The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Technology

August 29, 2013

Computer games + math = fun and learning in schools

Associated Press — SEATTLE — Washington teacher Tammie Schrader is so enthusiastic about computer games in education that she thinks they can be used to teach programming skills that lead to college — starting in middle school.

Canadian teacher Justin Holladay wrote a few simple, tablet-based games to help his students practice math skills, and when they caught on, he started his own company to create more of them.

And the University of Washington’s Zoran Popovicgot more than 4,000 Washington students to master linear equations this spring by playing a computer game for just a few hours.

The growing availability of inexpensive tablet computers and a new generation of young teachers who grew up playing on a computer has spurred interest in games for serious purposes. This month, Schrader, Holladay and Popovic were among those who gathered in Redmond, Wash., to talk about the future of educational games at a four-day “Serious Play” conference at DigiPen Institute of Technology.

“Six or seven years ago, selling games to schools was brutal,” said David Martz, of Muzzy Lane Software, a Boston company that produces games for publishers such as McGraw-Hill. Now, he said, schools are interested in the promise of games — perhaps because gaming is so much more mainstream.

One of the most successful examples, for adults and students alike, is the University of Washington Center for Game Science’s Foldit, which challenges users to help uncover the structures of biologically important proteins.

Players around the world have made a number of important discoveries about the structures of proteins just by playing the game.

The university’s lab has recently turned to K-12 education, and is “using the same mechanisms to reach high levels of mastery for kids,” said Popovic, the center’s director.

In June, the center helped create a statewide math competition for Washington students. More than 4,000 students participated in Algebra Challenge, and together solved more than 390,000 equations over a five-day period.

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