Can video games help children think?

Can video games help children think?

New research shows that educational video games can improve children’s mental maths skills.

Students who practice mental math make calculations in their minds without the guidance of pencil and paper, calculators, or other aids.

Mental math is often used as a way to calculate an estimate quickly, using math facts that a student has committed to memory, such as multiplication, division, or doubles facts

The research, by Edith Cowan University (ECU) involved 236 students aged 9-11 from seven schools across Perth. The students were split into two groups, one which used Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on a handheld Nintendo DS console and another which used traditional mental maths exercises.

Both groups worked on their maths skills for 10 minutes each morning over a 10 week school term. They were tested at the start of the term and again at the end.

According to the study’s authors, Dr John O'Rourke and Dr Susan Main, Year 4 students who practiced mental maths skills for 15-20 minutes each day using a brain training video game improved their mental maths scores by 15-30%.

Dr O’Rourke said that while the students’ results showed a clear improvement, using video games to teach primary school students was still uncommon in Western Australia.

“Our research showed using video games can improve students’ mental maths skills, but we also asked the students and teachers what they thought of teaching in this way,” he said.

“Both groups were really positive about the games. Students also said they felt more motivated and engaged and were surprised they were learning while playing games.”

Schools not on board

However Dr O’Rourke said none of the seven schools involved in the research had taken up the program after the research finished and video games in classrooms was still uncommon outside specific ‘technology’ classes.

He said video games were particularly useful in a subject like maths where engagement levels from students was lower, particularly among those students who struggled with the subject.

“What we see when we introduce these games to the classroom is a real improvement in engagement and motivation,” he said.

“Even those students who aren’t engaged with maths are more inclined to participate once the games are introduced.”

So what’s behind schools’ resistance to video games in the classroom?

According to Dr O’Rourke, school administration believes games don’t represent good use of limited budgets. Another issue is that schools often take a conservative approach to introducing new technology.

‘No substitute for real teachers’

Dr Main said video games were not going to replace classroom teachers.

“These games are just another tool to enhance the learning process in our classrooms,” she said.

“Students still need support in the classroom but using these kinds of games to boost their performance is very effective.”

Dr Main said young people were becoming more accustomed to digesting information and learning in a digital context and it was important educators and the education system kept pace with this trend.


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