Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You argues that digital gaming can “make our kids smarter.” But Toppo hopes gaming “is not the Next Big Thing” in education,, he said at a Fordham event. “Because the Next Big Thing in education always sucks. It always fails. I hope it’s the Next Small Thing, and it just keeps going under the radar. Keep it away from the real rule-makers.”
“Many educational fads start out as compelling insights, then collapse beneath the weight of enthusiasts’ cheers and the hucksters’ attempts to cash in,” adds Robert Pondiscio.
But inventor Jean-Baptiste Huynh, a Vietnamese Frenchman living in Oslo (who taught math in Spain), says the game is about “speed and imagination,” not algebra.
“Mathematics is creativity. It’s play,” says Huynh. It’s asking “what if?”
In his game, a box arrives with a baby dragon inside. The dragon must be alone before it will eat. Players must figure out what to do.
The game board is divided into two sides, with your little dragon-in-a-box on one side. On both sides are “cards”—random images of lizards, horned beetles, deep-sea fish, and angry tomatoes. . . . To win each level, you must touch and tap and drag the cards to get rid of all of those on the dragon’s side. Once you do, he noisily eats everything that remains on the other side and the level is done.
. . . On level 12, one of the animal cards has mysteriously been replaced by a little black “a.” Five levels later, there’s a “c.” Finally, on level 18, the little wooden dragon box is momentarily replaced by a floating letter “x.” You’re doing proto-algebra. It’s been about three minutes since you downloaded the game.
. . . Addition, multiplication, division, fractions—all of them appear, without fanfare or explanation. By game’s end, at level 100, you’ve moved seamlessly, baby step by baby step, from a cute baby dragon eating a spiky two-headed lizard, to this: “2 over x plus d over e equals b over x,” which you solve, fearlessly and perhaps even a bit impatiently, in exactly 14 steps. You are 4 years old.
Here’s a video:
Liz Kolb has advice for teachers on how to “gamify” the classroom.