Math gaming engages August Ahrens students


In the last few years, video gaming has become a fun and successful way to engage more and more kids in math. And while that sounds like the equivalent of delivering vegetables via dessert, gaming has been shown to sharpen the students’ academic and strategic skills.

August Ahrens Elementary is the latest to jump in with its 6th graders, playing games from Dimension U’s family of games, including Towerstorm and Meltdown. For a couple months in Fall 2013, August Ahrens students were tracking at the top of Dimension U’s national leaderboard against schools from around the country.

The multiplayer games use math and literacy curriculum for grades 3 through 9. Students can advance through the games by correctly answering questions tied to classroom lessons.

“Although they think of it as only playing, they really are learning and improving their mathematical knowledge,” said teacher Veralyn Ulep.

Teachers have found creative ways to use these games in the classroom that typically involve them competing against one another. Ariel Maranan’s students strive for points because it turns into “money” for their checkbooks — part of a behavior/reward banking system that her class runs. Michael Ulep’s students compete in double-elimination tournaments.

“I myself enjoy playing video games, especially at a competitive level, so I understand what the students are going through,” Michael Ulep said.

The Dimension U platform was introduced to August Ahrens via Waipahu High School, which saw its students’ interest in math explode via the games (and was profiled in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser). Perhaps not coincidentally, year-over-year, Waipahu High has shown dramatic gains in the math proficiency and growth of its students since 2010-11.

For August Ahrens Principal Hanh Nguyen, gaming — used judiciously — works.

“When used appropriately (frequency, duration, and aligned with learning objectives) these programs are very congruent with the learning style of this generation of ‘digital native’ students and definitely enhance their learning,” Nguyen said. “Our broad goal has always been to utilize technology or anything else that will engage, entice and supplement learning.”

For their part, the kids certainly seem to be enjoying it. When asked what his students are saying about the games, Michael Ulep said, “Their feedback is ‘When are we playing Dimension U?’”

While the kids are having fun, the teachers are able to track the progress of each student. “Dimension U is a great reward for the students and it can also be used to check the students’ understandings,” said Veralyn Ulep. “There is a way to look at the data of the students’ work and assess how they are doing in math. If they don’t focus on just “glooping” others and really try to solve the problems carefully, the data can be a good indicator of student achievement.”


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