Home | In The Classroom | Why relatable gamification is the obvious next teaching frontier: opinion

Why relatable gamification is the obvious next teaching frontier: opinion

How often have we heard kids (our own, others' and even our past selves), whining that the maths they’re learning isn’t ‘useful’ and they’ll ‘never use it’? Too many to count.

According to the IET, 203,000 people with engineering skills will be required each year to meet demand through to 2024, but it’s estimated there will be an annual shortfall of 59,000 engineering and technicians to fill these roles.

Could this be due to the way we currently teach maths? Encouraging, and expecting, the rote learning of addition and subtraction, as well as times tables, without first teaching for understanding simply doesn’t work. It seems obtuse, intangible and, as our children point out, inapplicable to the real world – especially a world where everyone carries a calculator in their pocket.

This link between mathematical intelligence, rote learning, and then speed recall of those rote learnt facts, means that children often develop a negative relationship with maths – the idea that they’re just ‘not a maths person’. Maths anxiety has been recorded in children as young as five years old, and the unfortunate result is that children that might have excelled in the subject, had they been given time and encouragement, are instead set against the subject forever.

English helps students articulate their very surroundings – its usefulness is perhaps more strikingly obvious than trying to teach a five-year old numbers, but such a reductive view of the dichotomy between the two central subjects of the curriculum is mistaken because maths is everywhere you look. Its translatability across cultures and languages means a proper understanding of maths is vital to a proper understanding of the world.

Therein lies the problem: maths is essential, but kids are increasingly turning their backs on it. A new approach is clearly needed – and that approach might be gamification. Gamification in learning operates on the assumption that the high level of engagement gamers experience can be brought into educational contexts with the goal of facilitating learning. While the nature of some video games is lamented the world over by worn-out parents tired of trying to impose limits on screen-time, harnessing this heightened engagement for good is the central mission of educational based gamification.

Learning resources that are designed to look at the mathematics involved in the everyday happenings of the world, and then create games to engage children in identifying this maths, are some of the best tools we currently have. If children can see real-world applicability, they quickly see how maths is useful to them – how it’s something to be genuinely learnt, rather than simply short-term-memorised for a test or exam and then forgotten immediately afterwards.

Though there are plenty of maths-related games out there, it’s important to notice the difference between games that need to pause the gaming to involve maths, and games that make maths the gaming. Gamification works its magic best when the educational component is implicit, rather than a distinct division.

Maths needs to be the game, rather than just part of it. It doesn’t work if kids have to stop the narrative of their game to answer an equation in order to progress. In that situation, maths is still a hindrance. But when games involve, for example, reading a timetable in order to catch a train before a certain time, that’s when gamification does its best work. It’s the difference between a maths based game and a game that makes its user do maths – and that’s all the difference in the world.

The key to unlocking a whole new generation of highly engaged, mathematically competent kids is to utilise proper and effectual gamification, as well as encouraging classrooms to take on a more holistic approach to teaching maths that doesn’t bestow the highest prize on those who have the fastest recall.

Brent Hughes, a former primary school teacher, is Matific’s Education Expert. 

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