Visual Math Gaming

I have been very interested in math lately in a pondering and questioning kind of way. Perhaps because I see opportunities for improvement in the way math content is currently delivered. I recently happened across a great article from 2014 entitled, “Research on Children and Math: Underestimated and Unchallenged“, by Annie Murphy Paul, which explained why the perception that U.S. students are bad at math might indicate schools aren’t challenging students enough. I also just read a book by Jo Boaler titled Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, that addressed ways via a mindset shift to banish math anxiety and give students of all ages and abilities a clear roadmap of strategies to unleash their math potential. Finally, my many visits to classrooms have made me also realize just how language dependent that math has really become. As a district, we have been reimagining what a variety of core content areas can look like in the future and math is one of them. The product that I’m going to share a little insight on and one we are beginning to pilot in the 4th, 6th and 7th grades for the 3rd Trimester in my district is called ST Math.

ST Math is a game-based instructional software designed to boost math comprehension and proficiency through visual learning from foundational math concepts all the way up to algebraic skills. This blended learning tool is accessed through a web-browser, on an iOS or Android App, or even on a Kindle. From demoing the game at different grade levels, the learning experience seems to be very interactive, filled with a variety of graphically-rich animations that represent mathematical concepts to practice and develop deeper conceptual understanding, and an JiJi No BGopportunity to really grow a user’s problem-solving skills. Teachers determine the program placement for each student and then students are guided by JiJi, the penguin, and encouraged to intuitively navigate through the gaming environment. Every time a student demonstrates an understanding of a targeted math concept/skill, JiJi meanders across the screen to signal success as well as lead the student to the next challenging puzzle. ST Math also utilizes a teacher dashboard and offers embedded assessments, detailed progress monitoring and whiteboard integration.

According to MIND Research, the creator of the ST Math system, their mission is to “ensure that all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world’s most challenging problems”. The ST Math program is closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards and our District curriculum. Potentially, this program closely aligns with our District Strategic Framework and Learner Profile in providing personalized learning through a scaffolded learning environment, removing the language barrier to learning math for students of all abilities, and equipping students’ spatial temporal reasoning abilities to better understand, explain, solve and master multi-step math problems. I’m really looking forward to observing the role that neuroscience plays in visual math instruction throughout the 3rd Trimester from both a student and teacher lens.


Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: unleashing students’ potential through creative math, inspiring messages, and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints.

MIND Research

MIND Research on Neuroscience –

ST Math Results –


Purposeful Play with Puzzlets!

I’ve been blogging lately about a variety of newer educational technology tools that promote gamification and game-based learning for the K-5 classrooms to support coding, math, inquiry, storytelling, purposeful play, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. I would like to share another gamification tool called Puzzlets. Puzzlets Play Tray is a hardware accessory for a tablet or computer on an iOS or Android platform that allows students to build programs out of real Puzzlet pieces to navigate through an app-based gaming storyline. Puzzlets game pieces are grounded in computer science methodology with each game app focusing on a STEAM subject area. Although the vendor suggests that Puzzlets can be utilized for a K-8 student population, my guess with student prowess continuing to develop in the computer science arena, that the more appropriate grade range is K-5.

There is very little upfront set-up needed to get this technology tool up and running quickly in the classroom. Simply add an app, Cork the Volcano as an example, onto a mobile device and either hardwire the Puzzlets Play Tray or use the Bluetooth wireless connection. I would recommend that students work in pairs, with one student acting as the “navigator” by putting the instruction tiles together on the Play Tray while the other student is the “driver” of the app that advances the program throughout the gaming quest. Students level up by first participating in a “build mode” to plan and determine the possible solution to the challenge on the screen, then run the “play mode” button on the app to gauge their coding success as well as use trial and error to fix any programming problems so that they can guide their character successfully through the quest with the end goal of rescuing their island to “cork the volcano” with the treasures they’ve earned along their journey. Each level up requires a higher level of critical thinking, many more attempts through trial and error, and efficient coding because the quests become timed. As students develop their newfound programming skills, they can go back and replay previous levels to collect more treasures and also practice their enhanced coding skills. What is interesting about this gaming app is that directions and wording does not fill the screen or drive their learning, it is more about intuition, deep thinking and possible solutions. The Puzzlets gaming system currently offers three apps including Cork the Volcano which focuses on coding, Abacus Finch which focuses on math skills and Swatch Out which introduces color theory.

In eLearning educational gaming terms, Puzzlets Play Tray would be considered more of a gamification tool because:

  • it utilizes game design elements and mechanics to challenge and motivate the students
  • it takes an existing course of coding or math and adds gaming elements such as point systems, level progressions and achievement badges
  • the game is created to engage learners so that they become active participants in their own learning
  • the game elements are integrated to help the learner achieve their learning goals and objectives

Additionally, the Puzzlets gaming system pairs nicely with the current ISTE Standards for Students as they become:

  • Empowered learners to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating coding competency by mastery/leveling up
  • Knowledge constructors by using trial and error to solve the challenges screen by screen
  • Innovative designers by creating imaginative solutions to complete each path and level up in a timely fashion
  • Computational thinkers by testing solutions and leveraging their power as a collaborative team
  • Creative communicators in how the student teams use the platform pieces and app to reach their goals

Furthermore, through grit, failure and teamwork, students have the power to persevere and develop core academic and foundational technology skills. I think the vendor tagline says it all, “make game time, brain time”!