The Master’s Degree Research Project (The Discussion)

This will be the last, boring post as I wrap up most of what was in my Master’s research project. Here I’ve added the Discussion and Summary:


The study investigated the effects of implementing video game elements into the classroom.  Students had spent three nine-week periods in a classroom environment that included inquiry-based instruction, collaborative group activities, and some traditional lecture and guided practice methods of teaching. The instruction methods didn’t change, but the classroom environment did.

The first change came by putting students in permanent teams based on their previous averages. The motivation behind creating teams was based on previous research by Nichols & Miller who showed student achievement improved through collaboration. Research has also indicated that collaboration is more effective for low-performing students (Buschang, Chung, & Kim 2011). Students enjoyed creating team names, drawing their avatars, and decorating their posters. The team element created a sense of camaraderie among the students and contributed to an increase in motivation.  However, after two weeks in groups, it was apparent that student interest was waning, so the researcher implemented individual levels and ranks.

Students were told that points could be accumulated by doing regular classwork (homework, quizzes, tests, projects, etc.). The score achieved on assignments would be added to their individual point total with the exception of tests. Test points were doubled in an attempt to increase motivation to study and additional points could also be earned by working on a website called Khan Academy. Points were added to individual totals based on the number of badges that were earned on the site. All point totals were then posted on a leaderboard with the Top Five posted on the board.

It was the intention of the researcher to increase motivation for students to do study more for their tests since the point totals would be doubled. The results showed, however, that 59% of the students were not motivated to study more for tests based on this factor alone. Students either were already intrinsically motivated to study because they were concerned about their average or students felt as though it didn’t matter if they studied.

Students were also not motivated to do their homework for the same reasons. Some students mentioned that they were already worried about their grade and knew the importance of doing their homework while others felt it didn’t make a difference whether they did homework or not. Thirty-nine percent were very motivated by the point totals and wanting to earn the rewards and the prestige of appearing in the Top Five on the leaderboard.

The majority of the students were motivated to do optional work outside of class on Khan Academy. They were willing to spend many hours on the site to earn 50 points for a few badges rather than half an hour on homework that would have given them a possible 100 points. This wasn’t an entire surprise to the researcher since students enjoy screen time more than paper-and-pencil assignments. Sixty-two percent of students were motivated to work on the site and many of the students who did not work on the site mentioned it was a shortage of time. Many of the students had jobs or extra-curricular activities and did not have time to do anything outside of class other than what was required.

The implementation of the ranks and levels had an extraordinary effect on the students to try harder and do better in class. Seventy-five percent of the students enjoyed the competition and wanted to move up the leaderboard and increase in rank. This interest was maintained because the researcher updated the leaderboard every day. Previous studies have shown that providing daily feedback and constant teacher encouragement and incentives helps with student achievement (Su 1990).

It was the hope of the researcher that the students would enjoy math a little more at the end of the game than when they started the year. Many of the students already had strong feelings about mathematics that would not be waned by a gaming environment. But there were 49% of the students who said it made math fun for once. They enjoyed the competition, they enjoyed working with their team, and they enjoyed coming to class.

Finally, student performance did improve. The averages from the first three nine-weeks compared to the final grading period showed statistically significant results. This could be attributed to an increase in motivation, but also with the increase in rewards. When students moved through the ranks and levels, they had the opportunity to earn homework passes and bonus points on unit tests. Only five bonus points were allowed on the unit tests, but this could be a contributing factoring in the improvement in the grades. Before the ranks and levels, students had an opportunity to attempt a five-point bonus question on their unit tests and were given credit based on their answers. Students were also not afforded the luxury of a homework pass during the first three nine-weeks. During the last nine weeks, however, students were able to trade in a pass that would replace any homework grade with a 100%. Some students earned two or three passes during the last nine weeks.


In this study, there were several limiting factors. The sample size of students was very small and the student population was not representative of the general population. Students were all from affluent families, had similar ability levels, and nearly identical ethnic backgrounds. Time was also a limiting factor. The study was conducted in a nine-week period; however, the last two weeks were dedicated to reviewing for final exams and then taking final exams. The study, then, lasted only for seven weeks. Students noted on their surveys that they had wished the teacher had started the game sooner.  The time limitation was also a hindrance in employing more of the video game elements. The ranks and levels were an excellent tool, but there were other features that the researcher wanted to include but ran out of time.

A major limitation of the study was the additional workload for the teacher. It was apparent very early that students only stayed motivated with daily feedback. The burden to keep point totals in a separate grade book, to have prizes and passes ready to hand out each week, and maintain excitement every day was difficult on the researcher. Students looked forward to the rewards, but it was essential to streamline the process in order to eliminate using too much instructional time. Awards were given each Friday and usually took at least half of a class period. Because the research was done at a small, private school, rules were more flexible and accommodating.

Another limitation was the point ranges between the original ranks and levels. Students were able to move very quickly through the levels affording them many rewards. The rewards were motivating, but the homework passes and bonus points on unit tests contributed to some grade inflation. Bonus points and homework passes were the most motivating factors for students moving through the levels, so the researcher believes those should continue to be prizes sought after, but the point levels need to be increased so that they are harder to attain.

Summary and Implications

In this study, it has been shown that the implementation of a few key elements of video games increased student motivation in the mathematics classroom and is something that should be investigated further. Teachers have noted differences in students and attribute these differences to entertainment media, so new and innovative instructional techniques should be explored in order to reach this new generation of learners. Teachers and school districts could benefit by implementing video game elements into the classroom. School wide competitions could be explored rather than just a small group in one or two classrooms. District-wide competitions could follow. Pinpointing ways to encourage students to do math outside of the classroom that reinforces concepts on state tests or other standardized tests could be a compelling reason to explore this idea further.

By increasing motivation and using new and innovative instructional techniques, it the hope that students would begin to, again, choose math and science careers to fill the void left by so many who are retiring from the field. If students choose other careers, these new strategies may, at least, keep students out of the remedial math classes so they can pursue their degrees without wasting additional time and money. And, finally, finding ways to creatively engage our students will give teachers an opportunity to prepare them to deal sensibly with problems that involve logical arguments and quantitative considerations and be valuable, intelligent members of the next generation.


Thanks for reading it (or pretending to!).