Video Game Literacy: A New Approach for Teaching MathematicsJune 1, 2013 at 7:34 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments
(By Justin Ingerick)
The recent rise of technology both inside and outside the classroom has created many new opportunities for content teachers. Tools such as SmartBoards, graphing calculators, and personal computers have given students the ability to reach out and obtain information almost instantly. This implies that students today have many different mediums through which to experience literacy. In a mathematics classroom, it is often difficult to incorporate literacy due to the abstract nature of some topics. How can math teachers provide the necessary literacy experiences for their students without disengaging them from the content?
The simple (and somewhat controversial) answer is to incorporate video games into the math curriculum. Literacy skills can be developed through every aspect of a student’s life, even through the act of playing video games. According to Immaculee Harushimana’s article entitled Literacy through Gaming: The Influence of Videogames on the Writings of High School Freshman Males, the average teenager engages with video games for 52 minutes every day. This statistic ranks among the highest percentages of student recreation. Indeed, many video games are riddled with text and stories that the player must read, interpret, and act upon accordingly. They are filled with literacy potential not only for teaching purposes, but also for developing relevant student connections to the real world.
Implementing video games into a math classroom can pose unique challenges. For example, some video games do not have any inherent teaching value or are not age-appropriate for the students. It is up to the teacher to decide which video games have the desired potential for learning. Also, not all students will be able to access certain games, which is a factor that the teacher must consider. Aside from these obstacles, games can generally be manipulated such that they supplement student literacy experiences. A perfect example of a computer game that has dozens of applications in a geometry classroom is Minecraft. This open-world game is comprised of 1x1x1 meter blocks and the player uses different types of blocks to build structures and interact with the virtual world. How can this game benefit geometry students? One specific application is that the game has its own circuitry language (similar to electricity in real life, objects and blocks can receive input power signals and output them in a way the player chooses). A great activity involves a short lesson on introducing the circuitry language of the game and having students construct models for various actions (providing power to a set of street lights or opening a door from the push of a button, for example). An activity such as this would help students understand functions and how they can be applied to both video games and real life. This experience requires students to interpret a new language and build upon these skills, thus providing them with a new perspective on using literacy in mathematics.
Another useful game is called CodeSpells, which is a children’s game that teaches the player basic programming languages. This is not limited to upper-level math or computer science courses; rather, students in high school math who learn about logic can benefit greatly from this game. It challenges students to learn a programming language, to make connections between the language and how technology becomes active, and even to create their own programs and see how the game is affected by their designs. This game is perfect for exposing students to different forms of literacy that use the English language, but are unique in their own complex ways.
So what makes these video games (as well as others) a good resource for teaching literacy in a mathematics classroom? In Video-Game Literacy: A Literacy of Expertise, Kurt Squire writes that, “One approach to fostering game literacy is to build educational programs where students develop game literacies through playing, studying, and designing games.” Not only would students be able to play these games and learn new things about them, they would also study the structures and languages that are used. Once they have a good understanding of these concepts, they will be able to design their own applications in the game. Not only will students experience new forms of literacy in a math classroom, they will also see the relevance of mathematics in their daily lives. How does a video game programmer determine the trajectory of an object that a character throws? The programmer uses a parabolic curve in conjunction with the laws of physics to create the trajectory. Posing this question to students will prompt discussions and lead to real life applications.
Math is used in every aspect of video games and students will be able to make the real life connections and invest their ideas into the literacy experiences. Given the right video games, students will also be more motivated to complete an assignment that involves the art of gaming. For these reasons, the implementation of video games in a mathematics course will expand the literacy experiences of the students and ultimately maximize their learning potentials.