To Err is Human: the Game’s On!



brain-games[1]Another Impact on the Environment of the Classroom Article

Advocacy for game-playing or gamification of at least some of the tools used in teaching mathematics can be tricky.  With the amount of content needing to be covered, how can one justify adding another component into the learning environment?

When I was in 5th grade, my math teacher gave us a pop quiz on the multiplication table.  It was given orally and each problem was rapidly fired at us. I lost track of which number I was on, and therefore, my answers were out of order.  I failed the test, and being a perfectionist, I started to cry and was inconsolable, even after my teacher told me that it was an April Fool’s joke and that the quiz wouldn’t count (who does that?).

My point with this story is that I was so devastated about others knowing that I had failed and had all of those incorrect answers on MY paper, that it left a lifelong, and obviously negative impression (no pun intended) on me.  Even thinking about it now makes me feel saddened.

In my class, I make mistakes all the time.  I once heard a student whisper that I had erred.  I asked him to repeat what he said out loud.  He thought I would become angry; instead, I walked up to him, shook his hand and congratulated him on catching my slip-up.

Mistakes should be looked upon as another step in a problem, and not a devastating end.  However, mistakes, or counting too much on what is right, in general (for instance, in high-stakes tests) creates fear-driven students.  How can one learn if one is fearful?  Jo Boaler, in her post entitled, Mistakes Grow Your Brain (Boaler, 2015), states that

They (students) think (making errors) mean they are not a math person, because they have been brought up in a performance culture in which mistakes are not valued—or worse, they are punished. Mistakes-Quotes1[1]

In addition,

…Gabriele Steuer and her colleagues looked at the climate of math classrooms to consider the impact of “mistakes friendly” or “mistakes unfriendly” environments on students’ reactions to errors and the amount of effort they would put into classes. They found that when students perceived their classroom as mistakes friendly – above and beyond other aspects of their classrooms environment – they increased their effort in their work (Boaler, 2015).

Sir Ken Robinson on this TED talk

Sir Ken Robinson gives a well-known TEDtalk where he speaks of the support, or lack thereof, when students make mistakes.  Do they shut down because they are ridiculed, or do they learn because they are encouraged and go forward?

To create a mistakes-friendly learning environment sounds like a strategy for problem solving in any classroom.  Let’s consider gaming; it allows for many mistakes; when they occur, the player tries a different strategy to get to the next challenge.  If students are accustomed to moving on after a setback, why wouldn’t they apply that ability to their assignments at school?

For mathematics, game offerings become less obvious for the older the student, unless one considers the applied mathematics arena.  I decided to share some intriguing apps that might help in making a more appealing environment.  Following are two reviews of educational gaming software:

  1.  Kerbal Space Program  (KSP)

Here is a sample of the trial version of the program:

As you can see from this demo video, there is a learning curve associated to yield successful trips.  There is a paid-for version, which is much richer in content.  YouTube has numerous accounts of adventures of unique space ships built with this program.  Although KSP  does not have any built-in assessment content, I found a very detailed high school physics lesson by  here which is absolutely amazing.  I can only imagine the end products. The assessment portion is a “cash” reward based on the success of the groups’ missions.  This really is a learning feat and I hope that I can collaborate with our physics educator to put this into place.   It does require the full paid version and is supported by both Mac and Windows platforms.

The second game I reviewed is The Radix Endeavor, (which runs on both Windows and Mac) a program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  This software is free, and describes itself as a MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) with Science,  Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) topics for Middle and High School Curriculum:


Observe and Discover

Enter a world with biomes full of unique plants and creatures. Uncover new species, formulate questions and test hypotheses using scientific instruments.

Learn and Progress

Easily assign quests to students and track their progress to help develop and refine scientific and mathematical skills.

The program has received many accolades and seems to be self-contained as far as being a tool for use in the learning environment.  I started playing the game and am still awaiting the “OK” on the teacher version from the company before I’ll be able to check out the assessments content myself.  However, Graphite’s review of Radix is extremely favorable and explains more of the content than I was able to see.  There is also quite a bit of support on YouTube through both player and company-made  videos.

Actually, I did look at a third game.  Although I would not include World of Goo (Mac, Nintendo, Wii, Windows) as an option to supplement my curriculum, what I might consider doing is to use this app to reward students playing time for accomplishments in class.  The game is very endearing; I watched several videos on YouTube (as I didn’t want to pay the $20 for the download unless I thought it worthwhile) and had a really good time just being an observer.   Players need to be cognizant of all of the physical laws of our planet; otherwise, goo balls won’t get to where they need to be.  World of Goo focuses on one’s intuitive and developing intrinsic knowledge about science and is full of humor.  I can see this being a big hit during dismissal:

Considering the use of gaming in the classroom or gamification for part of the curriculum seems to be a way to approach my students in a way that makes sense to them and sneakily embeds at least part of my long check-list of things to cover for the year.  It also may assist them in building social and strategic skills necessary to be successful adults.  Finally, it will give them a safe environment to explore alternative paths when they make the wrong move.
 Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.    -Oscar Wilde

Boaler, J. (2015). Mistakes Grow Your Brain. Retrieved December 1, 2015, from


4 thoughts on “To Err is Human: the Game’s On!

  1. Misty,

    The Radix Endeavor is so involved, and I think this is exactly the kind of game that students would gain knowledge and critical thinking skills from. There are many elements to the game, it helps you learn several subjects (STEM) and it also allows for creativity and trial and error. Your post was eye-opening because you focused on the concept of making mistakes and learning from them. Students must acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them to truly understand the concepts. Not to mention the platform looks and sounds just like a video game which is so appealing!



    1. Nicole,
      Perhaps it’s because I am a mathematics teacher that I focused on mistakes in my post; I become so disheartened when I hear students putting themselves down because they don’t believe they can “do” math. I don’t believe that it is just a problem in my area of teaching, because, as I stated above, if we as a society were not so focused on the end result (high stakes testing), then I believe that students would enjoy the process of learning. As a Montessori educator, I have always known in my heart and observed in my learning environment that that was true. I will do whatever is necessary to assist students to feel better about their experience in school, which includes me learning how to put my own fear of competition, playing games, and keeping up with technology, aside.


  2. I really enjoyed how you tied mistake making into your blog post. One of the key elements to ensuring gaming is successful in a classroom is to make sure failing is not a part of the game. This continues to encourage students to play without making them feel as if they are inadequate by failing.

    I also really enjoyed the links you put up to preview the games you wrote about. I have never heard of any of the games you posted but enjoyed previewing them! Thank you for the great resources!


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