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GameMath! Embedding Secondary Mathematics into a Game-making Curriculum

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Techniques in Improving Mathematics Education in STEM Curricula

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Page Count


Page Numbers

25.661.1 - 25.661.13



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Paper Authors


Erin Shaw University of Southern California

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Erin Shaw is a Computer Scientist at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering. Her research focuses on modeling and assessing student knowledge in the areas of science and mathematics and experimenting with new technologies for aiding assessment in distance learning. As a Co-Principal Investigator on National Science Foundation sponsored studies, she researches new ways to assess student collaboration in undergraduate engineering courses and new ways to motivate secondary mathematics learning in the context of computer game-making. Shaw was formally a software engineer in the field of computer graphics, and taught math and science as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal. She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Fitchburg State University and a master's degree in computer graphics from Cornell University.

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Zachary Boehm University of Southern California

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Zachary Boehm is an undergraduate student at USC in the process of earning a degree in computer science.

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Hussain Badruddin Penwala University of Southern California

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Hussain Badruddin Penwala, M.S. (computer science) at University of Southern California.

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Jihie Kim University of Southern California

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Jihie Kim is the Principal Investigator of the Intelligent Technologies for Teaching and Learning group in the USC Information Sciences Institute ( She is also a Research Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University Of Southern California (USC). Kim received a Ph.D. from the USC, and a master’s and a bachelor’s degree from the Seoul National University. Her current interests include pedagogical discourse analysis, game making curricula, and assessment of student collaborative online activities.

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GameMath! Embedding Secondary Mathematics into a Game Making Curriculum Authors and Affiliations Omitted for Blind ReviewObjectives-PurposesTeaching secondary mathematics as an isolated subject is not working for a large segment of thepopulation, and may be holding back large numbers of students who might otherwise contributeSTEM talent to both work and defense forces. In Los Angles, in particular, with its lowgraduation rates and low academic performance indices, motivation and achievement are twomajor concerns. The potential for teaching pre-algebra and algebra as part of a game-programming course is great. The intrinsic cultural attraction of digital game playing isundeniable. Sales of video and computer games topped $21 billion in 2008 (Reuters, 2009).Educators at all levels have begun to exploit children’s attraction to games --with their constantreward structures that foster a sense of ownership and empowerment-- to promote studentengagement and increase creativity (Ewo et al., 2009; Kelly et al., 2007). However, untilrecently, especially at the K12 level, the focus has been on learners as consumers not learners asproducers.This paper reports on our experiences designing GameMath!, a mathematics learning track for anew game making curriculum. The curriculum is the result of an NSF Creative IT grant toexplore novel ways to teach standards-based content and 21st century skill to underperforminghigh school students in Los Angeles. Game-making is being used to engage students and toprovide a grounding context for the mathematics. Producing games exposes students naturally tologic, math and computational thinking. Concepts such as rates and fractions become accessibleto students who must set player speeds to grid multiples to ensure safe passage through mazes.Data collected during play testing sessions can be averaged and graphed to analyze game design.Logic is introduced naturally.In this paper, we present different strategies and techniques for embedding math content into thegame making curriculum. The challenges are myriad and include introducing math into thecurriculum, designing authentic integration, dealing with computer distraction, and translatinggames skills to standards-based content and ultimately their application in a standards-based textcontext. As a main game platform for teaching game making, the project uses GameMaker, gamedevelopment software published by YoYo Games. The following are strategies that were testedduring a pilot implementation this spring. These are described in detail in the next section. 1. Math Worksheets 2. Change & Test 3. Math Quiz Games 4. Code Manipulation 5. Game Experiment linked to Worksheets. 6. Play Test data gathered linked to math goals.Perspectives-Theoretical FrameworkResults of multidisciplinary mathematics courses, especially concerning robotics.Methods – Techniques – Modes of InquiryThe different math strategies were implemented during the pilot and observed. To understand theteachers’ perspective on challenges to student learning and teaching, teachers were asked thefollowing questions regarding game development and game math. • What are the challenges to learning math from game development? • What are good strategies for promoting math for game development? • What are the challenges to teaching math for game development? • What kind of help do you need for teaching math for game development?As far as game making is concerned, the teachers found that student engagement in games waspositive but sustaining interest was difficult and challenging. As far as math is concerned, theteachers pointed out that it still needed to be integrated in a better way even that game makingshould be dependent on the succeeding of the mathematics. Math instruction that was integratedinto the games, as opposed to math worksheets, and presented in front of class, as opposed tohaving students do on their own computers, was more engaging than paper-based individualinstruction. However evaluation was a challenge because students did not take assessmentsseriously.It was also noted that just because the math is put in a game design context did not necessarilymake the math easier. One way teaching math through game development can be successful is ifthe students’ enthusiasm for game development carries over to the math problems. One strategywould be to integrate the math well, so that the students want to solve the problem because it isnecessary for them to proceed in the game development, as opposed to artificially adding themath as another obstacle in the game. Professional development time to integrate math into thegame development process was requested for this purpose.

Shaw, E., & Boehm, Z., & Penwala, H. B., & Kim, J. (2012, June), GameMath! Embedding Secondary Mathematics into a Game-making Curriculum Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21418

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