Giving Students Control in Math Class 1

Forgotten Trail will be available next week, Aztech in another month, and we’re already working on updates and expansion.

It’s true as a wise man once told me,

Great games are like great artwork. They are never finished. They are just abandoned.

Our latest project is adding levels of difficulty of the math within the games. We already have levels of difficulty in the game play part of it, you can play the canoe game, where you canoe down the rapids and catch fish on easy, medium or hard levels, for example.

When students play at the regular level for mathematics an example problem would be reading Uncle Don’s journal and computing how many miles he walked in an average day.  A challenge question could be to locate the X and Y coordinates on the map that show where he was on the third day.

The question I asked my big brother – who just happens to have a doctorate in education and many years of experience teaching middle school math – was this:

Should setting the level of difficulty be determined by the teacher, selected by the student at the beginning of the game or an option for each problem?

His answer deserved repeating, so here it is. He said,

You have to remember, in my opinion, that two of the factors in motivation are challenge and control. If a person thinks that a problem is so hard he can’t do it, he’s not going to try. If he thinks it’s too easy, he’s not going to be very interested, either. As far as control, if I think the outcome isn’t under my control, then why bother? BUT, the more control I have over a situation, the more motivated I am to try. So … I think that you should have it under the student’s control and each problem he or she can decide which to try. Since you have the reporting, the teacher can look at results and maybe encourage a student with, “Hey, you got the last five right at the regular level, maybe you should try the challenge problem next and see if you could do it.

This is the kind of specific feedback that is really helpful from teachers in our early stages of design. Our next step is to revise and update the games, then test in classrooms and see how this modification works with students. Occasionally, an idea that sounds great in theory doesn’t pan out.

So … now, you know, even before we release a game, we are already planning on making it better. Not sure if that falls under the “challenge” or “control” part of motivation. Maybe both.

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