Learning Fractions Through Gameplay

Introduction

Mathematics often appears to be one of the most challenging subjects to students. Mastering abstract concepts through formal studies frequently presents difficulties for children as they cannot connect this material to real-world situations. Fractions represent one of the most crucial topics as they are based on a deeper understanding of numbers in general and may serve as a marker for students’ future achievements in learning mathematics (Torbeyns, Schneider, Xin, & Siegler, 2014, p. 5). This paper discusses the opportunity to support the studies of fractions by implementing a game-based learning process. Fractions and game-based learnings are the paper’s topic and the type of learning environment correspondingly. The technology tool that is used for implementing this idea is the Minecraft game, which would require a laptop or an iPad, and a projector.

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Topic

Fractions are challenging not only for students, but also for instructors that need to seek the most effective methods of teaching this topic (Naiser, Wright, & Capraro, 2004, p. 193). Research suggests that students are not motivated much to study fractions as they do not see the connection between this sphere of mathematics and the real-life situations (Naiser, Wright, & Capraro, 2004, p. 197). Issues such as the inability to remember the material from earlier studies also make the learning process difficult.

The problem of learning fractions is important since the success in understanding this topic is related to the higher results in mathematics overall, which has been proven by the studies conducted among students in different countries (Torbeyns et al., 2014, p. 5). Moreover, fractions are used in future studies such as physics or economics. These subjects often use abstract ideas represented by fractions, which makes it even more difficult for students to understand. The teacher’s role lies in improving the learning process by connecting fractions to real-life situations, thus increasing students’ interest and understanding of the topic.

Literature Review

Even though educational games are usually viewed as a commodity of modern times, the idea has a long history. The literature review suggests that some of the first games targeted at teaching students were played as early as the 1970s (Rankin, 2015). In his article, Rankin (2015) discusses the input of the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), which understood the possibilities of computer networking for education long before the Internet era. The general idea behind the organization’s activities was to offer public school students the possibility to learn by playing educational games on computers. For example, the article mentions the MANAG game, where students engaged in a competition of offering the best company management practices (Rankin, 2015, p. 197). This fact not only proves that the concept has a long history but also underlines the importance of collaboration for game-based learning.

Nowadays, technologies are becoming more advanced each year, and many of them are now integrated into the standard learning process. Educational leaders become more interested in incorporating digital learning games into the process of formal studies due to their popularity among children as a leisure activity (Erhel & Jamet, 2013, p. 156). However, there is a question of whether educational games help in acquiring a deeper understanding of a subject. Research suggests that this type of environment must have a decent amount of learning instruction and content for achieving better information processing results (Erhel & Jamet, 2013, p. 164). On the other hand, the entertainment approach helps in mobilizing deep cognitive processing (Erhel & Jamet, 2013, p. 164). On the overall, researchers propose that game-based learning becomes the most effective when students may actively engage in processing the educational content (Erhel & Jamet, 2015). This tool proves to be useful in developing cognitive skills by solving virtual models of real-life situations.

The idea of cognitive development linked to the usage of the game-based learning environment can be found in other studies as well. Researchers agree that games may positively affect the cognitive development process (Plass, Homer, & Kinzer, 2015). Studies conducted by Plass et al. (2015) stress the importance of the game-based learning as a tool that has several dimensions of influence, which include “cognitive, affective, motivational, and sociocultural” theoretical foundations (p. 258). One of the important factors mentioned in the studies is that games need to specifically address the learning needs of students and be adjusted to benefit them (Plass et al., 2015). In other words, a proper design of this learning environment positively relates to the students’ psychological development on many levels.

Learning Environment Description

The learning environment is specifically designed to achieve a deep understanding of fractions among students. The important part is to have the game stimulate a comparable cognitive process to the studied topic (Tobias, Fletcher, & Wind, 2014, p. 486). Gaming time should support formal studies and be a part of a structured curriculum, which helps in achieving learning objectives (Tobias et al., 2014, p. 494). Three types of engagement will be a base for students’ gaming activities, including cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors (Plass et al., 2015, p. 260). The process will help students in connecting fractions concepts with real-life situations, stimulating their motivation, deeper understanding of the topic, and the ability to apply it in solving everyday problems.

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The target group for this learning environment consists of students attending the fourth grade, and a classroom will serve as a setting for the process. Every student will have a pre-assigned laptop or an iPad with a game installed to it. Before starting a playing process, students will first discuss the topic with their teacher. The latter will use a classroom projector as a technical tool for demonstrating the basic concepts of fractions to support a formal lecture. A projector will also be used for offering more comprehensive instructions about the gaming process and goals that need to be achieved.

Minecraft is a game that is chosen for this learning environment. The reason for this choice is that Minecraft has geometrical, three-dimensional graphics that helps in visualizing abstract mathematical concepts. Its main elements are blocks that are put together to form objects. Visual representation makes it easier for students to understand such elements as, for example, equivalent fractions. The task of students will consist of building a virtual bridge by solving fraction problems. Minecraft will have two levels of difficulty, and the second one will be more challenging as it will not have the multiple-choice option.

The instructor’s role in this process is linked to stimulating motivation and discussing any issues that students face while playing the game. As a motivating factor, the first five students that reach the final point on the map will receive tokens or points issued by a teacher. This step increases the competitiveness among students, which results in an increased interest in the topic (Plass et al., 2015). In a case, if some students do not manage to solve the gaming problems successfully, they will have to work in groups to find a solution before they can play again. A teacher should work as a facilitator that can help in dealing with such issues.

Another important role played by a teacher is that he or she needs to create an environment that would suit every student. Also, a teacher must ensure that everyone in the class understands the topic before engaging in the game. For example, a teacher builds structures at the beginning of the class and leads a discussion about them. Students should be able to solve several problems on paper before they encounter virtual models. The blocks in Minecraft have various structures, and teachers must use those that have distinctive borders so that students easily distinguish between parts of constructions.

One of the most important benefits for students is that they can understand fractions through a visual representation offered by constructions’ parts. This results in a better understanding of the topic overall. The psychological development is associated with the more complex cognitive processes and increased capabilities of memory functioning (Plass et al., 2015; Tobias et al., 2014). Besides, seeing how blocks as parts of a whole are combined to create a proper model of an object may increase the students’ interest. The latter is achieved since children see how fractions can be applied in real life. This also benefits teachers as they do not need to seek ways of increasing student motivation further. Another positive result of the game-based environment for students is that they are developing their collaborative skills while working on a solution.

Research Plan

The effectiveness of the discussed learning environment must be assessed properly to determine whether it provides the target results. Researchers of the game-based learning offer a framework that evaluates the games’ support of formal studies, focusing on inquiry, communication, construction, and expression (Foster & Shah, 2015, p. 369). A successful game-based learning environment stimulates students to ask questions and be interested in further researching the topic (Foster & Shah, 2015). This factor can be traced in students’ engagement in trying different solutions and methods of using fractions to build objects in the game. Communication during problem-solving may guide children in their inquiry process. Teachers may assess the effectiveness of implementing the game by evaluating how students use the material to construct their knowledge about fractions. Finally, the emotions and feelings children express about the topic and the learning process, in general, is a tool for collecting feedback.

The practical side of evaluating the students’ knowledge would be conducting a quiz before and after the process of gaming. Besides, the individual scores measuring each student’s correct answers, remaining time, and final points, will be presented. Finally, there will be a group discussion targeted at having children to give their impressions about the process and its outcomes. Students will be able to share their difficulties and accomplishments, as well as the new knowledge they were able to construct as a result. All this material serves as the factors of analysis under the mentioned framework and allows us to further shape the game-based learning environment for it to fir every student.

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References

Erhel, S., & Jamet, E. (2013). Digital game-based learning: Impact of instructions and feedback on motivation and learning effectiveness. Computers & Education, 67, 156-167.

Foster, A., & Shah, M. (2015). The ICCE framework: Framing learning experiences afforded by games. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 51(4), 369-395.‏

Naiser, E. A., Wright, W. E., & Capraro, R. M. (2004). Teaching fractions: Strategies used for teaching fractions to middle grade students. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 18(3), 193-198.

Plass, J. L., Homer, B. D., & Kinzer, C. K. (2015). Foundations of game-based learning. Educational Psychologist, 50(4), 258-283.

Rankin, J. (2015). From the mainframes to the masses: A participatory computing movement in Minnesota education. Information & Culture, 50(2), 197-216.

Tobias, S., Fletcher, J. D., & Wind, A. P. (2014). Game-based learning. In J. M. Spector et al. (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 485-503). New York, NY: Springer.

Torbeyns, J., Schneider, M., Xin, Z., & Siegler, R. S. (2015). Bridging the gap: Fraction understanding is central to mathematics achievement in students from three different continents. Learning and Instruction, 37, 5-13.

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