Mathematics achievement is an area in which American precollege students are faltering. Emerging research suggests that making mathematics instruction relevant and applicable in the lives of youth may impact math achievement, especially when it capitalizes on high-interest technologies such as video games.
Employing a quasi-experimental and descriptive approach, this study examined the mathematics (i.e., numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, and probability) that middle school students employed during their design and construction of video games. First, it examined the mathematics content learned by 19 sixth and seventh graders during their analysis, synthesis, and programming of three video game projects over 7 months. Second, it measured the ability of the student programmers to laterally transfer mathematics content from the technology context of game production to the traditional context of paper-and-pencil tests. Third, it evaluated student attitudes toward mathematics prior to and following video game design and construction. The performance of student programmers was compared with that of a control group of nonprogrammers on measures of transfer and affect.
Results indicated that middle grade students successfully identified the events defining game play (e.g., motion, collisions, and scoring) of three, simple video game models. They successfully represented video game events in both mathematical and programming forms by writing and coding (a) boundary conditions using inequalities, (b) coordinate locations and identification of coordinate convergence, (c) directional headings, (d) uniform linear motion, (e) variable changes, and (f) probability-based consequences. They were also successful in writing programming code for their own functional video games, with a high percentage of relevant mathematics content incorporated therein. However, while treatment students transferred mathematical knowledge from the technology to the traditional context, it appeared that, without explicit bridging, the transfer was no better than comparison students. Treatment students also demonstrated no significant changes in attitude associated with designing and constructing video games. This study demonstrated that video game design and construction can be a viable—although not significantly different—method, cognitively and affectively, of instructing age-appropriate, standards-based mathematics content.