Play Math to Teach Math: PlatinuMath
PlatinuMath focuses on teaching students of a different kind; pre-service and in-service elementary teachers. Having to teach math to young students can be a difficult endeavour for budding teachers who have not been exposed to math concepts for some time. Many can suffer from math anxiety and low math confidence. In fact research has found that there is a greater need for US elementary teachers to be better prepared for teaching math, with subjects such as algebra not being given enough instruction time for pre-service teachers. Some teacher training colleges can assume that students have enough knowledge of elementary math before starting their training, and their programs can sometimes fall short of recommended guidelines.
PlatinuMath strives to bridge this gap and help potential teachers during their journey to full licensing via a professional development math game. The key thought behind the game is as pre-service teachers become more comfortable with math concepts, they will perform better as teachers and as a result, students will learn more and have improved grades. The game developers’ ambition was to create a game that could teach new math skills and not just reinforce existing skills like many ‘drill and practice’ style games do. In effect, PlatinuMath is more of an overall learning and understanding math game, rather than just a vehicle for practicing existing math skills.
The game itself is structured as a narrative story, where the heroine Regina Cavendash, must solve a series of math problems in order to save her uncle Professor Roger Carlyle from a mysterious secret society. Using the help of Sam, a helpful mechanical robot, Regina works through clues and games to seek out and save her uncle. Structured into seven chapters, each of which focusing on a different math concept, the game has mini-games to learn math skills and give valuable instruction on math concepts. This separates it from the bulk of math games which can be more drill-based and lack actual instruction.
These chapters include tuition on ratio and proportion, fractions, real numbers, variables and equations, linear equations, and triangles. Each of these concepts are aligned with Common Core standards, making it easy to combine with college level math method courses or even for practicing teachers to review their own math knowledge.
The mini-games in Platinumath have obviously been well thought out and cleverly designed. Defending a tower against an invasion of zombies and shooting at evil orbs are some of the 23 different games within the application. For each of these games, there are six levels of difficulty, allowing students to become proficient at the lowest level and prepare themselves for the higher levels when they feel they are able. The lowest level introduces the math concept and uses simple controls and numbers. As levels increase, new types of numbers and theories are introduced, with the highest levels giving conceptually challenging problems. Rather than just rehashing the same topics with harder questions, the games dig deeper into the concept itself. These concepts are also interrelated, allowing students to connect between different math concepts.
PlatinuMath can be used both on laptops and (soon) on mobile devices, making it easier for students to access the game outside of the classroom. The game also provides an assessment dashboard for college lecturers to keep track of how the students are performing and a reporting feature that presents results. As always, we wanted to find out a bit more about why the game was developed and its benefits for teachers. We spoke to Scott Brewster from Triad Interactive Media, makers of PlatinuMath, to give us the low down on the game.
What was the motivation for creating PlatinuMath?
Good individual mini-games exist out there, but are disjointed. They don’t show connections between different areas of math. Large games have been attempted, but they take an extreme amount of development resources, and are unwieldy in the modern lives of busy people with short gaming spurts (even recreational big games have been losing players since 2010). Our game is a hybrid: it has mini-games, but they add up to a larger purpose, and are connected by a larger narrative.
There are very few games with intrinsically mathematical game mechanics. Not all PM games are intrinsic, but a good number of them are. These “math metaphors” help teachers a lot, because they show math in a context, a setting, a situation. They show, don’t tell, what math concepts are, and what they do. Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught. Playing games can give them a sense for the personal learning experience that can happen in game.
Why should teachers use PlatinuMath in their professional development?
Games somewhat playfully pinpoint the parts of math tasks that are somehow challenging: hard to understand, require a lot of number juggling, task your working memory, or demand particular skills such as connecting visuals with computations. Students face these challenges as they learn. Teachers can see if they are rusty on some aspects, subtle ideas, or connections between the topics. It even worked for me when I played; I noticed some skills, like estimation, I never realized I was missing and I co-developed these games!
Although PlatinuMath has been developed for pre-service elementary teachers, it is a worthwhile addition to any teachers’ professional development, in particular those who are feeling a bit rusty in math or feel that their math knowledge is not up to scratch. The game itself was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education’s IES SBIR program, and was the recent winner of the 2013 Codie Award for Best Simulation or Game. Keep an eye out for their Science professional development product, Project NEO which is due out soon. Contact Platinumath directly for purchasing details.