How Game-based Learning Can Support Strong Math Practices

Less than half of the students in America are proficient in math and most students would rather eat broccoli than do math problems. 

Yet we are asking more of our students than ever before. The Standards for Mathematical Practice raise expectations for our students, asking them to understand concepts, make connections and communicate their reasoning. 

How can we get students to not only engage in math, but also go deeper in the mathematical thinking and practices described in the standards?

Leverage Students' Love of Digital Games

A national survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 97% of two to seventeen year olds play video games (both boys and girls!) and nearly two-thirds of young Americans play games while interacting with their friends and family.

Students are already communicating and working collectively while playing games (in the terms of the standards: they're constructing viable arguments and critiquing the work of others).

And teachers are already leveraging student's love of games in their classrooms; 74% of K-8 teachers use digital games in instruction.

How Do We Know if Game-based Learning Works?

If designed well, game-based learning can harness students' intrinsic motivation and love for play and lead them toward complex problem solving. 


Games make brains grow.

A study using fMRI technology showed three areas of brain growth after two months of playing digital games: the prefrontal cortex (responaible for abstract thinking, analyzing, making choices and making predictions), the hippocampus (responsible for memory, spatial navigation and learning) and the cerebellum (responsible for movement). 

Games teach productive struggle.

If you think about it, most of game playing is failing, so why don't players give up?

It's because students expect to fail as part of mastering a game. It doesn't make them feel bad. They know that struggle and failure are just part of the process toward success.

What Kind of Games Help Students Develop Strong Mathematical Practices?

Nearly 3/4 of teachers using digital games report that games have been effective in improving students' mathematics learning. However, most teachers want help finding curriculum-aligned games that lend themselves to deep exploration and complex problem-solving.

Look for games that create a compelling world of problem-solving, allow self-directed exploration, deliver scaffolded mastery-based learning, provide data for players to monitor their own progress and offer real-time feedback to help players adjust their solution.

game based learning infographic

Learn more about the ST Math instructional games and how schools are using ST Math to support standards-based math practices:

Learn More About ST Math

 Further Reading and Resources

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Heera Kang

About the Author

Heera Kang was Manager of Engagement Content and Design at MIND Research Institute. Productive struggle, growth mindset and equity in education are some of her favorite topics.


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