It Only Takes About 42 Minutes To Learn Algebra With Video Games

On average, it took 41 minutes and 44 seconds for students to master Algebra skills during the Washington State Algebra Challenge using the DragonBox App. The Challenge, co-sponsored by Washington University’s Center for Game Science and the Technology Alliance included 4,192 K-12 students. Together, they solved 390,935 equations over the course of 5 days in early June. According to the Challenge’s calculations, that’s 6 months, 28 days, and 2 hours worth of algebra work. What’s even more impressive, “of those students who played at least 1.5 hours, 92.9% achieved mastery. Of those students who played at least 1 hour, 83.8% achieved mastery. Of those students who played at least 45 minutes, 73.4% achieved mastery.” Why didn’t this exist when I was a kid? I hated algebra. I was terrified of variables. I avoided it at all costs. Now, I find myself playing DragonBox for fun. The original DragonBox app is one thing that initially sparked my enthusiasm for game based learning. Long before I had ever heard the term “joint media engagement.” I wrote a post on Forbes entitled, “Why Playing Video Games Makes You A Better Dad.” I drew from my background in Jungian and Archetypal psychology to explain what seemed intuitively right to me: it is more important to make sure you ARE playing with your kids than it is to worry about WHAT you’re playing. Among the many responses to that piece, I received an email challenging me to play DragonBox with my kids. I downloaded the app and was astonished to see how quickly my son (then 7) learned to do complex algebraic equations. I was blown away. I felt like I glimpsed a future in which kids love to learn. I imagined schools full of enthusiastic kids discovering that both life and work can be play. If DragonBox could make algebra exciting, what else could we expect from interactive learning? I’ve been exploring the space ever since, meeting some incredible people with big hearts and huge dreams for the future of education. Jean-Baptiste Huynh, the creator of DragonBox, emailed me a few days ago. He wanted me to know about the new updated version of DragonBox 12+ and to direct my attention to the impressive results of the Challenge. DragonBox Algebra 12+ updates the original with some new graphics, new music, improved feedback, a faster pace, and more levels. Now there’s more fortified feedback encouraging learners to eliminate unnecessary operations, more dynamic positive and adaptive reinforcement, cooler dragon artwork, and more equations to solve. The updates are impressive, showing me that Huynh is a fantastic teacher. He took an already impressive learning platform and updated it to make it even stronger. He’s incrementally improved the app in the same way that I update my curriculum and lesson plans after each experience in the classroom at Temple University. This is one of the criteria of good teaching: ongoing assessment not only of your students, but also of your own performance–self study. Now my five year old is playing and he’s mesmerized by the goal of feeding the dragon. He’s learning the rules quickly and mastering the game. I watched him breeze through the first two chapters in about 20 minutes. Soon, however, I was wondering about why we value Algebra in the first place: abstract thinking, problem solving skills? Were my kids simply learning mechanical processes, algebraic procedure? Or were they also gaining the kinds of cognitive skills that led educators to value algebra class in the first place? I quickly typed an email to Huynh to see what he thought. Jordan: Broadly speaking, why is algebra important? Jean-Baptiste: Algebra is important for MY kids because I want them to be able to understand how the world works: physics, science etc. You need algebra to understand the math behind these disciplines. Also, I want my kids to make good decisions–economics, finance, statistics all require algebra.

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