Saturday, January 14, 2012

Game Evaluation via NCTM

The Product Game (pdf)
aka Times Square
still my choice for best math game ever.

This is a quick post comparing NCTM's math game evaluation criteria with my design framework, based on Mark Rosewater's game design criteria.

I just stumbled across the NCTM's Tips for Teachers page on Math Games. Definitely check it out, they have solid links to games at the end.  After a brief motivation about why to use games, they give their criteria for evaluating a game. I've reworded and reorganized them here, as the lack of any organization and structure was a wee maddening to me.

M1. Does the game reward engaging in mathematical processes? (They connect with strategy.  NCTM’s Process standards)
M2. Does the game's structure or context support the mathematics?
M3. Does the game promote conceptual understanding?

Game features:

G1. Does the game have a random component or choices to make with clear outcomes? Are students empowered?
G2. Does the game reward replay? (Variety in tasks or different pathways to the end.) Does the game have clear scoring?

Teacher and Student:
S1. Does the game give feedback throughout?
S2. Does the game support players through the most challenging parts? (Can they get stuck?)
S3. Does the game have teacher support for classroom use? (Extensions, connected lessons, chance to track students' progress.)

Learning environment:

L1. Does the game promote positive competition and a safe learning environment?
L2. Does the game promote social play? (Competition, collaboration, and communication. )

I want to compare it to the framework I've been using lately. Both to see

  1. Goal(s) - M1-processes, M3-concepts
  2. Structure - M1-processes (representation), M2-game mathematics, S3-extensions.
  3. Strategy - M1-processes (problem solving)
  4. Interaction - G1-choices, L2-social play
  5. Surprise - G1-randomness
  6. Catch-Up - G1-randomness
  7. Inertia - G2-replay, S2-support as needed.
  8. Rules - S3-teacher use.
  9. Context: Fun-Flavor-Hook. G2-replay, L1-positive,
What the framework handles well: 
  • Math goals.
  • A lot more clarity on gameplay.
  • Covers their characteristics in a usable format.

Do I need more?
  • I've got to think about the feedback throughout (S1). That feels important for an educational game. In some games it's just your success.
  • Similarly, support through the challenging parts (S2).
  • Classroom support (S3). 
These are basically the education specific characteristics, though S1 is worth thinking about for games in general. It makes sense to me that if the framework is lacking it's in the context of educational games, since its origin was more general.

Note also the slides Maria Droujkova captured from Keith Devlin's math game webinar. His principles have a lot of overlap with the NCTM checks, but are expanded and better suited to multiple platforms. I think there is a place for skills mastery, though, as I would much rather have that in the context of a game than in drill and practice.


  1. I've just been reading Young Children Continue to Reinvent Arithmetic (2nd Grade) and there are some interesting games in there. All the games are centered around primary numerical reasoning (lots of addition games, some with subtraction). I'm curious if you'd seen Contance Kamii's book, and the games, and what you thought of both.

    1. I should look at that again - haven't seen it in years. (Link to amazon: remember liking her games, and love her thinking on student learning and number. (Also what she has to say about measurement learning.) Thanks for reminding me!

  2. There are a lot of versions of that book now with slightly different titles and grade levels (1 through 3). I'd be really interested in the one that includes measurement. Also, my kid is in first grade, but I have the second grade book right now. It's good to see where we're going but I'd like to read more about what her first graders were doing. It's been helpful though -- the whole section in the second grade book on learning to add mentally above ten -- to think of 8+4 as 8 + (2+2) for instance -- has given me a whole new line of questioning. Now when I ask her, 'how many ways can you make ten' I also ask how many ways can you make ten with three numbers? We're also doing one of the second grade games, tic tac 15 (I take odd numbers 1-9, she takes even numbers 2-10, play tic tac toe with the numbers, make a row that adds up to 15). She enjoys playing it but it's obviously a little beyond her at the moment -- we may do a tic tac 10 version for a while. My favorite section in the 2nd grade book was reading the section her co-author wrote about how she transitioned herself and her classroom to the new approach, how math was not sequestered to a certain time of day, but became a way of thinking throughout the day. I also liked the discussions on building autonomy vs. heteronomy in a learning environment.