Thursday, November 4, 2010

Curriculum Resource: Story-Rich Math Game for Middle Schoolers

Last night I attended a Math 2.0 webinar that I heard about from my friend, Maria D. of Natural Math.  It was about an online math game that was developed by a middle school teacher for his own classes.  Entitled Ko’s Journey, the special thing about this math game is that the math is embedded within a compelling story--the tale of a 12-year-old Native American girl who has been separated from her family and is trying to return to her clan. 

What is so nice about this program, at least in what I’ve seen of it, is that the math isn’t the POINT of the story--getting reconnected to family is.  But doing the math is the means that makes it possible for Ko to reach her family, and in a very real way.  Each morning begins with gathering enough food to survive.  Given how much time is left, Ko’s daily progress is determined by how much weight she is carrying (so, for example, if you gather extra food, you can carry it for tomorrow, but it will slow your progress) and what environment she is traveling through (so traveling through the desert drains more energy than traveling through the forest). Plus, of course, she needs to interpret maps, understand astral navigation, prepare proportional folk remedies for injuries or diseases, and use other applied mathematical concepts.  However, the math is all a means to the desired ends of reaching her family.

I haven’t used this with my son, but I’m impressed by the concept.  The author of the program, Scott Laidlaw, developed and used this with his own middle school students, who improved over 80% in their state math test scores after using the program.  But I think the thing he values more than that (since I believe that, in general, teachers are less enamored with just test scores than politicians and other non-educators) is the change in his students in their feelings towards math.  Before this program,  Laidlaw cites a study that says 84% of middle school students have something negative to say about the subject of math (no specifics about where that statistic came from, but unless you have been blessed enough to be around a math educator as wonderful as Miss Maria or others of the Math 2.0 community, I wouldn’t be surprised by that figure).  However, through playing this game, Laidlaw’s students finally grasped the application of math to real-life situations, and their opinions about the value of math raised significantly (just like their test scores).

Although Laidlaw has concentrated on putting the story first, there are 25 national standard middle school math skills that are needed to navigate through Ko’s Journey.  So while it is not a comprehensive curriculum, it is a supplemental program that should appeal to most middle schoolers, but particularly the right-brained, non-sequential, global and applied thinkers.  And it is particularly geared towards those students who think math is boring and a waste of time!

I really think this is something that I will try with my son.  If I do, I’ll report back about my experience.

For more information about the program, check it out at .

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