Chicago Adopts Gaming for After School Math Programs

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Extra Credit
Serious Games

Games with an educational slant are nothing new, but the "serious games movement" is a fairly recent phenomenon that kicked off only five or six years ago. Serious games, fueled by advances in graphics processing hardware and widely accessible game engines, generally feature immersive 3D environments aimed at providing virtual on the job training (including military), career-focused instruction (including virtual conferences in places like Second Life), or educational and scientific simulations.

In higher education, entire courses can be based around a serious game (such as University of North Carolina-Greensboro's Econ 201 course). In K-12, games tend to be less literal, providing immersive environments that serve as backdrops rather than simulations of the subject being studied, such as the 3D world of Tabula Digita's DimensionM games.

In high schools, students are sometimes also involved in development of the games themselves.

--D. Nagel

As part of an initiative to extend math activities for its students into the "immersive learning" arena, the third-largest school district in the United States, Chicago Public Schools, has rolled out videogames in four of its after school centers. The rollout includes algebra and pre-algebra gaming software from Tabula Digita, called DimensionM.

Tabula's DimensionM series incorporates algebra and pre-algebra lessons into a 3D environment in which players carry out missions (lessons) in single-player or multi-player tournament-style games. Players face mathematical obstacles, which, when solved, allow players to advance and score points. Students and teachers alike have participated in multi-school DimensionM tournaments, including the inaugural teacher tournament, called the "State Challenge Multiplayer Educational Games (MEG) Tournament, held at this year's FETC conference.

In Chicago, the goal in adopting DimensionM was to engage students in a rich learning environment and spark interest in math through competition while ensuring that the games tied in with classroom instruction.

"Our millennium students are digital learners and as such their brains are wired differently," said Sharnell Jackson, chief eLearning officer for Chicago Public Schools, in a statement released last week. "We felt compelled to identify exceptional teaching and learning tools for our after-school programs that offer a high-level of engagement, are rich in competition, and correlate to the core instruction being given in the classroom. We found all of that and more with the DimensionM multi-user virtual learning environment.

"We were taken by the immersive, three-dimensional learning environments that DimensionM offers. Students are literally transported to a virtual world bursting with action--which they love. What the teachers embrace is the depth of Algebra-readiness instruction incorporated in the games and their correlation to the NCTM standards and our own content taught in regular-day classrooms."

The program has been deployed at four sites in the district, including Eli Whitney Elementary, Logandale Elementary, Marsh Elementary, and Waters Elementary. This is, according to Tabula Digita, the first step in a broader rollout. This spring, the company said, Chicago students will face off against students in New York in a multi-player tournament.

Tabula software supports Mac OS X and Windows systems. District, site, and classroom licenses are available.

Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest district in the United States, serves more than 400,000 students in more than 600 schools.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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