Frequently, when I tell someone I am investigating the use of video games to teach mathematics, their response is to tell me that that no technology can replace a good teacher. It’s a peculiar reaction that I think is unique to the United States. Telling an American I am writing a mathematics textbook does not yield the same response, so technology must be the trigger. For some reasons and in some contexts, education among them, the assumption seems to be that the pur-pose of technology is to replace people. It’s particularly perplexing when you con-sider that today’s Americans have homes and workplaces full of technology, all of which we acquire to help us. They help us to work more efficiently or more safely, to enjoy our leisure time more, to stay in touch with one another, and to see and experience things we would not otherwise do. So too, technology can improve education. But it’s adding something, not replacing anything or anyone.Let me be perfectly clear about what I am proposing math ed video games should do. They are intended to be new educational resources that enhance the current learning environment of teacher, classroom, textbooks, calculators, per-sonal computers, television, videos, friends, and parents. They are not intended to replace anything-though they will change the way teachers, in particular, or-ganize their classes and spend their time. And there is reason to hope it will re-sult in more parents, grandparents, and siblings becoming involved in a student’s educational activities. I have already given some indication in my account of how a video game could be used in the teaching of high-school and college-level math-ematics, and I’ll say a bit more later in this chapter. But for the present discussion I’ll focus once again on middle-school level everyday mathematics, where its role is most central.
The Recife FactorHere is how a teacher might typically use a video game to introduce a class to a new topic. First she checks her teacher’s guide to see which video game (or what part or geographic region of a larger game world) covers that topic and which particular challenges in the game may be appropriate for the class. Then, before she says anything about the new topic, she assigns the class to play that video game (or explore that region-or “zone”—of the game world) and see how many challenges they can meet, perhaps listing some particular quests they should try to complete. If the game is well designed, it is highly likely that many or most of the students in the class will have already explored much if not all the game world. So much the better. Ideally, the students should continue until they meet a challenge that beats them. This will occur at different stages for different students. During the course of their exploration, the students will have been exposed to the new mathematical concept or method, and will have had to do some mathemati-cal thinking, though none of it abstract or symbolic (unless they choose to analyze a problem that way). The video game, remember, is built to instantiate mathemati-cal concepts and processes.