Like it or not, video games are everywhere, and for many a huge part of the childhood experience. We review a few with a mathematical slant.
With so many video games on the market, which ones might also help train the maths’ side of a kid’s brain while also being fun and exciting to play? We know kids are the toughest critics and instantly suspicious of anything that smacks of being too “educational”.
Check out these 5 popular video games that use useful maths concepts that your child might really enjoy.
One of the most popular children’s computer games ever. Minecraft teaches critical thinking, problem solving and uses STEM knowledge. It’s highly creative and open ended game play without a narrative, where you create your own experience (which is why it’s considered a “sandbox game”). Indeed, part of Minecraft’s success are the limitless options players have to construct and tailor their own worlds.
In terms of maths, Minecraft uses concepts like geometry, area and volume. It’s also used for real world problem solving and understanding real world concepts. For instance, some students have used Minecraft to experiment in building sustainable homes. Other students have used Minecraft to understand natural disasters. Others have recreated historical simulations like building the Colosseum in Rome or Machu Picchu in Peru. So it’s not just about the zombies! Though, yes, there are zombies.
Roblox is a platform that hosts all different kinds of games. Users can create their own games using the site’s toolkit. In this way, it can be a valuable introduction to coding, computer game creation and rudimentary programming skills. Many of the more popular games are simulations of running a real-world business. This involves budgeting and finance and keeping a business profitable as in games like Restaurant Tycoon.
The whole site has its own currency, Roblox. However, purchasing Robux requires spending real-money, so be warned. The other concern for Roblox is that it has millions of users on it at any time so parental guidance and monitoring is recommended. Luckily, Roblox does have many parental controls on it, including privacy options and filtering out chat and only allowing age-appropriate games. The educational value of Roblox lies in the sophisticated game creation.
Prodigy is a maths game that’s cloaked in the classic form of a heroic quest. It’s set in a fantasy world where the player has to battle their way through multiple worlds and formidable foes to succeed in their quest (defeating an evil Puppet Master). The battles are based around maths questions. Correctly answering the questions gives your character the powers to defeat the enemy. The questions range from basic adding and subtracting to more complex concepts. The age range is from 8 to 12. The questions are also tailored to the player’s ability: based on how well the child answers earlier questions determines what questions follow.
Prodigy also provides scaffolds for students who may need extra support when solving math questions. Prodigy also gives students instant feedback on every question answered, thus encouraging more independent thinking and problem solving. The only downside to Prodigy is its aggressive attempts to get players to upgrade to a premium membership. Nonetheless the free version of Prodigy is used by classrooms all around the world and is curriculum based.
This engineering-based game was developed and released by the Smithsonian Institute. The game concept is simple: help Tami the monkey construct a tower in order to reach a yummy snack. The tower needs to be high enough to get to the hanging fruit but strong enough to withstand the tremors when large jungle animals run by on the ground. It encourages students to use basic engineering principles in order to win the game.
Other principles include geometry andunderstanding shapes, building, and construction. Students can also design a level and bring them to life in ‘sandbox mode’. There’s also a self-analytical features where students can assess and rate their confidence in their buildings. Imagine if real architects had to do that!
Blast off to the final frontier – using maths and science. The Kerbal Space Program is set on an imaginary alien world. The Kerbals are small green people trying to explore space. The player’s job is to construct a working rocket and get the Kerbals into space on a series of missions where they discover new worlds, build space stations and explore the universe.
To build the rocket the player needs to understand concepts like angles and trigonometry otherwise the rocket won’t fly. Then there’s making sure it has enough fuel, and using basic orbital mechanics so that the rocket will last the journey. Through experimentation, players quickly learn about velocity, acceleration and friction. The simulation aims to be as realistic as possible and has gained plaudits from NASA.
The Kerbal Space Program can be as complicated as you want it to be. Adults have applied Newton’s Method to solve some of the rocket equations! Though Kerbal Space Program is heavily based on science and maths, its sophisticated graphics and world building interface mean that kids will be heavily engaged despite the fact it will teach them something.