25Aug
By: Alejo Montoya On: August 25, 2011 In: Blog, Featured Comments: 2
Figure 1. Main Menu.

Figure 1. Main Menu.

Research has shown that many students are not interested in learning mathematics; they find it difficult to understand, irrelevant to their daily lives, and uninteresting. This thesis explored elements of computer games that may satisfy children’s learning needs and ultimately motivate them to learn mathematical concepts.

Two seemingly unrelated content areas in which handheld touch-enabled devices appear to be drawing immediate attention are the areas of education and video games. Apple iPhones, iPads and similar products are rapidly finding their way into classrooms around the world. Many educators and educational institutions are trying to make use of these technologies in classrooms. The impact of technology in education remains to be formally studied.

The focus of this study was the intersection of these two developments: the recent popularity of handheld touch-enabled devices in education and video game content. In particular, the study aims to investigate the use of video games on handheld touch-enabled devices in helping algebra students learn mathematical concepts related to the link between linear and quadratic functions.
The game used in this study, ParabolaX, is a new experimental mathematics educational game and runs on handheld touch-enabled devices. In conducting the testing, the ParabolaX application gathered anonymous data from players to determine whether they were engaged, how well they understood the mathematical content, whether they understood the challenge, and whether they could apply an appropriate problem solving strategy to the challenge.

Game Description

Figure 2. Study mode.

Figure 2. Study mode.

When the game starts a main menu is presented to the student (Figure 1).

Study mode (Figure 2) enables the student to become familiar with the graphs of quadratic functions. Two lines are presented to the student. The student can select one with a “hold tap” close to the line he (she) wants to modify. When the line is selected it will change color to green. This means it can be modified; the student can then drag the line to change the intercept with the y-axis. In other words, the student can move the line up and down. It is possible to change the slope of the line by using two fingers when the line is in edit mode (green) and rotating the line with a rotation gesture on the touch screen. The parabola resulting from the multiplication of the two lines is calculated in real time, and presented to the student. The goal here is to show how the parabola properties (vertex, intercepts, orientation, etc.) change when the lines are changed.

In orientation game (Figure 3) two lines are presented to the student. The challenge is to guess if the parabola that results from multiplying these two lines opens upwards or downwards. The game starts with a countdown to prepare the iPhone/iPod in an initial position. For this specific game, data from the accelerometers of the device are collected. When the student makes a movement in the air with the device that represents his (her) guess to the solution of the problem, the movement is tracked using the accelerometers. Then the real solution of the problem is presented to the user, along with a message telling if he (she) did well and a winning melody will play, or a different melody will play encouraging him (her) to try again if the guess was wrong.

Figure 4 shows a list of available levels for Parabola Game and Line Game. The player can only play unlocked levels. Once a level is unlocked, the next level will be available.

Figure 3. Orientation game.

Figure 3. Orientation game.

Some information about each level is shown, like the level number, whether or not it is locked, the best user score in the level (the user can try the same level several times to improve his (her) score), and the number of stars earned in the level. The stars are calculated based on the accuracy of the answer.

Once the player selects a level to play, a screen with two lines is presented (Figure 5). There is a countdown, and the faster the student guesses the correct answer, the better the time bonus added to the score. The current level number and current high score are presented as well in the top of the screen, as informative data for the student. The goal in this game is to draw on the screen of the device the parabola resulting from multiplying the two lines. After drawing the answer, the student should hit the “done” button to confirm the answer and an informative screen (Figure 6) is showed.

Similar to the parabola game, the line game is a level based game. The same properties apply: A level is only unlocked when the previous level has been cleared or beaten and the score is the best score of the user on the level, stars are based on the accuracy of the user solution to the problem.

In this game a line and a parabola is presented to the student, and the goal is to guess the other line that, multiplied by the line that is shown, produces the parabola.

Results

Levels.

Figure 4. Levels.

The application is available free of charge on the App Store of Apple, Google Analytics is starting to collect data from the application available at the App Store. However, this data was not included in the actual analysis because we cannot be sure the targeted population generates this data. Other future analysis needs to be performed for it.

All students agreed that ParabolaX was easy to use as shown in Figure 7. 53% of the students strongly agree with this. From the experiments we can tell students liked how they were able to interact with the device in innovative ways, like drawing the parabola in the air or using the touch screen, as well as the feedback with images and sounds that made the game very engaging for them.

The results showed that the gap between genders is not that large, and both female and male students were very engaged with the use of ParabolaX. Figure 8 shows what the perception of the students was when asked if the game helped them to understand the concept of quadratic functions. All females agreed that the game helped them to understand the concept, and 84% of the males said the game helped them to understand the concept.

Figure 9, shows that independent of gender, all the students were engaged with the game and enjoyed the game. It is interesting to note that female students were more motivated (43% strongly agree that the game was enjoyable, against 33% male students).

In reviewing the results from the experiments, several interesting and surprising trends were discovered. Not enough data was collected to refute or affirm the previous results as a final conclusion; further experiments need to be performed with more students in order to get conclusive results.

Parabola Game

Figure 5. Parabola Game

Figure 6. Results dialog.

Figure 6. Results dialog.

FIgure 7. It is easy to learn to use ParabolaX.

FIgure 7. It is easy to learn to use ParabolaX.

Figure 8. Using ParabolaX helped me understand quadratic functions better.

Figure 8. Using ParabolaX helped me understand quadratic functions better.

Figure 9. ParabolaX was enjoyable.

Figure 9. ParabolaX was enjoyable.

 

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Alejo Montoya
Alejo Montoya completed his graduate studies in computer science at Grand Valley State University's School of Computing. He worked for two years as a graduate assistant in the Mobile Apps and Services Lab.

2 Comments:

    • Russ Taber
    • January 16, 2012
    • Reply

    Love the idea of making math more accessible. But the app does play right on my iPad and has little function. It should play as an iPhone app, but does not function properly. No buttons, or instructional text is shown.

    • Jonathan Engelsma
    • January 16, 2012
    • Reply

    Thanks for the feedback Russ. Char actually pointed out the iPad issue to us recently as well. It will be corrected in an update soon.

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