I’ve spent the last two days working on just one concept – greatest common factor. I’ve written several pages of explanation and examples, a math activity where you drag numbers that are factors to the correct spot, added <abbr> tags that you can hover over to get words defined.
In developing our games, I reviewed a lot of research on effective math programs. One common element is that they spent A LOT of time selecting examples, refining lesson plans.
In countries where math performance is significantly higher than the U.S, teachers also tend to have much more time for class preparation.
As a game developer, I try to add sound and animation to our math activities. As a former math teacher, I try to break down every step where someone might be confused.
This is what I have seen happen to too many people who are convinced that “I don’t have an aptitude for math”. Somewhere along the line, they missed a step. Because they failed to learn what a common factor is, they haven’t a prayer of finding the greatest common factor.
However, if you just explained to them that a common factor of two numbers is one that divides into both of them, like 3 is a common factor of 18 and 24, then they might be able to easily take the next step and say “The greatest common factor then, the LARGEST number that divides into both of those, is 6!”
Many people who develop software were good at math in school. On top of that, it has been a long time since they had to learn the commutative property or that division is in the inverse of multiplication. They tend to gloss over steps because, “Isn’t it obvious?” or “Everyone knows that!”
In creating the instructional resources for our games, I try to put in the same effort that goes into creating a virtual world for a farm scene or jungle. We wouldn’t include an animation for running backward and leave out walking forward because, “Walking forward is just too easy. Anyone could do that!”
The problem I see in many games that are designed for learning is that the learning itself is an after-thought. This is a huge mistake.
You don’t get smarter by accident, you know.