Monday, 23 March 2015

Gaming in the maths classroom

On Saturday, I presented at the Education Show in Birmingham on gaming in the maths classroom and thought I would share some of my ideas with you.

Above: Some photos of me before the show. The photo on the right-hand side was taken before the presentation (note the nervous smile!)

As teachers, we need to be convinced of the positive impact something would have before adopting it as part of our educational practice. Initially, we I started out with this project and research I was unsure of (1) why gaming works and (2) how to make it meaningful so it is not just perceived as a reward. However, now I am convinced that gaming is the way forward for mathematics education (within given parameters of course), but gaming is definitely changing students' mindsets and engagement in mathematics.

How the brain works:
If we start with what we know about the brain (at least at this moment in time), stressors for teenagers include many factors and one of those is repeated failure. When students are confronted with these stressors, the amygdala (also known as the switching station) is not allowing information through to the prefrontal cortex. In most mammals we see this as the 3F's - fight, flight and freeze. However, in a teenager in a maths classroom we see it manifest in one of two ways:
1) Acting out
2) Zoning out

It is essential that information arrives at the prefrontal cortex, as it is the prefrontal cortex that allows for critical thinking, reasoning and application of what we are learning in mathematics. However, for the majority of students, mathematics is associated with repeated failure and as a result, the amygdala is not allowing information to the pre-frontal cortex where the need to process and apply the information.

Above: Image of the brain from edited by Sarah-Neena Koch

This is where the games come in:
If you have ever observed someone playing a video game, you will have noticed that repeated failure doesn't seem to deter them from playing - and you would be correct. When playing games, the amygdala doesn't associated repeated failure with the switching that in other mammals is so important for the preservation of the species, in continues to allow information through to be processed by the prefrontal cortex.

Gaming in my classroom:
It is important to understand the differences between gamification and game based learning. This video I created will explain more:

If you are new to gaming, gamification is the best way to start off. Get comfortable with the various ways you can game in the classroom. I would suggest Kahoot, as teachers you can get it at: and students access the games you've created at  You can use kahoot to create polls of just using the online gaming tool. I also use kahoot for formative assessment or as a lesson starter.

Above: Engaging the audience at the show with a kahoot we played together.

I have also used Lego to gamify what students are learning/doing in mathematics.

Game based learning:
There are several games that I have used for game based learning in my classroom, using dragonbox and MineCraft This video will explain more:

I hope you have found this useful. Please get in touch if you are using games in your math classroom so that we can create a community where we share ideas and resources.

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