University of Trinidad & Tobago, Rimwe Educational Resources LLC (TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2016 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 5123-5127
ISBN: 978-84-608-5617-7
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2016.0231
Conference name: 10th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2016
Location: Valencia, Spain
Specific strategies for increasing student engagement in math classes by using online games and aspects from game theory will be presented. Gamification is not a new concept, but its application to education is in a nascent developmental stage. Research is clear: we are more interested in learning when it doesn't feel like drudgery, when it is fun, and when there is a significant degree of control and autonomy. Game designers have defined the "sweet spot" between hard fun and an almost addictive level of engagement. Aspects of game theory that can be applied to the typical math classroom are discussed.

Every math teacher knows the struggle around student engagement. Countless studies, both formal and informal, have shown that student performance is enhanced when student engagement is increased. How many of us have wished for a way to harness the time and energy our students spend in trying to master an online game like Angry Birds and refocus it to more productive pursuits like mastering mathematical content? As it turns out, elements of game theory can be applied to useful, even mundane, tasks in order to exploit aspects of human nature that control engagement and motivation. For the purposes of this paper, “gamification” is defined as “the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them” to education, specifically the math classroom. (Chou, 2015) Because game designers “have spent decades learning how to master engagement and motivation, we are now learning from games, and that is why we call it gamification.” (Chou, 2015, italics added)

What we are learning is that certain “game mechanics” like feedback loops, interconnectedness (“system of systems”), problem solving (“black boxes”) which involves exploration and mastery, and rewards, often in the form of levels or scores can be added to the learning environment in order to increase student engagement and motivation and to encourage desired behavior. (Cook, 2006) The good news is that these elements of game theory are proven and well-defined; thus, can be adapted to areas other than mere entertainment. The not-so-good news is that applying them to the traditional classroom environment often involves significant re-thinking and re-structuring. Like most things worthwhile, it will involve some work on both your part and the part of your students. However, the payoff in terms of increased student engagement, motivation, and enjoyment make the investment well worth it.

[1] Chou, Y. (Jan 2015) What is Gamification? Retrieved from
[2] Cook, D. (Oct 2006) What are Game Mechanics? Retrieved from
Math, mathematics, gamification, game theory, education, teaching, engagement, mindset motivation, innovation.