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10/18/2016 02:06 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2017

Why Aren't Math Education Games More Widely Used?

Why aren't more math education games widely used to help engage children in mathematics? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Keith Devlin, executive director, H-STAR Institute, co-founder and chief scientist, BrainQuake, on Quora.

At the moment, there are very, very few good math learning games. I try to keep up with the industry, and I know of at most, maybe twenty math learning games I think have real learning value.

The vast majority of "math learning games" (and there are over 20,000 of these in the App Store alone) are little more than animated flash cards for repetitive practice of basic skills. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. There are some basic skills it is important to acquire as early as possible (though, because of technology, not as many as was the case when I was growing up), and doing that with an engaging game is efficient.

In fact, many of those products are hardly games by the standards of modern video games, and they can give math education a bad rap, obscuring what's possible given the potential of modern video games. It's seems almost as if the video game domain and the math education game domain took separate paths decades ago and for the most part never truly converged again.

It's also worth noting that those basic-skills games do not provide learning; they provide practice. Useful, as I say. But without the much deeper mathematical thinking ability, those basic skills are of no use.

As more and more good learning games come out (and the entire industry is still learning how to do this well), I expect things to change, but it might be slow growth at first. Parents and teachers who have tried to make use of math learning games that did not produce math learning will understandably be reluctant to devote more time and effort trying any new ones. Especially when those good games are vastly outnumbered in the App Store's ocean of apps.

I think the answer, when it comes, will be (as in the pharmaceutical industry) reliance on published scientific research to sort the wheat from the chaff. That's one reason why BrainQuake encourages universities around the world to conduct independent scientific studies of our products.

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