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What Can Video Games Teach Us About Mathematics Perception?

The world is constantly changing, becoming more complex and complicated. Along with it, the school is changing to prepare pupils for life in this world. The school should teach pupils mainly creative and critical thinking so that they can react to new and unexpected situations. Learning mathematics should also prepare pupils for such life.

Many organizations involved in education agree that, when learning mathematics, students should develop mainly their ability to think mathematically in order to be able to use mathematics creatively in different situations (see for example OECD Mathematics performance (PISA), Department for education (2014), InovovanA A VP, etc.) These organizations emphasize the discovery and acquisition of mathematical laws by their own experience. However, it turns out that school mathematics, if it continues to be taught in the widespread traditional way, does not usually lead to such development. Pupils in traditional mathematics lessons often get only a set of isolated facts and procedures, which they often use without deeper thought, thus developing only procedural skills, which are then practically unusable in out-of-school situations (Boaler, 1998; BoleAirovAi, 2016; Devlin, 2011; Hejna and Kuaina, 2015; Nunes et al., 1993). Moreover, in this approach, pupils do not see the connection between mathematics and anything real, they do not feel that it will be “good for something” – they do not consider it meaningful, useful and lose their relationship to such mathematics. The desperate situation of school mathematics taught in the traditional way, and at the same time the power of video games in the development of thinking, was also noticed by an expert in mathematics, computer science and learning, Professor Seymour Papert. Already in 1998, he assessed that we can observe that many children learn much more when playing video games than at the same time in a math class. He also noted that this difference is not only quantitative. He found that children who are intensely involved in playing computer games often show an extraordinary degree of complexity in the way they think and talk about learning. (Papert, 1998)

Papert pointed out in his book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (Papert, 1980), that it was not fair for children to spend so much time on mathematics taught as a set of separate facts and procedures. According to him, children, like adults, do not understand why they should learn mathematics and consider it unnecessary. He concludes that their perception is right in principle, because of the kind of mathematics foisted on children in schools is not meaningful, fun, or even very useful (Papert, 1980). Papert believed that if children, for their own sake, enter into activities involving mathematics, they naturally discover the powerful mathematical ideas that are hidden in these activities.

Video games are one way to meet mathematics when we really need it. Today, there are several researches showing a direct link between playing video games and the development of mathematical thinking (Posso, 2016; Suziedelyte, 2015; Uttal et al., 2013).

Jean Paul Gee discusses in his book What video games can teach us about learning and literacy, in order to make this learning truly meaningful to life in the present century and to develop literacy in a new sense (Gee, 2003). He points out that good video games provide scope for active and critical learning, and even claim that they often have greater potential in this than what happens many times during school lessons. In the game we become part of the game environment, we learn to think in the way that is necessary to survive in it. All of this we learn actively, by learning about the environment on our own, by exploring and testing. We act on the basis of what we have already learned and the critical assessment of the situation. Based on the success / failure of our actions, we are constantly adjusting our strategy, improving ourselves. Errors are a natural part, thanks to their evaluation and debugging we are constantly learning. At the same time, we become part of the semantic domain in the game, which connects us with everyone else who plays the game. And these are all principles that are also consistent with modern mathematics learning (BoalerovA, 2016; Devlin, 2011; Hejna & Kuaina, 2015; Kuaina, 2016).

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