“I need help with math, Dad.” My 7 year-old looked up at me.

“Mom said to ask you, ‘cuz you are good at it.” That was fair. My wife is a math-disaster. She gets anxious at the mere mention of the subject. Years ago I tried to help her study for the test for her high-school equivalency diploma. Not a fun memory. She’d get so frustrated at the word problems, so flustered that she completely shut down. She simply could not figure out how to get a given set of circumstances to translate into a logical equation, much less solve it.

Thankfully my kid doesn’t have it so bad. And I’m pretty good at teaching math. But let’s face it, I have forgotten more than half of what I once knew about the subject due to having had little cause to apply most of what I learned in school. I once suffered through Advanced Placement Calculus, which someone thought it would be clever to schedule for first period of the day during my senior year. I cared little about functions and derivatives at the time, and 7:00 a.m. was awfully early to pretend otherwise.

Nowadays forget about those high level operations, my math mind has atrophied –  I can’t even remember how to solve a quadratic equation. So, my best bet is to give my daughter as solid a foundation in math as I can; teaching her to feel confident about her ability to excel in the subject. I’ve got to motivate her now to practice so that learning this stuff becomes habitual, because one day whatever help she needs will be beyond the scope of my wheelhouse.

Studies have shown that actively engaging students in the practicing of subject matter equates to more effective learning. Games are one way to engage a student in a way that is active and outside the normal mode of teaching/learning. According to one study, a majority of teachers who had used digital games as teaching devices found them to be an effective way to motivate low-achieving students. The same study found that 78% of those teachers found the games to be helpful toward student mastery of curricular goals, and 71% found the games also helped students master other, non-curricular skills as well (Such as collaboration, and critical thinking). Additionally, a Purdue University study in 2011 found significant benefits to practicing information retrieval over other methods of study. In other words, self-testing is “where it’s at” when it comes to learning material efficiently – and is one process with which games can really help.

The hard evidence may still be in the gathering stage as we become increasingly comfortable with the idea of screen-time for our children being a force for good, one which even may get the nod of approval from school, rather than just a frivolous activity which we ought only seek to limit. The use of games as a teaching tool, of course, predated the digital revolution. And certainly there is a difference between old-style classroom games and on-screen video challenges. The emerging evidence is mounting in support of both. Both types of game playing have in common the intended result of taking an activity which is traditionally mundane or boring and making it more tolerable.  To this writer that sounds like progress. After all, where has it been etched into stone that school has to hurt?

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