Good news, all that time you spent playing World of Warcraft might have made you smarter. A study out of Stanford just showed that playing video games just 10 minutes each day can make you better at math. The study involved two cohorts of third grades, one group was taught math in the standard manner, and the other was given 10 minutes each day to play the game Wuzzit Trouble on school issued iPads. The video game playing group demonstrated significant improvement in what the researchers call “number sense,” including an improved ability to “apply their number sense to an unconventional problem.”
But wait, whoa, not so fast. Before you pick up that controller, I should note that the study was based on a very particular game. Certainly other similar games might see a similar effect, but I suspect Pokemon does very little to improve one’s number sense. And according to people who know a lot about this sort of thing, most math video games marketed as educational tools aren’t even all that impressive.
Incidentally, this study was well-timed to coincide with the American Academy of Pediatric (AAP) revised guidelines for kids and screentime, namely, that screens aren’t as bad for little brains as they initially thought.
But for the full-grown brains of grown-up mathematicians, the internet is a cornucopia of highly
educational addictive math games. In a recent post on Math Munch I learned about several online games exploring geometry and dimension. Rotopo is really fun, and has really soothing background music. The game doesn’t necessarily address math explicitly, but there is a strategy and spatial sense that you gain from the geometry of the game. If you need to procrastinate, then I highly recommend it.
Another game that recently came to my attention (tip of the hat to TJ Hitchman) is Euclidia. Using points, lines and circles (i.e. pencil, straightedge, and compass) you move through a series of exercises to construct equilateral triangles, perpendicular bisectors and increasingly difficult geometric constructions. I didn’t think it would be as fun as it is, and yet I started playing and couldn’t stop. The premise is simple, and yet it’s kind of a rush to actually do the constructions. And I would imagine even cooler if you were doing them for the first time. If I were teaching Euclidean geometry I would love to find a way to integrate this game into the course.
Apps are also a great place to get your math video fix. For the commuting and smart-phone wielding mathematician, The Aperiodical gave a good roundup of worthwhile games. Evelyn Lamb also wrote about games for understanding hyperbolic space for Scientific American.