Games and the learning of mathematics outside the classroom

Rocha, H. Games and the learning of mathematics outside the classroom. Proceedings of the International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies. Barcelona, Spain: EduLearn, 2014.


H. Rocha

Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia (PORTUGAL)

Playing games is a recreational activity that is also highly recognized as a potentially rich activity for the teaching and learning. It is an activity that involves the recognition and observance of rules, as well as the development of strategies to achieve victory. It is thus an activity that encourages compliance with rules but also the development of learning and therefore has a socializing character while stimulating critical thinking and analysis of situations. This is why many authors think about playing games as a problem-solving activity with great potential for the learning of mathematics. However, a review of the literature suggests that mathematical learning does not always occur, pointing to the relevance of the specific features of the game and the circumstances in which it is used. Looking to contribute to a better understanding of these issues, the project that was the basis of this study focuses on the use of games by middle school students, intending to promote their mathematical learning in a voluntary and informal context, outside the classroom. The games were available in MatLab, a room of the school supervised by mathematics teachers, which students could visit in their leisure time. In this communication I intend to analyze how the visits to MatLab contributed to the mathematical learning of students, considering the influence of specific characteristics of the games and the atmosphere created in MatLab, given the students’ previous mathematical knowledge.

The study adopts a qualitative and interpretative methodological approach, undertaking two student case studies. Data collection was completed over three months and included observation of twenty visits of these students to MatLab. Data collection was made through the development of a logbook, audio record of the students’ visits and two interviews to the students and to their teacher. Data analysis was based on the evidence gathered in the light of the problem under study.

The conclusions reached stress the importance of certain features of the games to promote student engagement, leading to a desire for self-improvement, very important for the development of sustained learning. Computer games have proven to have a stronger potential to engage students than board games. Nevertheless, the most important characteristics of a game seem to be related to the possibility of playing at different mathematical levels (without getting blocked by lack of knowledge) and to the possibility of keep getting better marks (without the existence of a maximum level from which evolution is not possible). In what concerns to achievement in mathematics’ classes, the students’ teacher reports an improvement in mathematics knowledge (more evident in the average achiever student) as well as an increase in students’ involvement in class work (more evident in the low achiever student).

keywords: game-based learning, mathematics, informal learning.


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