Students embrace maths games, schools lag behind

The results are in: educational video games improve children’s mental maths skills. But WA schools have been slow to adopt new technology in the classroom.

New research from Edith Cowan University showed year 4 students who practiced mental maths skills for 15-20 minutes each day using a brain training video game improved their mental maths scores by 15-30 per cent.

Mental maths are short maths problems which are solved in your head without making notes.

Dr John O’Rourke and Dr Susan Main from ECU’s School of Education led the research.

Dr O’Rourke said that while the students’ results showed a clear improvement, using video games to teach primary school students was still uncommon in Western Australia.

“Our research showed using video games can improve students’ mental maths skills, but we also asked the students and teachers what they thought of teaching in this way,” he said.

“Both groups were really positive about the games.

“Teachers reported improved engagement, motivation, enhanced problem solving and better organisation among their students.

“Students also said they felt more motivated and engaged and were surprised they were learning while playing games.”

Schools not on board

However Dr O’Rourke said none of the seven schools involved in the research had taken up the program after the research finished and video games in classrooms was still uncommon outside specific ‘technology’ classes.

He said video games were particularly useful in a subject like maths where engagement levels from students was lower, particularly among those students who struggled with the subject.

“What we see when we introduce these games to the classroom is a real improvement in engagement and motivation,” he said.

“Even those students who aren’t engaged with maths are more inclined to participate once the games are introduced.”

Dr O’Rourke believes there are several reasons for schools’ resistance to video games in the classroom.

  • School administration believing games don’t represent good use of limited budgets
  • Schools taking a conservative approach to introducing new technology

    No substitute for real teachers

Dr Main said video games were not going to replace classroom teachers.

“These games are just another tool to enhance the learning process in our classrooms,” she said.

“Students still need support in the classroom but using these kinds of games to boost their performance is very effective.”

She said young people were becoming more accustomed to digesting information and learning in a digital context and it was important educators and the education system kept pace with this trend.

Research breakdown

The research involved 236 students aged 9 to 11 from seven schools across Perth. The students were split into two groups, one which used Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on a handheld Nintendo DS console and another which used traditional mental maths exercises.

Both groups worked on their maths skills for 10 minutes each morning over a 10 week school term. They were tested at the start of the term and again at the end.

Australian students’ performance in maths has declined in international rankings and disengagement and apathy are listed as two of the main challenges.

Research from the UK and United States has shown video games improve students’ skills in other areas of maths including algebra.

Commercially available Digital Game Technology in the Classroom: Improving Automaticity in Mental-maths in Primary-aged Students was published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education and is available from the Journal webpage.

Source: ECU

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