Prefrontal cortex recognizes need for data
Math fact data “delivered” to prefrontal cortex
Prefrontal cortex combines fact recall with rules and patterns, resulting in skilled problem solving
Pictures at www,mathnook,com/blog
Why Fact Games Work
Readers of this column know that we at www.mathnook.com believe that there is value to rote memorization, but that “skilling, drilling, and killing” students with facts and procedures simply kills kids’ motivation to learn, or even to try. It seems like an impossible dichotomy, but in fact, there is a simple analogy to something we all encounter on a daily basis. Do you have an old computer, a warhorse relic from ten or more years ago? Other than warning you to check continuously for viruses on your XP machine (please don’t pass your viruses to us!), I want you to remember what it is like to try to stream a movie, write music, or develop your own graphics with a machine that was built long before Netflix and the Adobe Creative Suite™.
You are sitting there fuming as your machine keeps saying things like, “Adobe Creative Suite (not responding).” You are tempted to yell at it, “You’re a machine! Stop ‘not responding,’ respond!” Finally, you slam down Ctrl-Alt-Delete and find out that your CPU usage is stuck at 100%. Permit me this geek moment, but I can explain just why this is happening.
Let’s say that your computer has something like 2 gigabytes worth of random access memory (RAM). Adobe Creative Suite™ requires almost all of that for the program to work. The closer you get to full utilization of your computer’s RAM, the more your CPU (central processing unit) takes over the work, which slows your computer down like the carapace on a giant turtle.
Is your child, or your classroom if you are a teacher, trying to compute with too little RAM? If so, the part of the brain that we think is responsible for storage and recall of math knowledge is underutilized, while the parts which should be retrieving the data from centers like the parieto-occipital sulcus, is busy pretending to be RAM. You can buy more RAM quite cheaply for your computer. Why not buy some more RAM for your problem-solving centers to query, by getting the math facts out of the way? Relegating facts to the random-access memory part of the brain frees the prefrontal cortex to organize itself around problem-solving, not fact recall.
For an example, let’s look at the long division algorithm. On the left of the table below, you will find the step, and on the right, the brain processing step that should go into applying stored data. We are going to assume a neurotypical student with at least an adequate storage for math facts and rules.
Step Brain Process
1. set divisor outside the box and dividend inside it Rule recall
2. Estimate how many times the divisor will fit into the dividend, or into the appropriate place value of the dividend Higher-order processing
3. Multiply the divisor by your estimate in step 2 Fact recall; maybe recall of multiplication subroutine
4. Subtract result in Step 3 from dividend Fact recall, application of place value (higher order knowledge) and regrouping rules
5. Repeat (iterate) steps 2-4 until there is no remainder or the desired level of accuracy is reached Higher-order processing, fact recall, and assimilation of rules, facts, and applications.
6. Report the results Mathematical language
Even as I look at this, I’m astonished that some students who manage to become proficient at math remain unable to zap you with “42” when you ask them, “Seven times six?” If you have to work out the staggering number of math facts in every long division problem, by the time you reach algebra, your prefrontal cortex is going to be like that dinosaur computer running Windows XP that we met at the beginning of this entry.
The games at www.mathnook.com don’t claim to train your prefrontal cortex for higher-level functions. A regular visitor to this site will, however, reduce the cognitive load on the part of the brain that needs to send out data requests and integrate the responses into an answer.
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.
Mathnook has long been the leader in assisting students in learning to love mathematics. They have created a wonderful website with a plethora of online video games that make math more fun for young minds to explore. These games run the gamut from basic computations and measurements to more elaborate skills such as geometry and algebra. But what if you need help with the games and skills themselves?
Mathnook has a Youtube channel which can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/mathnook
. This channel includes tutorials for almost every game on the website which can help your child if they need help with a specific game. For instance, a game like Math Balloons Decimals Game features a nine minute long instructional video which shows all of the features and options on the game, the end goal of the game, and how to perform the mathematical concept that is at the core of this particular game, in this case, decimals. No matter what skill level your child is, he or she can be successful with these math games When you visit Mathnook, you will find a series of fun video games that are designed to cover a variety of topics that are taught in the school system throughout the year. Just the overall topics, which are organized at the top of the screen, include the following skills:
- Coordinate Grid
- Even/Odd Numbers
- Math Vocabulary
- Number Order
- Order of Operation
- Place value
- Prime/Composite Numbers
These skills represent the bulk of what a student is expected to learn in mathematics from pre-K all the way up to early high school. And no one can deny the importance of mathematics in the current curriculum. With a greater emphasis being placed on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses, students are having even more stress put on them to excel in these courses. Many of the higher paying jobs of the future will require a background in one or more of these fields. That is why it is important to give your child a leg up now while they are still at the impressionable state. Since math skills build on each other, learning and mastering each one is of vital importance and these tutorial videos and games are a great way to do this while still keeping the learning process fun and informative.
For quite some time now, Mathnook.com has been a leader in providing free online math games for students to help enhance and support their mathematics education. Now, the popular website is introducing a contest to promote customer appreciation. Parents and teachers are encouraged to log-in and enter their school for a chance to win a $200 Amazon gift card. This contest will run through January with one deserving school being selected as the winner.
The contest is easy to enter. Simply log-in to Facebook and visit Mathnook’s Facebook page. Like the page and then fill in the information for your school (or your child’s school) to be entered to win the gift card. It’s that simple. The winner will be chosen at random and announced in mid-January. With the money won, teachers can help supplement their dwindling budgets by purchasing whatever they need for the classroom, be it supplies, books, or reproducibles.
Mathnook.com was founded several years ago by the husband and wife team of Jan and Tommy Hall. They combined their experience in education and computer programming to put together this popular website which has become a full-time project for both of them. It features video games that cover a variety of skills and standards in mathematics from basic level work like counting and measurements to more advanced work like algebra and geometry. By creating video games that help students master these skills, the Halls have helped both students who are struggling to improve their grades in math and teachers who are looking for new ideas to help in the classroom. Teachers are encouraged to use this site to help students who are struggling, to reinforce those who are meeting the standards, or to offer advanced work and differentiation for those students who are advancing beyond their peers. And, besides being a great educational tool, Mathnook emphasizes that math can be fun by providing engaging games that help to make kids see the fun side of what many unfortunately have written off as a boring subject.
So if you are a parent or teacher who is already familiar with Mathnook, then you know how great a program it is. If not, be sure to check it out and help your child or students with their math work and skills. Either way, stop by the Mathnook Facebook page and be sure to sign up for the contest giveaway so that you can get a shot at a $200 gift card to Amazon for your deserving school.