DisruptED TV Magazine

Game-Based Learning for Math Fluency

By Andrew J. Canle

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For many teachers of intermediate mathematics grade levels, it is no shock that student mastery of prerequisite skills is often lacking. This can manifest itself when assessing student proficiency levels with grade appropriate content. In my 6th grade class at Shaw Avenue School in Valley Stream, NY, for example, students may experience struggles in their pursuit of finding a percent of a number due to the fact they have weak computational fluency dating back to years prior, and not because percentages themselves present difficulty. So, response to intervention strategies take shape in the forms of rote fluency learning drills, much to the chagrin of the students. Ultimately, the lack of engagement results in the student transitioning uncorrected skill deficiencies into future grades, proliferating their academic difficulties.

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Students experiencing struggles with attaining proficiency reach heightened levels of frustration directly related to prolonged failure. Learning fatigue and a decline in effort prevails, which breeds a lack of new skill acquisition and development. This lack of engagement and effort leads to further failure, and the cycle of struggle continues. As educators, it is imperative to establish a course of action for successful learning processes where students can feel accomplished, attain achievements, and therefore, experience a sustained cycle of success. Feeling accomplished increases the learner’s effort, which in turn augments their motivation to remain engaged in the learning process.

So, the question becomes: How can we, as educators, break this cycle of struggle and establish a sustained cycle of success?

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A few years ago, my Principal introduced a free mathematics program to me that accomplished the task of increasing mathematics fluency among my students while also enhancing their engagement in the material with a game-based learning approach. The program is called NBA Math Hoops, and it is a fast-paced basketball board game, curriculum, and community program that allows students to learn fundamental math skills through direct engagement with the real statistics of their favorite NBA and WNBA players.

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It is my belief that a child’s designation impacts strategy, not expectation. By providing an innovative learning experience through game-based participation using NBA Math Hoops, I was able to increase student achievement and engagement for all. The game-based learning approach served as a response to intervention for strugglers as well as enrichment opportunities for advanced learners.

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The NBA Math Hoops game helped me break the continuous cycle of failure and achieve a sustained cycle of success for the learners in my classroom. Enhanced social and emotional competencies among students through teamwork and collaboration resulted in a culture of excellence within the walls of the classroom. A sense of individual and collective pride was cultivated throughout the use of the game-based learning strategy. This all contributed to students feeling accomplished, attaining achievements via an incentivized system of rewards consisting of real NBA gear that the program provides through USPS shipments, and remaining engaged in the learning process and motivated to work at an accelerated pace.

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Unlike gamification, which is the idea of adding game elements to a non-game situation, game-based learning relates to the use of games to enhance the learning experience. This is what NBA Math Hoops accomplishes in the content area of mathematics. In alignment with 21st Century Skills and standards, the game-based curriculum allows teachers to break the cycle of failure through personalizing, motivating, and engaging students who have faced struggles for extended periods of time to embrace learning as a continual growth process. This shift in mindset catapults students from a continuous learning cycle of failure to a sustained cycle of success.

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The NBA Math Hoops program also provides community connection opportunities by working with NBA partnerships to hold large-scale competition and sportsmanship events. Taking part in such happenings not only excites my students to perform to their best ability through competition and real world statistical analysis and application, but also affords them social opportunities to conflate learning of content with interpersonal experiences.

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This game-based learning approach has led to our sustained cycle of success that has revealed itself in the form of back to back New York City Championship wins, notably taking place at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in Manhattan, as well as at Brooklyn’s own Barclays Center. Now, students at Shaw Avenue have an increased sense of school pride, and enjoy diving deeply into the routine computational fluency drills that were once looked at by the student body as arbitrary and contrived. The game-based learning approach employed in the 6th grade at Shaw Avenue School has enriched the learner’s experience with the content to the point where they intrinsically crave higher levels of personal success and achievement.

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Mathematics can be a daunting content area for some learners, especially when they are below grade level. A game-based learning approach via the NBA Math Hoops program can not only help students augment their mathematics capabilities in an engaging way, but also alleviate the pressures they may feel when faced with challenging academic tasks, and have fun!

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About the Author: Andrew J. Canle is a Classroom Teacher and Instructional Coach at Shaw Avenue School in Valley Stream, N.Y. Andrew’s Shaw Avenue Mathletes are the current two-time defending New York City NBA Math Hoops Champions, and he is a Learn Fresh All-Star Educator currently serving on the Learn Fresh Organization’s Advisory Board. Andrew graduated from Hofstra University with a B.B.A in Accounting, and an M.S.Ed in Elementary Education for grades 1 through 6. Currently, Andrew is completing a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the College of St. Rose. Twitter handle: @AJCanle

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