The Master’s Degree Research Project (The Intro)

I had been trying many ways to gamify my classroom at Faith West Academy. I had a lot of ideas, but needed to filter them down and come up with a good system. I was finally able to do this when I was assigned the task of coming up with a research project for my master’s degree. Of course I was going to use the idea of gamification for my research. Back then, the word gamification hadn’t been quite invented (as far as I know). I was just using the idea of inserting video game elements into the classroom somehow.

I wanted to do something for my on-level Algebra II students. I felt like these were the students who would benefit the most from doing something more interesting and engaging in class. They were juniors who were in their third year of math with one more to go. They were also the ones who felt like they were not very good at math. They also had low attendance, low effort, low interest, and low homework completion rates. In other words, the perfect group.

So, the research project started in 2011. The title of the project was “The Effects of Implementing Video Game Elements in an Algebra 2 Classroom.” And, the abstract:


This mixed-methods study explored the effects of implementing video game elements into the Algebra 2 classroom. The participants included three heterogeneously grouped classes of 39 Algebra 2 students and one Algebra 2 teacher. The students in all three classes were divided into teams of three and were given a list of ranks and levels they could achieve by earning points. Points were earned from grades on homework assignments and assessments. Additional points could be earned by doing optional assignments through a website called Khan Academy. Students were given an open-ended survey at the end of the experimental period. The results showed that the students had an overall increase in motivation and students spent additional time outside of class to work on optional assignments. The results also showed statistically significant results in performance. The study results suggest that implementing video game elements such as team collaboration, ranks, and levels increases motivation and can be an effective tool in the classroom.  While interactive, inquiry-based and engaging teaching are still essential, it is becoming clear other innovative approaches are necessary to reach a new generation of learners.

I won’t bore everyone with the entire research project, but after reading numerous studies and spending a great deal of time, I wanted to at least include the summary.


Students in our classrooms today learn differently than previous generations due to their immersion in technology and gaming (Prensky 2001; O’Loughlin 2008; Riley 2011). Teachers believe this has caused a decline in academic success.  But, as teachers, we must find ways to improve student achievement and target these new learning styles, especially in the field of mathematics. Traditional teaching methods are ineffective and are continuing to perpetuate student’s poor attitude towards mathematics (Belbase 2010; Taylor & Brooks 1986; National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine 2004). We need to move away from a drill & practice, lecture-based teaching model and moving toward an inquiry-based, engaging environment, where students are more actively engaged in their learning (Belbase 2010; Turner 2002; Subotnik 2010; Gottler 2010). This change is needed to fill the huge void of jobs in the fields of mathematics and technology and help the U.S. maintain its world-wide leadership in engineering, science, and financial leadership (National Mathematics Advisory Panel 2008). To improve student achievement in mathematics teachers should include the use of competition, collaboration, teams, and games (Su 1990; Van Eck 2006; Hulten & DeVries 1976; Nichols & Miller 1993; Buschang, Chung, & Kim 2011; Edwards 1972; Akinsola 2007).  The benefits of the consistent use of games is fully supported by research as having many benefits including improving higher order thinking, improving the ability to process information, and games are highly motivating making learning fun (Ketamo & Kiili 2010; Allal 1986; Chow 2011; Ahdell & Andresen 2001). Video games provide essential elements that engage students and, by implementing these video game elements into the classroom on a consistent basis, teachers can improve students’ views of mathematics and motivate them to learn.

Not much has changed in the math classrooms of today in the seven years since I started this project. Math teachers are still lecturing and giving 40 problems of homework a night. Even with all of the interesting technology we could use to encourage inquiry and eliminate so many of the paper-pencil assignments. I’m talking about using technology purposefully to enhance a lesson and not just use tech for tech’s sake. It’s frustrating to me. But, I digress. In my next post, I’ll talk more about the Methods of the study (aka How I structured the game).


Belbase, S. (2010). Images, Anxieties and Attitudes toward Mathematics. Retrieved from

Gottler, Rose (2010). Passive or Passionate Participation in Mathematics: Diagnosing and Improving Student Participation in Mathematics. Paper submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of EDU 698B, Marygrove College. Retrieved from   

Hulten, B.H., & DeVries, D.L. (1976) Team Competition and Group Practice: Effects on Student Achievement and Attitudes. Report No. 212. Retrieved from

National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, U.S. Department of Education: Washington, DC, 2008. Retrieved from

National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. (2004). Engaging Schools: Fostering High School Students’ Motivation to Learn. Committee on Increasing High School Students’ Engagement and Motivation to Learn. Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from

O’Loughlin, J., Lambert, M., Gauvin, L., Kestens, Y., & Daniel, M. (2008, March 12). Many Teens Spend 30 Hours A Week On ‘Screen Time’ During High School. Science Daily. Retrieved from

Prenky, M. (2001). Digital Game-Based Learning. Paragon House. 1925 Oakcrest Avenue, Suite 7, St. Paul, MN.

Riley, D. (2011, October 11). The Video Game Industry is Adding 2-17 Year Old Gamers at a Rate Higher than That Age Group’s Population Growth. NPD Group. Retrieved from

Su, H.F.H. (1990). Increasing Fourth Grade Math Achievement with Improved Instructional Strategies. Retrieved from

Subotnik, Rena F., Tai, Robert H., Rickoff, Rochelle and Almarode, John (2010). Specialized Public High Schools of Science, Mathematics, and Technology and the STEM Pipeline: What Do We Know Now and What Will We Know in 5 Years?, Roeper Review, 32: 1, 7-16. Retrieved from

Taylor, L. & Brooks, K. (1986). Building Math Confidence by Overcoming Math Anxiety. From Theory to Practice. Adult Literacy and Basic Education, v10 n1. Retrieved from

Turner, J.C., Midgley, C., Meyer, D.K., Gheen, M., Anderman, E.M., Kang, Y., & Patrick, H. (2002). The Classroom Environment and Students’ Reports of Avoidance Strategies in Mathematics: A Multimethod Study. Journal of Education Psychology, Vol. 94, No. 1, 88–106. Retrieved from

Van Eck, R. (2006). The Effect of Contextual Pedagogical Advisement and Competition on Middle-School Students’ Attitude toward Mathematics and Mathematics Instruction Using a Computer-Based Simulation Game. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and          Science Teaching, v25 n2 p165-195 2006. Retrieved from