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Vasi Family: Dad Uses Games To Teach Maths

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I play video games while I’m teaching.

One of the favourite lessons I teach in my Algebra 2 class that uses Super Mario Maker. I sit at my desk and basically crowd source a level. I have my students toss ideas at me and try to implement them on the spot. The level that each class creates competes with the other classes’ levels. The levels range from brutally hard to insanely enjoyable. How each creation fares in the competition is where the math comes into play.

In every class I ask for volunteers to tally the total number of blocks, enemies, and power-ups we use. These numbers are plugged into a formula I crafted to give a point value that will be added to two other components (one of which is a review score done by my senior Statistics class.) The greatest sum wins!

One catch is that the level has to be beatable before the end of class. A Wii remote is passed around and students can test the level as we go. The three days that it takes to accomplish everything is a whirlwind of excitement, involvement and fun. If you talked to me before I began my career about how I might teach math in the future, I couldn’t have foreseen this.

Believe it or not, when I was growing up I quickly learned to hate school. My family moved around pretty frequently and I was usually the ‘new kid’ at the start of any given year. The exception to this was my time in high school. As a complete change of what I was used to; I went to the same school four years straight.

My last two years of high school were two of the most difficult years of my life. Surprisingly, it was during this time that I decided to attempt to become a teacher. I loved art, but figured I couldn’t find a job as an art teacher. I was pretty good at math, so I spent the next seven years of my life getting my degree as a high school math teacher.

One of the first things I noticed was that I was not normal. In fact, things like organisational skills and planning were not at all natural for me. Instead of being able to utilise these more typical teacherly traits, I have learned how to institute one of my first loves into my repertoire -- video games!

A decade ago you might catch me uneasily chatting with students about my gaming hobby. After a few years, I gained enough courage to use them in class as a completely recreational tool (after a test, before a break, etc.) I was always super nervous that a principal might walk in during my gaming sessions. Soon after that I transitioned into using games in actual lesson plans. I became more and more relaxed as the years went on.

At this point in my life, I consider gaming to be one of my main means by which I teach math. I use everything from Mario Kart to Smash Bros. to Rocket League. I even run tournaments during lunch. You know what? I have never felt more connected and at ease with my students. I have learned to not be ashamed of what I love, but rather take advantage of it.

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Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames and has written for national press and broadcast about video games and families for over 15 years. He has just published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database.