Not often do my blog posts garner the attention that my most recent “Minecraft in the Classroom” did last week. Man, you people are seriously seeking video game justification! It reminded me again how much we as a community – parents, teachers, students – are looking for ways to improve our learning experience by taking advantage of all the new and exciting technology at our fingertips. And perhaps you, like I, want to make sure that we keep these tools in balance, choosing only the highest quality resources, and stowing our laptops next to our paints and brushes, binoculars and bird books.
Though the kids’ Minecraft history timelines are coming along nicely, it will be a while until I can share their work with you. Minecraft is not the only educational video game we use, however. This week, I’ll share a couple of other little gems we’ve fallen in love with. Consider if you will….
- Subject: Math
- Intended audience: grades 6-8
- Fun level: 8/10
- Challenge Level: Excellent, though we haven’t played all the modules yet
- Cheating Potential: High, but easily resolved by strategically assigning partners or providing personal oversight
- Physical Interaction Potential: Medium. Problems are provided on the game, and players solve them using paper, a white board, etc., before selecting the answer.
- Price: $155, with shipping. Special rates for schools.
After hearing rave reviews of this Myst-type math game developed in 2006 by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, I ordered it for our public library’s children’s collection. Here’s the description, taken from the website:
“Marooned on a desert island once inhabited by Rene Descartes, students discover his notebook and gear and begin their journey through the island’s tunnels, volcanoes, abandoned mines, and sunken ship. At each step, they solve increasingly difficult puzzles and math challenges that follow NCTM standards. As they master each math concept, they prepare to tackle the final quest to build a means to escape from the island.”
Upon arrival last summer, I immediately checked the game out, eager to try it on my kids and share my recommendations with other patrons. It’s intended for grades 6-8, and we quickly discovered that it was too easy for rising 9th grader Ian and too difficult for rising 6th grader Eva. However, the beautiful graphics are true to the game’s promises of Myst-style quality and appearance. The kiddos were so disappointed that it was just out of their reach.
I returned the game, and Eva and I carried on with our 6th grade math studies, moving into beginning algebra and geometry over the winter. On a whim, I checked the game out again last week, and this time, Eva was ready. You can choose six different math quests, selecting from measurement, number and operations, data analysis and probability, algebra, geometry, and reasoning and proof. Eva chose data analysis and probability. The player is equipped with a backpack for the journey that holds a notebook of handy explanations of the basic concepts you’re studying. The game’s concept is really very simple: solve 10 problems and move on through the locked door just ahead. In solving the problems, you also earn pieces of something you need to build to move on to the next grand level. Use the notebook in your backpack if you need a little help.
Ultimately, I suppose you could cheat your way through the game: the problems are set up as multiple choice. If you get the wrong answer, you can just keep trying other selections until you get the right one. There doesn’t seem to be any penalty for this. It’s all a matter of approach, however. Although I don’t watch everything that Eva does, I sit nearby to help with problems she’s stuck on. She sits by our huge white board, and I can see her working out the problems before she punches in the answer. Sometimes she does get them wrong completely, but she talks to me about it, and then explains why the solution is what it is. I have her work on it approximately a half hour a day, and she loves it so much better than worksheets and textbooks, she’s happy to do it. She knows that talking with me about the problems is part of the deal, so I am assured that real learning is happening.
All in all, I give this game an A+. Still need convincing? Watch this demo. Have fun!
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