How did we get a middle schooler to solve 41 thousand math problems in a month and what does a Golden Peanut have to do with it?
Let me tell you our story, by starting with “Why” do we want a middle schooler to solve a lot of math problems?
We know that math skills are essential to improve one’s life. Whether you decide to cite the increases in income associated with math educational performance, or the better health outcomes.
Accountants and data analyst are in demand and well paid.
Does that knowledge make you love math? Do you now have fond memories of math classes, solving equations and looking at graphs?
If you answered “No!?”. Then your not alone. Half of US high schoolers and 20% of adults experience severe math anxiety.
To turn this around, we need to change what we have been doing so far. Our answer to reduce math-anxiety is to gamify the teaching of math.
By taking the elements of games that make them so compelling — such as points, rewards, items, competition, challenges and most import of all story telling — and applying them to non-game contexts we can disrupt a failing system.
That is what we’ve done with Planet Peanut, our math learning app.
How do we implement these things and are we the only ones who are doing this?
No, other platforms and apps have implemented some of these things, but they don’t seem to have gone the whole way.
In our app, we are determined to go all the way to make a fully immersed gaming experience, which will make you forget that you are learning math.
First step: Story telling
Planet Peanut is a thrilling adventure set on a distant planet where the only inhabitants are a race of hamsters who have evolved the ability to race each other.
When they aren’t racing, they live their day-to-day lives peacefully. They hold an annual race, the winner of which earns the right to claim the Golden Peanut, a symbol of power and prosperity.
But beneath all that lies a hidden agenda — the hamsters have been chosen by ancient forces as protectors of a great secret known as the Source, and they must race each other to unlock it. With the fate of the universe in the balance, the epic race across Planet Peanut begins!
You are engaged and you want to progress to find out more.
So, how do you progress?
The app is based on bite-sized lessons where the difficulty level increases gradually. To complete a lesson you race against opponents, where you move forward by solving math questions.
For every lesson a player completes, they earn:
Points: determine your place on the scoreboard, so players can compete with each other and see how they rank against other players.
Peanuts: are used to buy items for your avatar, which makes it possible to personalize it.
XP: is used to rise in level and unlock new items.
By completing one lesson, players can earn between 300–1200 points depending on number of questions and difficulty. One correct question will earn you around 60 points.
We have the framework. Then, how do we get students to download our app in the first place?
It is difficult to get people to download something many people don’t find enjoyable. So to promote our app we stole yet another thing from the gaming world:
The Golden Peanut
We created a national champions ship in math, where danish school classes could sign up and compete against each other. But we called it:
“The Competition For The Golden Peanut”
To expand on our story telling and get your mind away from mathematics.
The rules are simple:
- Download our app
- Enroll in your class (also in the app)
- Earn as many points as possible in a month
- The class with most points, win!
Instead of classmates competing against each other, we made it a social competition, where everybody could participate. It was not about who necessarily was the best at math. You could play the lower levels as much as you liked and contribute to your class overall score.
350 classes in Denmark participated and three thousand students completed 700.000 math problems in the month of April.
Back to our super user
The user I introduced earlier who answered more than 40.000 questions hit 2.5 million points and is on top of the scoreboard, as I am writing this.
That’s pretty impressive. The engagement from individual students went well above what we had expected. If you finish every lesson, we have right now, you will earn about 150.000 points.
He completed the same lessons again and again.
Why did he complete that many problems voluntarily?
Because he wants to help his class win the competition. He also wants to buy items for his avatar and show them off on top of the scoreboard.
Almost everybody in the top 100 has bought our most prized item: a bomber jacket in pride colors. This will set you back 5,145 peanuts.
A bargain if you ask us!
End of the competition
We knew there was a chance the engagement would drop, when the competition ended. The crazy numbers, some players earned doing the last days of the competition, would not last.
How would we keep them engaged after the winner was decided?
We added new items and made you complete lessons before you could unlock them. That created some engagement, but it takes time and money to keep designing new items (which we don’t have, since we are working on a budget).
One thing we did, which increased our weekly users with up to two hundred percent, was expanding our scoreboard.
In the start we only displayed the total score of every player.
After the competition ended, new users had to earn a lot of points to break the top 10 and it became quite static. The same players where in the top and they wanted to keep it that way.
So, we created monthly and weekly scoreboards, which made it possible for new players to get a spot on the scoreboard.
This drove daily usage and increased engagement more than any single feature we had introduced so far.
The next big challenge is to make sure that you actually learn math when playing.
Completing storylines and rising in levels will unlock new items and challenges, taking you further into the universe of Planet Peanut.
We have created the willingness to progress. Now we need to tie the progress with learning.
We have simple addition and multiplication, which trains your mental arithmetic. And we have some more advanced subjects as percentages and fractions.
We keep the amount of text very low and break every subject up into their most fundamental parts. You only learn one thing in each separate lesson.
Let us take fractions as an example:
If we want to teach you fractions and you know nothing about fractions, we will not start by adding two fractions.
This mixes two subjects “addition” and “fractions”. We can not assume you know how to add.
(This is an example, just to give you an idea of how we separate subjects from each other and make sure you only need to learn one thing at a time … most people know how to add)
The first step would be to teach you how to identify a fraction:
When you know what 7/9 means and you can visualize it, you can start using it for something.
You can learn addition, multiplication and eventually how to convert fractions to new fractions or percentages.
Each individual step must be taught separately. And we need to know the previous steps, because math builds on other math.
Know what crawling is => then crawl.
Know what standing is => then stand.
Know what walking is => then walk.
A long way to go
Our goal is to eradicate math anxiety by truly gamifying learning, especially among the group of people who need it the most: kids.
By making learning fun, interactive, and engaging, we believe we can make math learning accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
Gamification is not just about making learning fun, but it’s also about creating a positive attitude towards learning. When students enjoy the learning process, they are more likely to become lifelong learners, and that’s what we’re striving for.
In conclusion, we’ve taken the first step to gamify the learning of math in our app Planet Peanut, making it fun, interactive, and engaging. By earning points, peanuts, and XP, players can compete with each other, personalize their avatars, and unlock new challenges and items. We believe that gamification is the key to eradicating math anxiety, especially among kids.
To learn more about our vision and our app visit planetpeanut.io