Schools seeing improvement in math scores as students play video games

The Clark County School District released on Tuesday the positive preliminary results from a five-year pilot initiative that brought the "ST Math" software to seven of the valley’s lowest-performing elementary schools: Bonner, Cortez, Decker, Diaz, McCall, Sewell and Ward. The pilot program has grown since its inception in 2009 to 32 schools, with more than 10,000 participating students this year. February 8, 2012, Paul Takahashi writes for Las Vegas Sun. school_improvement_in_math

Developed in 1998 by Mind Research Institute — a California-based nonprofit education group — "ST Math" teaches abstract math concepts through video game-like instruction. The game is geared toward elementary students and remedial middle school students, who guide a virtual penguin named JiJi through a series of increasingly more difficult levels and learn math concepts as they play along.

Plenty of educational software has been developed for students over the decades, but many have focused on textbook-style lesson plans complemented by game-like practice problems, said Andrew Coulson, Mind Research’s president of education.

“This isn’t a textbook on a computer,” he said of the “ST Math” software. “To get transformational changes in learning outcomes, you need a different learning environment.”

At Sewell, the percentage of third- and fourth-grade students proficient in math — as measured by standardized test scores — jumped 8 percentage points between the first year of implementation in 2009 to the second.

The Henderson elementary school — which has a 60 percent poverty rate — also saw a 14 percentage point improvement in average test scores, according to Mind Research.

“There’s no achievement gap in a video game,” Coulson said, paraphrasing a colleague. “There’s a mindset that everyone can beat a video game. With this (math game), you can’t say that some kids can do math and others can’t.”

District-wide, schools using “ST Math” had more than doubled the percentage of students meeting or exceeding math standards on the state-mandated Criterion Referenced Test, compared with schools without the program, according to Mind Research.

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