Mind on Math Published 2007-07-06 under ,

MIND Institute I had the most wonderful opportunity this week to meet Ted Smith, the Chairman and CEO of the MIND Institute, and was fascinated with the work of his organization. They produce games that help students succeed in math.

I can hear you say it now: "Not another math game!". Hold-on. These games are different. First of all, they grew out of over 30 years of academic research into brain function and learning. Second of all, they have a track record of success with six years of consistent 15-20 percentile point improvements on the California Standards Test (more...).

But the biggest difference is that these are not your typical drill and practice math games. They are engaging and challenging. I just spent over an hour going through some of the demos with my 10 year old nephew. Most of the time was spent on the "Challenge Puzzles" which are great. Be careful, these are addicting and are not easy (my nephew had to help me on a few).

For me, the most impressive aspect of the games is that they begin with no words or symbols. They teach a concept without the confusion of mathematical terminology or long explanations. They also focus on problem solving. I love how they challenge students to think and not just recite or memorize. These games are designed to be a part of a traditional math curriculum (not replace it) and I cannot imagine a teacher or principal who would not jump at the opportunity to include them in their school.

I asked Ted if he referred to the MIND Institute's tools as games or something more appealing to educators like "simulations", "tutorials" or "learning modules". He indicated that he has always insisted that they be called games because they are fun. Just because something is fun does not mean that it is not important or productive.

For many, games are considered frivolous and not part of a real learning environment. We can all agree that much of our learning as toddlers was through games. We may through a game show like activity in here or there. But for the most part, games are viewed as entertainment and not part of education (as if the two are mutually exclusive). Marc Prensky writes extensively about this topic. Recently, I have been looking to Mark Wagner for insight on the topic of games in education. He is doing a great job summarizing the research and actual implementations of this field.

If you have not seen the work from The MIND Institute, take a look and good luck on their challenge puzzles. I hope these games will help convince you that there is a role for games in education.