problem. Successful game play depends on both an individual's skill as well as luck of the draw. This means that struggling and advanced students can play with one another equitably. While the "better" player should still win most of the time, the "less advanced" player still has a chance to succeed (and just as importantly, the chance to participate constructively in a positive learning opportunity).