Math and Parenting
11:11 am
Thu September 12, 2013

Almost Everyone Can Master Algebra In 90 Minutes By Playing This Video Game

DragonBox Adaptive, a game developed by the UW Center for Game Science.
Credit UW Center for Game Science
Master Algebra in 90 Minutes: KUOW's Ross Reynolds interviews Zoran Popović from the UW Center for Game Design

The University of Washington's Center for Game Science has an outrageous claim: By playing a computer game called DragonBox Adaptive for 90 minutes, 92 percent of first graders can master algebraic linear equations.

But that's not just an untested claim — it's the result of tests done in Washington state's public schools. Amazingly, that statistic also held for the few kindergarten classes that have tested the game. Most school districts don't introduce this material until middle school. Today, Ross Reynolds speaks with the Center for Game Science's director, Zoran Popović.

Popovic says kids learn better when we "scaffold" their learning — when the learning curriculum offers a steady stream of small learning opportunities that allow them to discover principles for themselves.

Beyond Algebra

Popović's research teaches us about more than algebra, though. It teaches us about parenting. When our children are stuck, we tend to offer them hints. Popović says "hints are demoralizing," a slap on the wrist, a no-confidence vote in the child's ability to solve problems. This effect completely washes out any advantage the hint may have offered. Popović says kids learn better when we "scaffold" their learning — when the learning curriculum offers a steady stream of small learning opportunities that allow them to discover principles for themselves.

That all sounds like a fine idea in principle, but how does one apply it in real life? Popović offers an example from when his four-year-old daughter wanted to learn to play tennis, just like her older sister. Rather than letting her fail and grow discouraged at swinging a heavy racket, Popović devised a game where father and daughter use their rackets to bat a beach ball back and forth on the ground. This was a game the preschooler could succeed at, all while developing a rudimentary understanding of the basic skills of tennis.

Try It Yourself

Would you or your child like to brush up on your algebra skills? You can play DragonBox Adaptive yourself. I've been studying it closely, not just for the math, but to learn what it can teach me about parenting.

Sign up for a free account to play DragonBox Adaptive here.

Play other UW Center for Game Design games here.

Related program: