Educational computer games have become valuable tools that can help teachers reach 21st-century students. Unfortunately, many educators still don’t know how to implement modern technology into their lesson plans. If you are a teacher who’s been looking for ways to better connect with students, learn how you can incorporate computer games into your classroom.
Experts Offer Tips
Recently, a group of educational publishers issued a report offering tips on how teachers can use computer games to educate their students. Members of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), these experts broke their advice into three key phases to help educators effectively deploy a program involving educational computer games and simulations.
- Sell the Idea: According to the report, educators shouldn’t feel threatened by or uncomfortable with computer games. Instead, they should take the lead in helping others feel more accepting of these modern teaching tools. It’s important for educators to help parents understand the pedagogical benefits of computer games, which have been proven to serve as very useful tools to help supplement traditional educational materials. One of the best ways to do this is by altering the way parents see these activities. Instead of viewing educational gaming as recreational, teachers should equate them to lab time. Ultimately, if teachers want to effectively incorporate computer games into their classrooms, they need to gain parental support by diffusing common misconceptions. This means providing regular reports explaining the scope, purpose and results of the program.
- Preparing: Most educators are unfamiliar with computer games; so, it’s important for them to take time to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the games before they deploy a program. According to the report, it helps when teachers work with one another to create a safe place where they can ask so-called “dumb” questions. Once they develop a good understanding of the concepts related to each game, teachers can assess which ones best fit their current lesson plans. They’ll also be able to effectively determine the best pace in which to introduce games, while also being able to offer effective guidance to students who may need help along the way.
- Implementation: To make computer games work in the classroom, teachers need to focus on blending them with other teaching strategies. Activities should also be organized so they fit well within the day-to-day classroom schedule. Students should know exactly when they will be playing computer games, whether it’s at the end of every class, when they’ll have a chance to use the day’s lesson plan in a gaming format; or, whether the gaming is limited to just one specific day every week. Likewise, teachers need to know how to get the games they need. Sadly, most schools can’t afford the ongoing expense of purchasing gaming software for every single classroom computer. On the other hand, websites such as Mathnook provide online access to a virtually unlimited number of games that are well-suited for students across virtually all grade levels.
One of the concepts that any math student must master if they hope to succeed in algebra or other advanced math courses is the coordinate grid. If you are looking to help your child learn about this concept, you should simply invest in some graphing paper and a pencil.
First, have your child fold a sheet of graphing paper in half lengthwise. Then, fold it again along the width of the paper. When you open the sheet up, you should have two folds forming what looks roughly like the four different directions of a directional compass with the lines all intersecting roughly at the center of the paper. Explain to your child that you are going on a journey and this is the origin point. Its value is zero (o). Then show them that everything heading from the right or left of this point is traveling along the folded line called the x-axis. If the point is to the right (in the easterly direction of the compass), then the value of x is positive. If the point is to the left (in the westerly direction of the compass), then the value of x is negative. So if you move five squares to the right the value of x is 5 but if you move eight squares to the left the value of x is -8.
Then explain to your child that the vertical folded line is called the y-axis. Any number above the origin (in the northerly direction) is positive while anything below the origin (in the southerly direction) is negative. Therefore, a point that is six squares above the origin has a y value of 6. However, a point that is 4 squares below the origin has a y value of -4.
Now, you should point out to your child that points on a coordinate grid are expressed by writing two numbers in parentheses separated by a comma like this: (5, -8). This means that the x value is 5 and the y value is -8. In order to plot this on the same piece of graph paper, the child would move five spaces to the right of the origin point and then eight spaces down.
The idea here is to have your child practice this by plotting a variety of points until it almost becomes second nature to him or her. After that, it is easy to find activities online such as fun math games to help reinforce these skills. These games give your child the extra bit of practice to make them more comfortable with the concept so that it becomes ingrained.
The coordinate grid may sound like “scary” math but it doesn’t have to be. It is actually a quite easy concept that visual and kinesthetic learners can easily pick up with some simple materials and great resources.
There are a variety of instructional shortcuts and tips to help teachers and parents; however, when it comes to teaching fractions, many just don’t hit the mark. Teaching and learning fractions takes focus, time and rigor. That said, to get through to students, you have to capture and maintain their attention to have any chance at success.
Building Conceptual Knowledge
When teaching math, it’s important to show how the subject relates to a child’s world. By using numbers in context, you can help a child make sense of what he or she is seeing. Without understanding the meaning of numbers, it can be difficult for children to properly employ problem solving strategies.
When dealing with fractions, the best way to provide conceptual knowledge is to draw on a child’s experience. Unfortunately, because they are so young, kids have limited experience. Still, you can use plenty of familiar, everyday concepts to make fractions seem less daunting.
- Use Common Toys – One of the most popular toys for young children, Legos provide teachers and parents with an excellent way to explain fractions. Using 8-peg, 6-peg, 4-peg, 2-peg and 1-peg blocks, you can easily explain how fractions work in a visual way, using learning tools that seem familiar and less daunting.
- Use Recipes – Cooking provides an excellent way to teach children about fractions. Since each ingredient requires fractions of cups, ounces, teaspoons and tablespoons, you’re able to clearly show how fractions work in real life.
- Shopping - This is a great way for parents to show the value of knowing fractions. By having children determine sale prices versus everyday prices based on percentages, you can give them the chance to use what they’ve learned outside the classroom.
- Food – Nothing is more familiar to a child than his or her favorite food. Pizza is ideal for teaching fractions; however, you can use just about any food as long as you have a knife.
- Games – When it comes to capturing a child’s attention, nothing comes close to computer games. These days, modern kids are obsessed with technology; so much so, parents often find themselves forcing their kids to go outside and play. In reality, however, you can take advantage of this interest by using math-based games to teach fractions. Besides creating interest in the subject, Mathnook’s online games provide challenging problems that require serious thought. Still, children remain focused on the task, because solving each problem gives them the chance to rack up points, defeat competitors or advance to new levels.
Practical Classroom Skills
Obviously, at some point kids have to learn and accept basic classroom strategies for solving math problems. Still, by providing conceptual knowledge, you’re able to attain and hold their attention, so they’ll be more receptive to what they’re hearing. Likewise, by using food, toys and games, you can give them the opportunity to use their classroom skills outside of school. By encouraging children to employ math in this manner, they become practiced, while developing a greater sense of math’s importance in the real world.
It is a well-established fact that the future of careers in this country will come largely from those in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field. But, unfortunately, females are finding themselves shut out of these careers because of the stereotype that young girls don’t “do” math. Because of the gender based stereotype that girls are more emotional than boys, they are often pushed into more “artsy” fields such as the humanities leaving science and math for their male counterparts. But this does not have to be the case. Here are some examples of famous women throughout history who have overcome this stereotype and made a difference in the field of mathematics:
- Maria Agnesi—This eighteenth century Italian mathematician wrote a book on mathematics to help her struggling brothers with the subject. It worked since the book eventually became published and was a well-respected text on the subject which earned her a slot as the first woman mathematics chair in Europe.
- Sophie Germain—Born in the year of the American Revolution, Sophie Germain exemplified the revolutionary ideals with her love of learning. Because of the discrimination against women in mathematics, Germain had to submit her research under an assumed name. However, she eventually became the first woman to be recognized by the French Academy of Sciences for her work on elasticity.
- Hypatia—Perhaps the first recorded female mathematician dates back to the fourth and fifth centuries and is a descendant of the last member of the famous Alexandrian library. Hypatia was a translator of famous mathematical texts as well as a philosopher and astronomer who was eventually murdered by a mob of Christian zealots.
- Sofia Kovalevskaya—This nineteenth century Russian mathematician moved to Germany so that she could study privately because she could not formally enter a university program. However, her work on differential equations and other topics eventually made her the first woman to receive a professorship in mathematics in Europe.
- Ada Lovelace—Lovelace, the daughter of famous British poet Lord Byron, did not follow in her father’s literary pursuits, but instead followed her own path into mathematics, eventually working on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine writing what is known as the world’s first computer program.
- Amelie Emmy Noether—No less an expert than Albert Einstein praised Noether as “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” (Quote source from Einstein: Smithsonian.com) Noether not only had to overcome her role as a female in a male dominated field, but she also had to overcome the prejudice associated with her Jewish heritage. She eventually developed the foundations that Einstein would build on for his theory of relativity.
These pioneering women paved the way for the girls of today who are interested in mathematics and science and who wish to expand on their earlier work. Math does not need to still be an “old boys club.” It can indeed be open to all.