Learning Algebra Through Making Video Games

The Modesto Bee
BY NAN AUSTIN NAUSTIN@MODBEE.COM
04/02/2015
Characters scurrying around homemade video games are taking Mountain View Middle School students to the next level – in algebra.

Eighth-grade math teacher Carrie Silva uses Bootstrap, an algebraic video game programming tool, to imprint such concepts as the Pythagorean theorem and how to calculate a slope. Wednesday, parents got to see what their kids dreamed up and put in virtual motion.

“He’s been talking about this since the open house,” said Rebecca Mendoza. Her son dived into the project, she added. “It was a lot of work.”

Angel Mendoza created a hot-pursuit game in which police chase a “loser” thief – “still living with his mom at 47” – and a bag of money. Angel liked having a stealth math lesson embedded in the game Silva used. “She made it really fun,” he said.

To shift his game pieces into action, Angel had to give them coordinates to move between. In regular math class, plotting points on the x axis and y axis is taught with a lecture. In programming, that algebraic mapping system is a tool in play, navigated with precision and hours of unnoticed practice.

“It taught them the distance formula, which is huge in eighth grade. They learned domain and range, understanding functions. This just took functions to a whole new level,” Silva said.

She found the Bootstrap site while researching new lesson plans for Common Core’s integrated approach to math. Starting in sixth grade, the state standards mix geometry, algebra and trigonometry through increasingly complex problems, rather than having separate years for each. The change means students can tackle real world problems in class, not just worksheets, and made the programming exercise a good fit.

“The best part was them being excited about the math and wanting to get the math so they could make their games,” she said. State testing on the new math program has not started in the Chatom Union School District, but Silva said she believes the kids will do well.

“They’re already using academic vocabulary. They’re throwing all those words around, where before I had to force them to use it. It’s like programming made it cool,” she said.
“I love the use of academic language,” said Chatom Superintendent Cherise Olvera after an in-depth student explanation of graphing coordinates.

“Coordinates,” “quadrants,” “scale,” “dilation,” “x axis” and “square root” flew without students giving them a thought, except to check if they had lost their parents in the math. There were a few blank looks, but the smiles stayed firmly in place.

“I’m glad they had this and we’re seeing the video games together,” said mom Liz Erb. “They all did great. Mrs. Silva kept them interested and it was good.”

Principal Monica Schut said the program got students excited about math. “They really see the connection between doing work in class and in the real world,” she said.

Students, showing their projects in groups of two or three, said the games gave them a new appreciation for the multilevel, 3-D masterworks they buy.

“This took us two weeks,” said Allison Nunes, pointing to her group’s simple game in which character “Grandma Foster” chases an object, “Sir Fluffy” the cat, across a road while avoiding a car, the game’s danger.

All the games had much the same format: character, object and danger moving around a small playing area. In the student-created games, Chuck Norris rides a sea turtle into battle against North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and a hippo chases a zebra to get a magic apple, but there is nothing silly about the algebra.

Math homework makes more sense because of what he’s learned in programming, said eighth-grader Davis Vieira. “It seems a lot easier because of what we have to do in the game,” he said.

See the games at http://mrssilva8.weebly.com/projects.html.

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/news/local/education/article17261747.html#storylink=cpy

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