A. Marinis1, D. Metafas2

1National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (GREECE)
2Piraeus University of Applied Sciences (GREECE)
The objective of this research is to improve the teaching of Mathematics in Primary School through the use of New Technologies. Specifically, a digital educational game is designed and developed in the Unity game engine. It refers to Mathematics although in a wider sense it aims to cultivate other STEM-related skills as well. The game was played by a group of 4th grade pupils in a private Primary School in Athens, Greece, during an educational intervention carried out in June 2017.

Pupils play the game in groups of two, via a graphic user interface, using a set of available commands and sequential logic. They have to move a robot figure on the 2-D plane (screen) from a (random) initial position to a destination, through the use of a limited number of commands that correspond to a limited number of moves on the plane. Every attempt requires essentially that they put together an elementary “program” consisting of simple commands to “stir” the robot figure. If the sequence entered does not lead the robot to its destination, the game continues without interruption, and the players have the opportunity to remove or add other commands. Successful attempts automatically raise the level of difficulty of the game.

Before actually playing the game, pupils are given a very short introduction; they are intentionally left to discover game rules, functionalities and goals on their own, through experimentation and interaction with the game. This approach aims to promote and cultivate discovery learning and collaboration. The game play requires the solution of a simple logic problem. Pupils are therefore trained in problem solving, reasoning and calculating, while playing. Moreover, they need to develop an essential strategy as to their approach of the goal and the sequencing of their commands to move the robot on the plane. These are higher level or “horizontal” skills referring not strictly to Mathematics but to STEM thinking and problem solving in a wider sense.

After having played the game, pupils participated in an evaluation phase, during which they have answered questions:
(a) on the knowledge acquired through the game and
(b) on their experience during playing the game.

The purpose of the evaluation phase is to answer a number of research questions that address the feasibility and the efficiency of this approach.

Specific questions refer to:
• the successful play of the game without clear instructions on its rules and goals,
• the appropriateness of the level of difficulty in Mathematics for their grade (4th),
• the level of collaboration between them in the groups of two, and
• the level of their understanding of the problem and the “conscious” or random selection of the solution strategy in every case.

Evaluation results are very encouraging as to the learning outcomes and, especially, as to the positive experience pupils have gained through the educational intervention with the game. The last element is of practical interest in connection to the negative attitude towards Mathematics typically shown by pupils in the early grades of Primary School.